Synchronized Skydiving

by Katrina Arthurs
A world record 400-way synchronized skydive was successfully executed in February 2006.

A world record 400-way synchronized skydive was successfully executed in February 2006.

Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images

Synchronized skydiving, or formation diving, is both a recreational and competitive sport that involves multiple individuals jumping out of an airplane and performing synchronized maneuvers before deploying a parachute. Competitive formations consist of either four, eight or 16 individuals whereas recreational formations can consist of as few as four to as many as several hundred individuals.

The First Parachute

Leonardo da Vinci is credited with the invention of the first parachute. It was constructed on a wooden frame in the shape of a pyramid. In the late 20th century, Adrian Nichols tested the design. Although it descended slowly enough to land, Nichols feared the frame was too heavy and might crush him upon landing, so once he reached a safe altitude, he disconnected the parachute and landed on his own.

History of Skydiving

Frenchman Andre-Jacques Garnerin is credited with making the first successful parachute jump from a hot-air balloon in 1797. During World War I the military developed parachuting technology as a rescue device for aircrews in emergency situations and as a way to deliver supplies to troops on the ground. It wasn't until World War II that parachutes were used for troop insertions into battlefields.

Synchronized Skydiving As a Hobby

A military surplus of parachutes following the end of World War II and former soldiers courageous enough to use them are credited with the rise of skydiving as a hobby. The term "skydiver" was actually coined in the 1950s by Raymond Young as competitions began to develop. Synchronized diving first appeared in the 1970s, when veteran skydivers began experimenting with ways to connect two divers during a free fall. Today, synchronized recreational skydiving is called fun jumping, and divers who participate call themselves "Bellyflyers." Fun jumps are performed for a variety of different occasions, including festivals and air shows, and as simply a hobby for belly-flying enthusiasts.

Competitive Synchronized Skydiving

The first commercial skydiving schools began appearing in the 1950s. With it came competitive skydiving. Groups of either four, eight or 16 divers have a certain amount of time to execute a predetermined sequence of maneuvers and formations. Points are scored based on technical performance. Each successfully completed maneuver is worth one point. During competition, each team is required to perform between six and 10 rounds. A free-fall videographer accompanies each jump to film the performance. The footage is then delivered to the judges for evaluation. In major events jumps are broadcast and judged live. There are several competitions held annually throughout the world. Regional meets offer competitors of all performance levels the opportunity to compete for national titles. Winners then go on to compete against national champions from around the world at either the World Cup or World Championships. The best teams are invited to compete in the World Air Games.

Photo Credits

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