Skydiving Altitude and Airplanes

Cookies and milk, peanut butter and jelly, altitude and airplanes: some things go together. In a way, the altitude you reach and the airplane you ride in make skydiving what it is, especially at a first-rate facility like Skydive Orange. Ultimately, the altitude you skydive from will define your entire adventure. So, what determines the altitude you jump from? The aircraft! Want to learn more? Keep reading for industry intel about airplanes and the altitude of skydiving.

Average Skydiving Height

In general, the average skydiving altitude for dropzones in the United States is right around 10,000 ft. Why this number? Well, the majority of dropzones utilize an aircraft called the Cessna-182. This plane is a small, single-engined aircraft that seats four (not including the pilot). Though the workhorse of the industry, this plane is not powerful enough to take jumpers to an altitude higher than 10,000 feet. For a point of reference, from this altitude, a skydiver will be in free fall for about 40 seconds.

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Is Higher Altitude Better?

Ask any skydiver and they’ll say “without a doubt.” In fact, mention the opportunity to get higher altitude to skydivers, and they’re practically throwing their money at you. The reason we prefer higher altitudes is that it allows us more time to enjoy our playground: the sky!

What’s the Difference In Skydiving Aircraft?

At Skydive Orange, we primarily operate an aircraft called the Twin Otter. The Twin Otter is a large turbine aircraft that seats 22 people. Compared to the Cessna-182, the engine on the Twin Otter is supercharged. The Twin Otter can reach an altitude of 14,000 feet in 15-20 minutes. Because of its speed and size, this aircraft allows us to have a more comfortable ride to a higher altitude with more of our friends!

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Can You Skydive From Higher Than 14,000 feet?

It’s possible to reach altitudes higher than 14,000 feet, but to do so, you will need supplemental oxygen. As you ascend higher and higher above sea level, the air thins. Essentially, the amount of oxygen in each breath you take diminishes the higher you go. To prevent experiencing hypoxia (altitude sickness), for jumps above 15,000 feet, supplemental oxygen is needed.

What Skydiving Altitude Do You Get At Skydive Orange?

At Skydive Orange, you can pick your own altitude adventure!

The typical altitude of skydiving at Skydive Orange is 14,000 feet, which, by the way, is higher than any other skydiving center in Virginia! From this height, a jumper will enjoy 60 seconds (one full minute) in freefall.

Fancy even more time to soak in freefall? If you come between the months of May-October, you can reach even greater heights. At Skydive Orange, we also offer High Altitude Low Opening (HALO) tandems. The skydiving altitude of a HALO tandem is an incredible 17,500 feet. From this altitude, jumper’s experience a freefall of 80 seconds. To put it in perspective, that is nearly a minute and a half of freefall or double the time spent in freefall on a skydive from 10,000 feet!

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As we mentioned above, for a HALO tandem, there’s the added custom experience of utilizing supplemental oxygen.

Interested in seeing the world from 14K or maybe even higher? Skydive Orange is ready to give you the inside look! Reach out with a call or email today!

How High Do Skydiving Planes Go?

How High Do Skydiving Planes Go?

In general, skydiving planes release howling jumpers out into the sky between 10,000 and 13,000 feet. With that information, you might think that skydiving altitudes are a one-size-fits-all affair, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. To know how high a skydiving plane goes before the jumpers jump out, you have to know what kind of plane it is, who’s on it, what they plan to do and what other considerations the “load” (plane full of skydivers) might have to account for.

A Flexible Feast

The common skydiving plane in the United States–the stalwart Cessna 182–is a reliable little beast that brings excited skydivers up to a lofty 10,000′. That’s what we fly here at Skydive OC, so our typical “exit altitude” (the altitude at which the pilot has made all the required preparations and signaled the jumpers that we’re good-to-go). We take it up to the highest altitude at which a Cessna can efficiently fly, which clocks in at approximately twelve thousand feet. That typically provides our butterfly-tummied tandem students with forty seconds of exhilarating freefall.

That said, we’re no factory. You have a choice! We offer upgraded jump altitudes that make their way up to 15,000 and 18,000 feet. Jumps that high place a few extra details into the mix, because the air is pretty thin once you nudge up above 15,000 feet. The Federal Aviation Administration requires jumps done from those rarefied altitudes to be completed with onboard oxygen.

Sport Skydiving and Exit Altitude

Tandem pairs follow their own well-established rubric. Once you get your skydiving license to jump solo (which is a super-cool thing to do, natch), you’ll start getting really interested in the little dial on the altimeter. More altitude means more time, after all–and time in the sky is what we’re after.

All sport skydivers love to get a little more altitude, but some skydives require it. For example, complicated skydives involving a lot of people are best done from the highest possible altitudes in order to give each athlete the time they need to nail their piece of the puzzle. In other cases–often, at a skydiving event–there will be planned high-altitude loads, often coinciding with sunset, to give jumpers the opportunity to bask in a gorgeous light show. Finally, some stunt-style world-record skydives often require a lot more altitude (and a lot more gear to match).

When Way-Way-Up Is a No-No-No

Skydiving is aviation. So much is clear, right? That means that there are some activities in skydiving which are specifically prescribed by the FAA for the safety of the jumpers, the pilots and the citizens below. One of those forbidden activities seems too simple to be so serious: jumping through clouds. Skydivers need to see the correct landing area below them from the airplane door. If they can’t see it, they have no true way of being certain that they’ll end up there–which is, of course, a very dangerous thing. Clouds have a habit of forming above our normal exit altitude but below the highest.

That might sound like bad news, but never fear! If there happens to be a cloud layer preventing us from climbing up to peak jump altitude, we offer skydivers the option of a slightly lower skydive (under the clouds) or to reschedule their skydive to another day. After all, we’re all about making sure you’re experience is tippity-top–and if that means waiting a day, so be it. We understand the urge to get really, really high up there!

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Curious to see just how great it feels to get a personal look at 12,000′ (or above)? Give us a call! We’ll give you a whirlwind tour.

How High Do Planes Fly? Airplane Flight Altitude

Most airline passengers simply accept the fact that passenger jets fly very high. They rarely ask about it, or want to know what altitude is used. But there are good reasons for how high planes fly.

In fact, the common cruising altitude for most commercial airplanes is between 33,000 and 42,000 feet, or between about six and nearly eight miles above sea level. Typically, aircraft fly around 35,000 or 36,000 feet above sea level. This is why when you are on a long flight, you will generally hear the captain say something like, “Ladies and gentlemen, we have now reached our cruising altitude of 36,000 feet”.

Commercial airplanes can theoretically fly a little higher than this, and of course they can also fly lower if they choose to. But small aircraft such as those flown by private pilots cannot fly this high, and usually do not go above 10,000 feet. Indeed, they often fly much lower than this.

There are a number of reasons for all of the above, which we will take a look at now.

Fuel Efficiency

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The main reason for airliners flying so high is that it saves fuel and therefore saves money, which is always a priority for airlines. The air becomes thinner as the altitude increases, and thin air creates less drag on the aircraft. In addition, jet engines operate more efficiently at high altitudes, meaning the plane can travel faster while at the same time burning less fuel.

However, a plane’s engines need oxygen in order to function, so flying too high can also cause problems. Plus if a plane goes higher, it has to burn more fuel in order to get there. So there has to be a balance, which is the reason for the fairly specific altitudes generally used by airliners. 35,000 feet or thereabouts is the altitude at which fuel efficiency is greatest, while there is still enough oxygen available to power the engines.

Avoiding Traffic and Other Hazards

Flying higher means that commercial airplanes can avoid most other airborne traffic. At the altitudes they use, there will be no light aircraft and helicopters, and no drones, which all fly much lower.

Birds rarely fly that high, which is important, as bird strikes, though rare, can be disastrous if they happen. An extreme case of this sort of disaster was the US Airways aircraft which was forced to land on the Hudson river after a bird strike. This sort of thing is extremely unlikely, but it does happen occasionally.

Weather and Turbulence

Weather and Turbulence

It is not essential for aircraft to avoid bad weather, but it is a good idea. Commercial airplanes usually fly above the troposphere, which is the part of the atmosphere where weather events usually happen. The troposphere is usually said to finish at 36,000 feet. This is why when you are cruising in an airliner, it is usually bright and sunny, with all the cloud and rain below you.

Turbulence is less common at high altitudes too. Again, airliners can generally cope with turbulence, but it is preferable to avoid it if possible.

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Safely Factors

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Over 42,000 flights take place every day, with 5,000 planes in the sky at any one time, according to the FAA. With this much traffic, there has to be some official arrangement to make sure collisions do not happen, and there is.

There are certain rules for exactly where airliners can fly, and the direction of travel can affect what altitude they will climb to. Planes flying eastward, including northeast and southeast, will fly at odd altitudes, such as 35,000 feet. Planes flying in approximately westerly directions have to fly at even altitudes. This means that planes flying in opposite directions to each other are at least 1000 feet apart, so avoiding a possible collision and making for safer flights.


Lastly, flying high gives you more time to act in the unlikely event of an emergency in flight. Modern airliners are incredibly safe most of the time, but should something happen which means an emergency landing is required, high altitude gives the pilots much longer to sort things out and find a safe place to land.

On the other hand, flying too high could have negative safety issues. In some emergencies, such as a rapid decompression, pilots want to return to a lower altitude as quickly as possibe. So again, there has to be a balance, which accounts for the altitudes generally used.

A Word About Light Aircraft

While jet engines operate well at high altitudes, the same is not true of piston engines, which are typically used for light aircraft of the type flown by most private pilots. Piston engines do not operate well in thin air, and this is one of the reasons why most small planes fly at altitudes of below 15,000 feet.

Light Aircraft

But in fact, small aircraft generally fly much lower than that for a variety of other reasons. This is partly because they tend to fly shorter distances, and pilots simply do not want to spend too much time climbing and descending on a short flight; it just isn’t worth it. Also, most small planes are not equipped with oxygen, which would be necessary if they were to fly too high. It is probably not really safe for them to be much above 10,000 feet. And a substantial majority of small planes are flown for recreational purposes, and pilots enjoy flying lower, where they can see things below them. This is not a factor in commercial flying.

However, legally planes must be at least 1000 feet above any object on the ground, and must be able to land clear of any congested area in the event of an engine failure. Therefore small planes generally fly between 2000 and 10,000 feet. It all makes sense when you know the reasons for it!

And Finally…

It should be noted that every airplane has a certified maximum altitude. During test flights this maximum is exceeded slightly to verify the that airplane remains safe should it have cause to ascend from that limit. The highest certified altitude of an airliner was Concorde’s 60,000 feet. Today some of the corporate jets can fly at 51,000 feet.

However, for all the reasons mentioned above, this is mainly theoretical, and most commercial airplanes fly much lower than this.




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