The Falling Speed of Tandem Skydiving (and How to Increase It)

A skydiving tandem pair in blue and black jumpsuits are in freefall, positioned head-down above a picturesque landscape featuring a coastline and agricultural fields. The sky is blue with scattered clouds.
Tandem Skydivers Achieve a Higher Falling Speed Than Solo Skydivers

Going on a tandem jump is fun-filled and scary at the same time. A tandem jump normally lasts for about six minutes including one minute of freefall and about five minutes of the canopy ride. But how fast do you fall when tandem skydiving?

The freefall speed of a tandem jump is approximately 120 mph (194 kph) in a belly-to-earth position and can be as high as 185 mph in a head-down position. Since tandem skydiving involves two people (tandem instructor and tandem student), it is much faster than solo skydiving (100 mph).

The speed of tandem skydiving, however, depends on several factors. To estimate the speed that you will achieve during your freefall, I have summarized everything that you need to know for your next tandem jump.

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The Most Important Factors That Determine the Falling Speed When Skydiving

Before we dive into the different factors let’s have a look at a few basics first.

In skydiving, terminal velocity refers to the maximum speed that the skydiver can attain as he falls from the sky to the ground. A typical tandem skydiver in a belly-to-earth position will reach terminal velocity at approximately 120 mph (193 km/h) after 12 seconds of freefall and a fallen distance of 1,500 feet (450m).

The first few seconds in freefall are slower and it takes about 10 seconds to cover the first 1,000 ft (300 meters). After the first 1,000 ft, it only takes 5 seconds for every additional 1,000 ft onwards since the state of zero acceleration will be reached (i.e. terminal velocity).

The skydiver falls with terminal velocity when the force of air resistance equals the force of gravity. When this happens, skydivers feel like they are floating on air instead of falling.

The feeling of freefall is the same for tandem and solo skydives. However, because tandem jumps include two people, they are heavier than solo jumpers and therefore are much faster.

Are you curious about how tandem skydiving differs from solo skydiving? To learn more about the striking differences, check out my article about the 13 differences between tandem and solo skydiving.

The Jump Altitude Impacts Your Falling Speed When Skydiving

In the US, the recommended altitude for solo and tandem skydiving is between 10,000-15,000 ft. If you go below 10,000 ft you won’t be able to fully enjoy the skydiving experience because the freefall is much shorter. In general, it holds that the higher the jumping altitude is, the longer the freefall and the higher the terminal velocity will be. However, the effect is not as big as you might think.

For example, if tandem jumpers exit a plane at 10,000 ft in a belly-to-earth position it will give them around 30 seconds of freefall at a terminal velocity of around 120 mph. In comparison, if the same tandem skydivers jumped from a higher altitude at 15,000 ft they will experience longer freefall (around 65 seconds) but the terminal velocity will still be reached at 120 mph (+ 0.01 mph).

If skydivers want to achieve a much higher speed, they need to increase their height tremendously by performing a so-called “High-Altitude-Low-Opening” (HALO) jump”. HALO jumps are defined as jumps with an altitude above 30,000 feet. For HALO jumps, skydivers need to be very experienced and they will need a special space-like jumpsuit with oxygen support that allows them to breathe at high altitudes.

HALO skydivers do not only achieve a higher speed because of the increased altitude but also because the air density is much lower at high altitudes. This means that skydivers need to cut through less air when falling and will not be stopped as much as from denser air.

One well-known HALO jump was performed by Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner on 14 October 2012. Felix Baumgartner broke the World’s record by becoming the first skydiver to exit an altitude height of 127,852ft (38,969.4 m) and reaching a supersonic speed of 843.6 mph (1,357.6 km/h).

If you are interested in knowing more about the highest altitude that humans can jump from, including whether we can jump from space, check out this post. The article will change your perspective on skydiving.

The Combined Weight of the Tandem Pair Increases the Falling Speed When Skydiving

During a tandem jump, the speed will be much faster compared to a solo jump due to the increased weight of the trained instructor and student jumper.

If the instructor and student jumper weigh 165 pounds (75 kg) each, their overall weight will be 330 pounds (150 kg). As a result, they will be able to achieve a terminal velocity of 170 mph in a head-down position (274 km/h).

In contrast, if the instructor’s and student’s weight were increased to 198 pounds (90 kg) each, their overall weight would be 397 pounds (180 kg). As a result, they will achieve a much faster terminal velocity of 185 mph (298 km/h) which is 15 mph faster.

In the US, most skydiving centers set their weight limit at 240 pounds for solo jumps and 220 pounds for tandem jumps. Due to safety reasons, tandem students must be weight-height proportionate and must be able to bend, kneel, lift their legs.

If students do not match these criteria the skydiving centers might reject them because they can not guarantee their safety. Skydiving centers, therefore, perform an onsite evaluation to determine if the jump will be safe.

If you go a few pounds over the limit, then there is still a chance to skydive but it will be based on availability. Skydiving centers need to use a special parachute that can support the increased combined weight which is not always available. It is also more expensive compared to the standard tandem packages.

Do not feel disheartened if you will not be allowed to jump due to the weight limitations, since it is for the safety of yourself and your instructor. Most overweight people use skydiving as a health goal and inspiration to be more healthy and lose weight so that they can fulfill their lifelong dream of skydiving.

If you want to learn more about skydiving when exceeding the weight limits, make sure to read this article.

Understanding Tandem Skydiving Speed and How to Boost It
Overview Of The Falling Speed Tandem Skydiving and Tips for Increasing It

The Body Shape Impacts Your Freefall Speed When Skydiving

Every body is different. For example, some bodies are smaller at the hips and broader at the shoulders while other bodies are larger around the bellies or legs. The body shape does not only influence the falling speed because it correlates with the weight but also because of the air resistance.

The more surface someone’s body has in relation to his weight the higher the air resistance will be and therefore the slower the falling speed. For example, two people might weigh exactly the same but they will have a different falling speed if one person is 10 cm taller. The taller person will have a bigger surface and therefore encounter more air resistance.

You can see this effect also in ski jumping. If you look at the top athletes you will discover that they are super thin and tall. This gives them a good height-weight ratio such that they have more air resistance and can jump farther.

However, there is normally no specific body shape required for skydiving. It is important that your body shape allows your legs and shoulders to fit the harness. The harness can be adjusted up to a certain point, after which it will be uncomfortable to wear.

If you are oversized it might be too tight around the legs which will negatively affect the blood circulation in your body. In order to avoid such an unpleasant experience, skydiving centers perform an onsite evaluation before you are allowed to jump.

Some people are confused about why skydiving centers reject people due to their weight or body shape. However, canopies are designed to carry a maximum weight and to match a certain body shape. While the harness can usually be adjusted to fit 95% of the people, it can only be adjusted up to a certain point. As skydiving is still a niche sport, there are no companies that produce specialized equipment for oversized skydivers.

How to Manipulate the Freefall Speed When Tandem Skydiving?

As mentioned earlier, you can manipulate the tandem skydiving freefall speed and either increase or decrease your terminal velocity. The following ways give experienced skydivers the freedom to decide if they want to fall fast or slow.

Skydivers Can Decrease Their Falling Speed by Using a “Drogue”

A drogue chute (basically a large throw-out pilot chute) is part of a tandem skydiving equipment that is designed to decrease speed and to provide control and stability. Tandem jumpers fall faster than solo skydivers. As a result, tandem instructors use drogues to slow the falling speed down such that they can guarantee a safe and stable parachute opening.

The drogue is connected to a bridle which is anchored to the parachute container with a release system. When the instructor throws the drogue, the drogue inflates and extends the bridle. The opened drogue then slows the speed of the tandem pair.

During a tandem jump, the instructor must deploy the drogue very soon after exiting the plane. It will help the pair to remain in a stable belly-to-earth position during the freefall. If the tandem instructor is unable to move into a belly-to-earth position, the falling speed can increase to anywhere between 170-200 mph which will result in a hard parachute opening.

A drogue will bring the speed back down to manageable 120 mph for smooth parachute deployment.

Skydivers Can Wear Weights to Go Faster

Small skydivers sometimes choose to wear weight belts that will increase their speed. This normally happens when skydivers jump together and need to have the same falling speed to do joint maneuvers. In these cases, lighter skydivers will wear weights to match the speed of the heavier skydivers.

Formation jumps are one example of this. During formation jumps, skydivers must maintain the same speed so that they can easily complete their routine and grab each other. If one skydiver is too fast or slow, it will be hard for the others to grab him and to maintain their assigned position.

Wearing weights is also applicable to competitions such as speed skydiving wherein the goal is to achieve and maintain the highest possible terminal velocity over a given distance.

Skydivers Can Wear Different Jumpsuits to Influence Their Falling Speed

Ideally, skydivers wear not too loose or not too tight clothing when they go skydiving because it can mess up their maneuverability in the air. Skydivers can however wear different jumpsuits that impact their aerodynamics.

For example, if a skydiver decides to wear a baggy jumpsuit, it will make the speed of the fall slower since air will create a drag towards the jumpsuit. A tighter jumpsuit, in contrast, will make the fall faster as it has less air resistance. Aside from being a fall rate control, the right cut and design of the jumpsuit provides stability, protects the skin, and provides more predictable air control surfaces.

Skydivers can also use wingsuits in order to decelerate their falling speed significantly and to cover more distance on their way down. Wingsuits have a much larger surface area and therefore create more air resistance. Skydivers can also track around with them more easily.

Wingsuit flying has developed significantly over the past years and has become its own sport apart from skydiving.

If you dream about flying a wingsuit and do not want to go through the 200 skydiving jumps yourself, tandem wingsuit flying could be the right activity for you. In my ultimate guide to tandem wingsuit flying, I cover everything that you need to know for your flight!

You Can Also Perform a Wingsuit Tandem Skydive

Skydivers Can Adjust Their Body Position to Create More or Less Drag

Body position is crucial when it comes to tandem jumping and the speed that skydivers can achieve. When tandem skydivers move into a head-down position their speed can be as much as 60 mph higher than in a belly-to-earth position. If they want lower speed, they can go back to the belly-to-earth position.

Normally, tandem instructors try to move into a belly-to-earth position as soon as possible because it is much more controllable and safer. If you nonetheless want to go in the head-down position, you can ask your tandem instructor to do that.

If he is not willing to do that because he finds it too dangerous, the only way is to become a solo skydiver yourself. Once you have mastered the stable position you can already play around with other positions such as feet-down, head-down flying, or even front and backflips.

If you want to learn more about the nine mental and physical advantages of skydiving regularly, check out this post.

How Does It Feel When Terminal Velocity Is Reached?

Once terminal velocity is reached, it does not feel like falling anymore for the skydiver. Instead, it feels like flying. Terminal velocity is reached when the air resistance equals the gravitational pull of the earth.

It will feel like there is a giant air pillow below you and your acceleration speed is zero. You will be very stable once you have reached terminal velocity – some skydivers even say they feel as stable as laying on a bed.

Once you achieve that state, it is also the best moment to do maneuvers and move around in the air. Skydivers, however, sometimes lose the sense of falling after a few seconds and therefore need to check the altimeter regularly. The only way that you can tell that you are falling is by checking the altimeter, the sound of the wind, and seeing that the ground is rushing towards you.

Solo and tandem jump will feel the same once they reach terminal velocity. The only difference will be the speed of the fall and the freefall time.

If you’re new to skydiving and wondering whether it’s feasible to jump solo on your first attempt, I have an article that precisely addresses this topic. By reading it, you’ll gain insights into the fastest route to achieving solo skydiving.

The Fastest Recorded Tandem Skydive

On 25 October 2019, the two ex-soldiers American Jim Wigginton (as a tandem passenger) and Polish Arkadiusz ‘Maya’ Majewski (as the tandem pilot) broke the world record for the highest and fastest tandem skydive. The pair was accompanied by cameraman Wiktor Drewnik who made the stratospheric jump with them. 

The jump was dedicated to Jim’s late wife Nancy Punya Wigginton who died from thyroid cancer in 2007. The jump was intended to raise awareness and funds for the Punya Thyroid Cancer Research Foundation which Jim had founded to honor his wife. Jim donated 6 million dollars in total to help patients with oncological problems and to establish two endowed professorships.

The daredevil duo climbed to a height of 37,417 ft (11,405 m) using a helium-filled balloon. Because the oxygen composition of the air was so low, they had to wear a special breathing apparatus. They went on a freefall for about two minutes and reached a speed of 224 mph (360 kph). After they opened the parachute, they drifted off-site to their dropzone and landed 24 miles from their designated landing zone. 

Did you wonder whether skydivers can reach higher flying speeds if they put a wingsuit on? If yes, make sure to read my article about the wingsuit flying speed and be fascinated by the fastest wingsuit jumps in history.

In conclusion, the speed of your fall during tandem jumping will depend on several factors that can be manipulated.t In the end, speed is only one part of the skydiving experience and you should not be too concerned if you are 5 or 10 mph faster.

Enjoy your first tandem freefall!

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Kai Schmidt

Hi, I'm Kai. The first time I jumped out of an airplane and experienced free fall was one of the most amazing moments of my life. For me, skydiving does not only stand for freedom and independence but being present in the moment and being respectful to others and oneself. Now I want to share what I’ve learned with you.

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