The Accelerated Free Fall course, or AFF, is an introductory course into the world of skydiving. It is a 9 jump course that covers 5 broad categories, within which specific skills will have to be demonstrated before one can move on to the next category. The following is an outline of the various categories and what they entail.
In this category, also known as the first jump course, we will spend a day introducing you to the elements that will allow you to start skydiving on your own.
The topics that will be covered prior to making your first solo jump are grouped into the following:
- Solo equipment orientation
- Freefall body position
- Main parachute deployment
- Canopy piloting skills
- Basic landing training
- Landing hazards
- Emergency procedures
Naturally, Category A includes the longest training outline, because there is a lot you must learn prior to making a first skydive. To improve retention, we will introduce only what you might need to know to make a first jump safely. Other important information can be presented as it becomes relevant and as you make a firmer commitment to learning more about the sport.
In Category B, you learn to become more comfortable in the skydiving environment. You will perform leg awareness exercises to improve control, and also may perform assisted turns in preparation for heading maintenance in Category C and controlled turns in Category D.
Training in this category reviews and expands your understanding of the canopy landing pattern and the airport environment, with attention to avoiding aircraft on or approaching the runways. You help with preflight planning and the use of the written flight plan, including opening point, the projected wind line, and the landing pattern. Also, you learn to use the runway as a reference for direction and distance when observing the drop zone from the aircraft or under canopy.
There will also be an emergency review that emphasizes topics from the first-jump course on parachute malfunctions. In Category B, you become more responsible for your equipment, particularly while moving around and inside the aircraft. To advance, students should be able to monitor altitude and
deploy at the correct altitude without prompting from the instructor.
By this time, you have had several opportunities to learn controlled, stable fall. The next lesson’s freefall skills focus on relaxed control using the procedure, “altitude, arch, legs, relax.”
You need to establish confidence and relaxed freefall control. A controlled freefall in Category C may include some random heading drift, which you learn to lessen by relaxing and focusing on the basics: altitude, arch, legs, and relax. You will also learn more about how to plan a canopy pattern for various wind speeds and directions to improve traffic flow and avoid conflicts with obstacles and other jumpers. You learn to predict, avoid, and react to turbulence induced by wind over obstacles and heated areas.
You’ll meet the FAA-rated parachute rigger, who packs and maintains the reserve parachute. He or she will familiarize you with the closed parachute system, and you’ll observe the pre-flight equipment check.
Emergency review includes discussion on an inadvertently opened parachute in and around the aircraft and how to avoid and respond to it. Recognizing and avoiding landing obstacles and how to approach off-field landings will also be covered in more detail.
By now, you have learned to safely control freefall by keeping track of your altitude, focusing on a neutral body position—especially your hips and legs—and relaxing. In Category D, you’ll learn to control heading by modifying the neutral position using your upper body to deflect air. You will want to demonstrate relatively effortless control of 90-, 180-, and 360-degree freefall turns before moving on to aerobatics, introduced in Category E.
Under canopy, you’ll explore rear-riser control, which opens new safety options and adds fun to the canopy ride. Before advancing, you should demonstrate the ability to return to the drop zone and steer a planned, recognizable landing pattern without assistance. To progress to Category E, you should also by now be able to flare and land with minimal assistance. And each student should have been able to stand up on landing by the end of this category.
In Category C, you observed your instructor prepare and inspect your gear for the jump. Now, it’s your turn. In Category D, you’ll begin studying skydiving equipment in earnest to become responsible for your own pre-flight equipment checks. You’ll read the owner’s manual for the automatic activation device and learn how to operate one.
You will also be introduced to some elements of spotting, which means choosing the correct exit point and guiding the pilot to it. You’ll observe jump-run operations from the door of the aircraft as well.
This is the last category of the AFF course. Once you have demonstrated the ability to regain stability and control within five seconds after initiating a disorienting maneuver, a USPA Instructor in your discipline may clear you to jump without instructor supervision in freefall. At that point, any USPA Instructor may perform gripped exits with you, as well. From Category E on, a USPA Instructor makes sure you are properly trained and supervised on each jump.
In Category E, you practice unpoised exits from the aircraft and aerobatics such as barrel rolls, front loops and backloops to increase your confidence, awareness, and control in freefall.
Under canopy, you’ll practice for softer landings by looking for the “sweet spot” in the flare—the flaring stroke that provides the best lift for that canopy with that jumper’s weight. The goal is to flare your canopy to fly as flat as possible until you begin to touch down. Your Instructor will also remind you of your responsibility (and every jumper’s responsibility) to observe and steer clear of other canopies.
By the end of Category D, you should have been able to land within 165 feet of the target with minimal assistance. In Category E, you should be able to do it on your own.
Part of the emergency procedure review includes a detailed discussion on preventing premature openings in freefall and more detailed procedures for two open canopies.
A rigger or instructor will introduce you to the open parachute system to identify its key components, along with the FAA’s rules for packing parachutes. Supervised packing begins in Category F.
You’ll discuss weight, balance, airspeed, jump run procedures, and aircraft emergency procedures, usually with a jump pilot. A jump pilot or USPA Instructor also shows you how to read a winds-aloft report. From that information, you’ll learn to calculate the best opening point over the ground.
In order to successfully complete the AFF course and be cleared for student self-supervision by a USPA Instructor, you must have obtained the following skills and knowledge:
- Demonstrated the ability to regain stability and control in freefall within five seconds after initiating a disorienting maneuver.
- Demonstrated sufficient canopy control skills to land safely in all expected conditions.
- Demonstrated the knowledge required to select and inspect gear before use.
- Shown knowledge of spotting required to make reasonable judgment about suggested exit points.
- Shown knowledge of both normal and emergency aircraft procedures for all aircraft types in common use for skydiving.