Where Do Skydivers Land?

A skydiver in a red jumpsuit landing on an inflatable pad with a blue and red parachute. There are people around, one wearing a red and black jumpsuit and two others in casual attire that seem to be involved in the activity. The background is a grassy field and a blue sky.
A Very Safe Landing In An Airbed

The final and most important part of skydiving is the landing! After the freefall and canopy ride, a skydiver needs to accurately prepare and execute the landing procedure. There is little room for error.

Solo and tandem skydivers land in a designated parachute landing area within their drop zone. In cases, where skydivers have drifted too far away from the dropzone, they can also land in nearby off-field areas like farms or open fields.

One of the biggest challenges faced by skydivers is orienting themselves during the descent and finding the right dropzone. With the wind, speed, and other factors at play, it can be difficult to control the body and navigate to the landing area. In the following blog post, I explain the different landing areas for skydiving and how to find them.

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Three Types of Landing Areas For Skydivers

One of the most important aspects of skydiving is the landing area, which can greatly impact the safety and success of a jump. There are several different types of landing areas, each offering unique advantages and challenges.

1. Skydivers Land Within the Parachute Landing Area (PLA)

Skydiving centers are located either outside or inside an airport facility and they have designated Parachute Landing Areas (PLA) that meet the Basic Safety Regulations of the USPA and the FAA.

Parachute landing areas should be rectangular, unobstructed, and have a minimum distance from hazardous objects:

  • not less than 330 ft for Solo and A license holders;
  • not less than 165 ft for B and C holders; and
  • not less than 40 ft for D license holders.

Examples of hazards are buildings, power lines, telephone lines, automobiles, highways, waterways, trees, and forests which cover more than 32,292 sq ft.

The rules for landing using a parachute are the same as when landing an airplane.

Skydivers always need to check for air traffic and monitor the ground wind by using the flagpoles and windsocks at the dropzone.

Bigger drop zones have more than one landing area and are selected based on the skydiver’s experience. There are landing areas for less than 500 jumps and those for more than 500 jumps.

The chosen landing pattern (i.e., a left or right landing approach) will depend upon the wind direction at the drop zone.

You might have noticed the licenses mentioned here, which are essential for solo skydiving. But, have you ever wondered if beginners can do a solo jump without all the requirements? In my article “Is It Possible to Skydive Alone on Your First Jump?”, I explore this option and whether it’s feasible for first-time skydivers. Check it out to see if it’s something you’d consider.

2. Skydivers Land In Nearby Off-Field Landing Areas (Farm and Open Fields)

Skydivers usually plan their landing technique and location way in advance. However, landing does not always go as planned, mostly because of strong winds, canopy flying mistakes, loss of orientation, or incorrect exits from the aircraft

Specifically, wind speed and direction can change in a matter of minutes. Skydivers can reduce the risk of being driven away by monitoring the wind before boarding the aircraft, during the freefall, and during the parachute deployment process.

If skydivers are drifting off their dropzone, they should immediately locate and evade any nearby hazards like power lines, buildings, or trees to prevent an undesirable outcome. If skydivers lose their orientation, they can try to spot other skydivers nearby and steer the parachute in their direction.

Skydivers who are new to their specific dropzone are encouraged to locate potential off-field landing areas such as farms and open fields with lesser or no obstacles as emergency backup landing spots.

When landing off-dropzone it is important for skydivers to try to land on their feet or prepare themselves to do the parachute landing fall (PLF). This reduces the risk of injury.

If you are interested in knowing more about the landing process and how to avoid injuries, check out this post.

3. Experienced Skydivers Can Land Inside Stadiums!

Experienced skydivers or military personnel who hold a “D” license and a USPA PRO rating can perform exhibition (demonstration) jumps into stadiums or other similar locations aside from their dropzones.

Generally, this type of landing is performed to entertain an audience and is done during the opening ceremonies of sporting events or charity events.

As “D” license holders, skydivers who perform these activities are highly trained individuals with more than 500 jumps under their belt and have mastered accuracy when landing.

Stadium landings are also connected with a lot of administration work in advance. For example, skydivers must first accomplish the FAA Form 7711-2 and get approval to conduct such demonstration jumps.

They will also need to have had a dry run (practice jump prior to the event), crowd control in place (to ensure no spectators make their way within the landing area), an assertive announcer (to address the public regarding the jump), and ground signals.

Stadium jumps are difficult since they involve air currents, and turbulence, and skydivers must familiarize themselves with the flight characteristics of their canopy before undertaking such a jump.

Additionally, only ram-air main and reserve parachutes are allowed by the FAA during stadium jumps.

Impressive, isn’t it? Interested in discovering more extraordinary landings, particularly in wingsuits? My article “How Do Winguits Pilots Land?” delves into various landing techniques for this thrilling aspect of the sport. Prepare to be amazed by how wingsuit pilots land and their exceptional skill and expertise.

A Safety Guide for Choosing Secure Landing Areas in Skydiving
Overview of the Ideal and Hazardous Landing Zones for Skydivers

Hazards to Avoid By Skydivers When Landing

Contrary to a common belief, most injuries and fatalities do not happen because of parachute failures. In fact, most injuries happen either due to incorrect landings or because skydivers hit hazards on the ground.

Hitting hazards on the ground is often a result of having to land outside the dropzone.

Skydivers should avoid hazards roads, walkways, fences, telephone and power lines, buildings, waterways like lakes and rivers, automobiles, trees, and enormous forested areas.

By doing so, skydivers can avoid hard landings and render themselves less susceptible to injuries.

Landing off-field is sometimes unavoidable so it pays to have a backup landing area just in case of an emergency.

If you are interested in understanding the risks of skydiving, I have written a comprehensive and exciting piece about: “Death, Broken Legs and Addiction: The True Risks of Skydiving”.

How Do Skydivers Know Where to Land?

Skydiving is a sport that takes people on an adrenaline-fueled adventure as they soar through the sky and experience the thrill of freefall. It is easy to be carried away by such an experience.

However, the flight to the dropzone can be just as exciting as the actual jump. Skydivers sometimes must navigate unfamiliar landscapes, weather conditions, and technical issues to find their dropzone.

Here are five tips to make sure to find the way to the dropzone.

1. Skydivers Should Decide Where to Land Before Boarding the Aircraft

Before boarding the aircraft, skydivers are encouraged to plan their landing approach carefully, including the precise spot at the parachute landing area where they will touch the ground. The spot is often determined beforehand and marked accordingly.

There are also differences between the level of skydivers.

AFF students, for example, will be assisted by two skydiving instructors.

During the first few jumps, one of the instructors will open the students’ canopy at a lower altitude. As a result, the student will have a shorter canopy ride, minimizing the risk of being drifted off the dropzone.

AFF students are also given radio instructions on how to land safely and how to steer the canopy. It is important to maintain a safe distance between students as they are otherwise more prone to collisions.

During tandem jumps, a tandem instructor has full control over how and where the pair will land.

In other words: tandem students can lean back. Not quite!

It is the responsibility of tandem students to pay full attention and cooperate with the instructions given by the teacher. There are moments when students will be asked to slightly adjust their position under the harness and lift their legs.

Once tandem pairs land, students should not stand up immediately since the instructor will need to conduct a quick surrounding check (i.e., no skydiver is coming towards their location). It is best to wait for further instructions.

If you’re seeking similar heart-pounding adventures, I’ve written an extensive guide detailing 13 activities you will enjoy if you like skydiving. Delving into their distinct characteristics and shared exhilaration, this blog post presents a variety of options customized to your preferences.

2. Skydivers Should Spot the Landing Area Before Exiting the Plane

Spotting is a great additional skill to be acquired by first-time skydivers and to be improved by advanced skydivers. It is not only used to determine the wind speed and direction but also to locate the dropzone’s landing area.

Skydivers who are new to the dropzone can perform spotting of the landing area by periodically looking out of the aircraft window during the ascent. They can familiarize the landing area and its nearby landmarks. These identification markers will greatly benefit them later.

Another great method is to keep an eye on the landing area as they exit the aircraft. If they do so, they will not lose their orientation. Their body will also automatically adjust itself to move in the direction of the landing area.

3. Skydivers Can Familiarize Themselves With Landmarks on Google Maps

Before the skydiving appointment, it is best to familiarize oneself with the landmarks of the dropzone. Surprisingly, the landmarks that skydivers can use as identification markers are also the very hazards that they need to avoid!

Roads, buildings, bodies of water, and forested areas are all viable markers and can be identified either by observation or terrain mode of Google Maps!

Skydivers should also talk to other skydivers, who are more familiar with the dropzone. They can give more information about the landing area and which landmarks to best memorize.

For example, if the dropzone is inside the airport then skydivers can check which side of the airport the runaway is located. They should also memorize the location of the airport buildings or parking areas since these places will be more visible while under the canopy.

For novice skydivers, it is often a bit difficult to recognize the landmarks at first. They are preoccupied with other variables.

However, if you are new don’t feel discouraged. After a few jumps, you will feel more relaxed and will be able to calmly use your knowledge of your surroundings when it comes to landing.

4. Skydivers Can Ask for an Aerial Copy of the Landing Area

During the orientation, skydivers should make sure to pay special attention to the landing area briefing. Most skydiving centers have an aerial photograph of the dropzone from a height of around 13,500 ft.

This photograph will also point out the landing area, holding area, no-go zones as well as nearby off-field landing areas such as farms or open fields that can be used in case you drift too far away from the dropzone.

If unsure, people can ask for a printed copy of this photograph to familiarize themselves during your waiting time. (An hour or more depending on if it is peak season)

To learn more about how long each step of skydiving is and how you can save waiting time, you can read this post.

5. Skydivers Can Request a Tour of the Skydiving Dropzone

It is also recommended for skydivers unfamiliar with the dropzone to request a dropzone tour. Most dropzones will accommodate such requests and assign a skydiving staff to help. They can provide a quick tour of the dropzone’s holding area, landing area, aircraft hangar, and packing station.

It is best to inform skydiving centers in advance of such requests.

Where to Land During Night Skydiving?

Night skydiving is made an hour after the official sunset or an hour before the official sunrise. It is performed by very experienced skydivers who hold a “B” license. Unfortunately, it is not available for tandem skydivers due to its high risk and relatively unsafe nature.

Night skydivers can face challenges like hypoxia, resulting in loss of night vision and confusion. In the dark of night, even your own shadow can resemble another skydiver.

To make night skydiving safer, it is normally performed during a full moon where skydivers use:

  • Glow face altimeters to monitor their altitude;
  • Flashlights to check their canopies;
  • Whistles to warn other skydivers while under the canopies,
  • Chem lights,
  • Glowsticks attached to their parachute containers; and
  • Jumpsuits so that they will be visible in the dark sky.

Skydivers are also provided with radios for easier ground-to-air communication. Some night dare-devils use pyrotechnics and even perform formation jumps which involve special training, thorough planning, and execution.

The ground staff also make sure that the landing areas have sufficient lighting like flashlights, electric lights, and car headlights. They line up at least four lights to indicate the wind path and help lead the skydivers to the target by creating a circle of lights around the target area with a radius of 82 ft.

Due to the light, some people even say that it is easier to land during the night – which is obviously not true.

An Example Of Skydiving During Nights

Where to Land During Accuracy Skydiving Competitions?

During competitive accuracy landing, skydivers aim to land as near as possible to the preset target. The target, also known as “dead center”, is a circular pad that measures up to 16 cm and has a dead center of 2 cm in diameter.

The individual skydiver or team member normally jumps between the height of 3,000 ft (900 meters) to 3,600 ft (1,100 meters). The goal in this competition is to land exactly or as close as possible to the dead center.

The distance is measured by meters from the dead center and the skydiver or team that has the best score (i.e., closest to the dead center) is declared the winner.

Normally, skydivers perform a standing landing and attempt to make contact with the dead center using the heels of their feet. Initially, the dead center had a diameter of 3, 5, and 10 cm. However, in order to make the sport more challenging and to avoid tie-breakers, it was changed to 2cm in 2007.

In general, it is most important for skydivers to not panic if they can’t seem to find the landing area. When they panic, they are more likely to make mistakes – which can be deadly.

Enjoy your freefall!

Guide cover with title: Tandem Skydiving Newbie's Guide
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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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The image shows the safe and designated skydiver landing areas as well as the surfaces to avoid landing in or on.