Hey, first-time skydivers.
Come over here.
We have a secret to tell you.
Y’know how dropzone marketers are always talking about how fast you’ll be going? “One hundred and twenty miles per hour!,” it practically shouts. “As fast as a race car! Odometer-busting zoom! OH THE ADRENALINE!”
Well. See, the thing is: telling you about how fast a skydiver goes is indeed good marketing. It sounds amazing. But truthfully, you won’t even notice. You certainly won’t be thinking about it.
Whoa! What?! Yeah, we know. This marketing plays on the fact that it sounds like there’s no way in the world you could, like, miss the fact that you’re going 120mph straight down. The fact is, however, you will. If you can keep a secret, we have a little more compelling information to share along these lines. Circle up and let’s talk about all things speed.
Because tandems are heavier than solo skydivers, they do go faster in the downwards direction. They go so fast, in fact, that there’s a special system (called a “drogue”) to slow the pair down enough that they’ll experience a safe, comfortable opening. But that’s just the thing: that heart-racing speed is under control, systemically. Remember, too, that terminal velocity sets a cap on speed. (Touché, physics deniers!)
The way air acts vertically against your body in the sky is similar to how it acts horizontally against your body on the ground, so we can use those metaphors to help the basic concepts make sense. Here goes:
Imagine yourself standing at the top of a hill on a very windy day–the kind that makes you feel as though you have to push hard against it to walk forward. This is a good representation of the orientation to the wind you’re going to be in while you’re in tandem freefall (which we call “belly-to-earth”). All that surface area gives the wind a lot to push on, so your forward movement is slow. Belly-to-earth is a slow-fall orientation.
Now, imagine you’re pointing down the hill face-first in a toboggan. This is the kind of aerodynamic orientation that a lot of solo skydivers use (and call “vertical” or “head-down”). This is a fast-falling position. Vertical skydivers need to change their orientation to belly-to-earth for a little bit in order to slow down at the end of a skydive, or they can cause their bodies and parachutes serious damage on deployment. For this (and many other) reasons, tandem skydives are never done as vertical skydives.
The moment you actually feel the speed of your skydive would arise if you happened to pass something in freefall that stayed stationary: say, for instance, a cloud. Passing a cloud in freefall feels like going through a finish line–and produces a very similar holler.
We’ll cross our fingers for you that you see one up there!