The average person is going to think skydivers are crazy for jumping out of airplanes into the big blue sky. Now imagine when we tell them that there is also night skydiving! This adds a whole new level of intensity to our sport. Actually, its not just non-skydivers who’s palms get sweaty thinking about skydiving at night. Some of us licensed skydivers still get nervous, especially when adding something new to the mix!
With this August full moon weekend approaching, we thought it would be fun to talk about night skydiving. Skydiving at night is very fun and when organized safely, there is no need to be nervous. With proper ground training, suitable equipment, pre planning and some good judgement, night skydives can be made safely. Lets look into what goes into skydiving at night, and how to enjoy these epic jumps.
What does skydiving at night mean?
According to the United States Parachute Association (USPA), to maintain safety and comply with FAA regulations, any skydives made between official sunset and official sunrise are considered night jumps. As well, USPA notes that for night jumps made to meet license requirements or to establish a record attempt, skydives must be performed one hour after official sunset to one hour before official sunrise.
Why would one want to skydive at night?
Well, for starters, its an extremely fun way to get your blood pumping! Obviously we love skydiving and so this new surrounding, the dark environment, it is an exciting challenge for us. Its a whole new way to have fun with your friends in the sky. Skydiving a night is a fantastic rush, however the reward is not just limited to fun. The biggest reward is overcoming a challenging and unusual situation, and safely landing back on the ground. A night jump is a great challenge to present to ourselves, because it is safely pre-planned by the drop zone. Skydivers are able to put themselves in a situation to challenge their abilities but also with the knowledge that it is being executed as safely as possible, through the efforts of the facilitating drop zone and fellow skydivers.
Challenges with skydiving at night
So I am sure it is obvious that skydiving at night is going to have some extra challenges compared to regular daytime skydiving. With the most obvious being lack of vision since it is dark out! However, there are actually many different challenges that arise with night skydiving. Which is why it is extremely important to always actively participate in the night jump briefings. To participate means to listen closely, and ask questions. Seriously, listen up! Even the most experienced skydivers are generally not making night skydives very often. And as such, we should not be complacent and take each night jump very seriously. During these briefings everyone will learn (or be reminded) of important information, expectations and hazards that can occur while making night skydives.
Some extra challenges that should be discussed are:
- The possibility to become disoriented due to lack of visible familiar land references.
- The possibility to become disoriented on landing due to lack of visible familiar references.
- Vision and depth perception are impaired by darkness.
- Heightened stress during both freefall and canopy flight.
- A jumpers own shadow cast by the moon or lighting in the landing area can resemble another skydiver below and cause confusion.
- Due to the fact that a jumper cannot perceive a hazard as quickly as in daylight, it will take longer to react to a situation.
How can you land a parachute in the dark?
If you never have made a night jump, or you are not a skydiver at all, you might imagine it to be very difficult to locate the landing area at the drop zone. However, as mentioned, night skydives are well planned out, and its actually not as difficult as one might think. Depending on if the drop zone is located at municipal or regional airport, the runway will be light up at night. This is one indicator for locating the drop zone. And in all night jumps great care is to taken to provide industrial lighting to the landing area. Or even some vehicles will use their headlights to provide generous amounts of light. All of this lighting will make it reasonably easy for a skydiver to locate the landing area in a night skydive.
I personally did my night jumps at my home drop zone, and I was confident in finding the landing area. Which I did without problem. However, I did run into the issue of reacting to my own shadow. We were briefed that our own shadows can resemble another skydiver, and sure enough this happened to me. When coming in on my final approach, I saw “another canopy” in front of me. My body instantly went into a tense, adrenaline spike. Quickly I realized that it was my shadow (thanks to the briefing information), however I did panic for a moment.
Landing rules during a night skydive
There may be a few rules that make landing during night jumps more safe for everyone.
- Skydivers should avoid spiralling under canopy. Fly predictably.
- Landing direction is agreed and understood by all jumpers.
- Canopy deployment should be staggered, through making more than one pass with the airplane for dropping jumpers. As well, deployment staggered by wing loading on canopies.
What are the requirements to skydive at night?
So, in this article the discussion is based on the rules of the USPA. If you are living in another country with a different parachute association, the requirements will quite likely vary slightly.
Not every skydiver is allowed to make a night jump, they must meet certain qualifications first. Skydivers must hold a USPA B license or higher to make a night skydive. It is also strongly suggested that a skydivers first night jump should be a solo jump, not a group skydive.
It is advised that if the skydiver is not familiar with the drop zone, they should have made at least one daytime skydive at the drop zone. Preferably within the day prior to the night jumps, in order to familiarize themselves with the surrounding area and landing zone.
Can tandems make night skydives?
No, there is no place in the USA that allows tandems to participate in night skydives. Due to the fact that skydiving at night increases the chance for incident, tandem skydives are not able to make a night skydive.
Proper equipment for night skydiving
There is some special equipment that should be worn when making night skydives:
- A strobe light is highly recommended. It is not to be used during freefall, however it is to be turned on under canopy. The strobe light will illuminate the canopy making you much more visible to other skydivers and to ground control on the drop zone.
- An altimeter that lights up/has a glow light. Obviously so it is possible to maintain altitude awareness.
- Cleaned goggles or full face visor to avoid any visual disruptions.
- A whistle can be helpful to warn other jumpers you are near under canopy, or after landing to help jumpers locate one another, especially in the case of an injury or off drop zone landing.
- If safe to do so in a zippered pocket, bring along a cell phone. This is in case of a landing accident or off drop zone landing.
- Have fun with glow lights and LED lights! Securely fasten glow lights or other LED lights to yourself. This will make you more visible during freefall and canopy flight. Just make sure you are not attaching these items to your gear in a way that might impact deployment or canopy flight. If unsure, as for advice.
- Pay very close attention to your automatic activation device (AAD). Cycle the AAD to ensure that it is within operational limits for the night jump. Maybe you started jumping early that day, be sure your AAD doesn’t shut off on your night jumps. Furthermore, if you plan to jump the next day, take care to turn your AAD off after your night jumps. This is so that the next day you don’t run the risk of it turning off during your regular daytime skydiving.
It is suggested that night skydiving should be planned around a full moon. This is because a full moon highly increases night visibility and in turn, the safety for night jumps. The planning for night skydives should include consideration of winds and cloud coverage. Light winds and clear atmospheric conditions with minimal clouds is the ideal environment for making night skydives.
Keep coming back
Night skydives are a thrilling experience, and all skydivers should try to make a night skydive and enjoy the extra adrenaline rush! Skydiving at night is a carefully planned operation and we should all be extra vigilant in respecting the rules for making night jumps. It takes time to organize these fun nights and we must respect the process so we can all enjoy in the safest environment possible.
This weekend there will be a full moon, maybe a drop zone near to you will be hosting night jumps! Are you ready to make a night jump now? I know I want to!
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