Skydiving Freefall Physics: 101

Nothing compares to the experience of jumping out of a moving plane. Although the majority of your experience will be spent floating back to earth with your parachute, the first thirty to sixty seconds of your freefall will stay with you for the rest of your life—but what is skydiving freefall actually like? In what follows, we define the freefall physics of skydiving and cover everything you need to know about skydiving speeds and limits.

Definition: The Freefall Physics of Skydiving

In Newtonian physics, freefall is a state in which gravity is the only force acting upon a given object. Of course, such a state of freefall is only achievable under very specific conditions—for example, in outer space, where there are no winds or particles to impede an object’s descent.

In skydiving, both gravity and air resistance will have an impact on the rate at which you fall. In more precise terms, we could say that gravity pulls you downward at an increasing rate, causing you to accelerate rapidly for a short time. After around 8 seconds, the amount of air resistance that you encounter will be equal to the force of gravity pulling you down. This is the point at which you reach terminal velocity—your top speed over the course of the fall.

Terminal Velocity for Skydivers

A variety of factors can impact the real terminal velocity that a skydiver will reach during their descent. Let’s take a look at each of these factors in turn:

  • The force of gravity on earth is constant, and can be assumed to be equal to 9.8 m/s2
  • Density can impact how quickly you fall. What does that mean? Density is your mass divided by your volume, so it takes into account both your weight and size. For example, two 200-lb people can fall at different speeds if one person is smaller in stature and the other is taller and lankier. 
  • Drag will vary depending on the position of your body during the fall.
  • Weight is equal to the force of gravity exerted upon the object. It’s dependent on mass, but can vary depending on the force of gravity—here assumed to be constant.
  • Velocity increases up until drag is equal to weight, i.e. the force of gravity exerted upon the falling person.
  • Terminal velocity is the maximum speed achieved when drag and the force of gravity are equal.

So, what is terminal velocity for a skydiver? For the reasons outlined above, it depends—but tandem skydivers at DZONE® will tend to reach a speed of roughly 120 miles per hour

High-speed skydiving is becoming more popular, and if you’ve ever experienced the rush of skydiving for yourself, it shouldn’t be hard to understand why. So, what would you do if you wanted to increase your terminal velocity?

Lowering the rate of drag on your body is the tried and tested method—and most jumpers already have an intuitive understanding of how it’s done! If you jump using the standard method, where your body is parallel to the ground, you’ll start to drag pretty quickly. Narrowing your body and reorienting yourself can have a significant impact on your terminal velocity!

A high-speed skydiver may aim to position their body perpendicular to the ground, and shoot toward the earth like a speeding bullet. In these cases, a person’s terminal velocity might be as high as 150 or 180 mph—or potentially much higher.

The best of the best can go much faster. The 2021 world record for skydiving speed is held by Kyle Lobpries, who fell at a rate of 318.74 mph during the 2021 USPA Nationals Speed Skydiving competition.

Your Skydiving Experience Starts at DZONE®!

Once you reach terminal velocity, skydiving feels more like floating than falling—but don’t just take our word for it. Book your skydiving experience at a DZONE® location in Boise or Bozeman! No amount of description could compare to the real deal, and we hope you’ll agree once you’ve had a chance to make the leap.

If you have more questions before you make an appointment, don’t hesitate to check out our other skydiving articles and guides!

Book Your Skydiving Experience at DZONE®

Reading about how to skydive is one thing—experiencing the jump is another! If you’re ready to get first-hand experience with skydiving equipment and best practices, don’t wait to book your appointment! While you’re here, you can get an even better sense of how skydiving works by watching videos of experienced jumpers who were once just like you!

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