Tens of thousands of people make their first tandem skydive in the US every year. For a significant percentage, skydiving is not a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Some can feel their life changing as they fly through the sky at 120 miles per hour for the very first time and know -- before they even touch down -- that THIS is what's next.
Snagging a logbook and making the transition from first-timer to skydiving student is a glorious feeling. To minimize risk and maximize fun, skydivers follow a prescribed curriculum in order to earn their skydiving license. And so begins the journey from novice to pro.
The very first step to becoming a licensed skydiver is to complete the Accelerated Free Fall (AFF) training program. Comprised of ground school followed by an eight jump progression that includes supervised freefall and canopy flying lessons, AFF is your ticket to solo flight. If you're itching to get into the sky as soon as possible, you might want to consider an intensive AFF Camp.
Once AFF is complete, you can matriculate through four license courses, A through D, all sanctioned by the United States Parachute Association. Some people push onward until they reach the top; others find the degree of fulfillment they were seeking and sport a particular license level throughout their skydiving days.
Here's an overview of the four amazing levels of skydiving badassery:
Transitioning your status to an A Licensed skydiver from an AFF student is like earning your driver's license after you've proven yourself with a learner's permit.
A-License candidates must complete a series of 25 jumps with coaches and instructors, display mastery of particular skills, and pass an oral and written exam. Following a successful check-out dive with a USPA instructor, you earn your A along with a helluvalotta new-found freedom. A-holders can jump with pals and perform basic group jumps, pack their own parachutes, and experiment with water landings.
Working toward your B License means completing 50 jumps, completing a canopy course and specific training on water landing, and passing a few other flying and landing tests. As a B-holder, you'll unlock a whole 'nother level of achievables, including night, helicopter and hot air balloon jumps.
Most incredible of all, having your B License means you can participate in HALO (High Altitude, Low Open; also known as Military Free Fall/MFF) jumps, which can double the normal exit altitude.
After achieving 100 jumps as a B-Licensed skydiver, you can strive for your coach rating and can help students and others enhance their skills.
Logging 200 jumps and successfully demonstrating proficiency of a number of maneuvers, including accurately landing within near distance of a specified target, makes you qualified for your C License.
As a C-holder, you're entrusted with a lot of in-flight privileges. Most popular among the list of wins is the opportunity to sport wearables, like a GoPro, and upgrade to wingsuiting and other modified jumpsuits.
C-Licensed skydivers can work toward earning their USPA instructor rating, which means they can work in an official capacity with students enrolled in skydiving school and can monitor and sign off on their progress.
Skydivers at this level can also participate in small-scale demonstration jumps, whereby they jump into a public setting in front of spectators (like at a ball game). If this were your first introduction to skydiving, how wonderfully full-circle it would be!
The most advanced skydiving license achievable is the D License. Reserved for those interested in earning pro status, D candidates must complete 500 jumps and can work toward earning their pro and tandem ratings.
As a D-holder, you can perform large demonstration jumps and other crazy-cool exhibition jumps, including flying with flags and even pyrotechnics, into difficult or tight landing areas.
After achieving tandem-instructor status, D-Licensed skydivers can share their love of the sport in the most major and rewarding way: taking first-timers on their first flight using a dual-harness parachute system.
If you are ready to take the leap into the next level, check out the fun waiting for experienced skydivers at Jumptown, the first commercial skydiving center in the US. Turns out ... the sky is limitless. Blue skies.