Information for Pilots about Skydiving Operations
by Gary Peek
Re-printed from December 1994 Midwest Aviation Journal (St. Louis Flyer in 1994)
(Skydiving centers updated April 2013, other updates 2015)
St. Louis Area Skydiving Centers (Drop Zones)
Mid-America Sport Parachute Club, www.skydivetaylorville.org
, (217) 824-JUMP
Taylorville, IL (TAZ) CTAF - 122.8, KC Center - 124.3
Rapid Descent Skydiving, www.rapiddescentskydiving.com, (573) 221-3230, (573) 253-9695
Hannibal, MO (HAE) CTAF - 122.80, KC Center - 135.52
Fly Free Skydiving, www.flyfreeskydiving.com, (314) 570-3905
Festus, MO (FES) CTAF - 122.7, STL Approach - 126.5
Gateway Skydiving Center, www.SkydiveSTL.com, (314) 669-5867
Greenville, IL (GRE) CTAF - 123.05, KC Center - 127.7
Skydive the Flying V Ranch, www.skydiveflyingvranch.com, (636) 484-0084
Williamsburg, MO (private) CTAF - 122.90 (multicom), KC Center - 128.35
AirNav Airport Directory
IDOT Airport Directory
MODOT Airport Directory
Even though most pilots have no intention of ever jumping from the aircraft
that they fly, learning as much possible about this special area of general
aviation is a good idea for all of us. All of our special aviation groups
need to work together to create a strong general aviation community, and
learning about the unique needs, problems, and operational details of these
other groups will better enable us to do that. Skydiving and other types of
general aviation flying seldom interfere with each other, but it sometimes
seems to pilots that there is a large potential for problems, and thereby
causes some pilots to unnecessarily avoid airports where skydiving takes
place. The following article describes basically how skydiving operations
are conducted and how other general aviation flying interacts with
skydiving operations at these airports.
Skydiving is a widely practiced sport and is done at many airports across
the country. Major advances have been made in parachuting technology in
the past decade and experienced jumpers are capable of controlling
their modern "square" parachutes to an amazing degree of accuracy. Very
few "round" parachutes are intentionally jumped now, and skydivers no longer
simply "drift" over airports to land in some far away field. Occasionally
jumpers may land off the airport when errors are made or when student
skydivers are learning how to guide themselves in, but usually the jumpers
land back at the designated landing area. Therefore it is easy to predict
where parachutes will be located when jumping is taking place.
When and where skydiving takes place:
Airports at which skydiving takes place are called "drop zones" and are
often depicted on VFR sectional maps with a special parachute symbol
which is listed in the map's legend. Due to possible errors on these maps
and delays in getting them changed, you should not count on a symbol always
being printed where jumping takes place, but simply use it as a guide.
Parachute jumping areas are identified by ATC "notification" and/or NOTAM.
(Se FAR 105, Parachute Operations.)
Drop zones that have been in operation for a certain length of time may
have a permanent notification and/or NOTAM established so it may be assumed
by many sources that pilots are aware of this activity if the drop zone has
been around for a while. Skydiving is mostly a daytime activity but night
jumps are occasionally made. In this case an extended notification and/or
NOTAM is filed.
How jump pilots and other pilots can find out about each other:
Once they have climbed above the airport's traffic pattern a jump aircraft
will establish communication with an Air Traffic Control facility (an
Approach Control or Center frequency) in order to obtain information about
other aircraft in the area just before the jump takes place. ATC can
provide information about not only whether a jump aircraft is presently
in the air, but also whether jumping has taken place yet that day. Most
jump pilots also make announcements on their particular airport's CTAF
as the jumpers leave the airplane so that other aircraft approaching the
airport or in the pattern are aware that there are skydivers in the area.
Where the jump aircraft will be:
On the climb to the altitude at which the jumpers will exit, the aircraft
will be circling the airport nearby, which may be only several miles in the
case of small jump aircraft. The pilot will contact ATC whenever they are
well above the traffic pattern and when communication with ATC will become
reliable. Likewise, on descent the jump aircraft will be near the airport
so as to enter the pattern in the normal manner. The point at which the
pilot will switch back to the CTAF will vary, but will be at least soon
enough to make standard calls in the pattern to local traffic.
Where the jumpers will be:
Once the jump aircraft climbs to the altitude from which the jumpers will
exit, it will usually begin a "jump run" heading over the landing area
and heading into the winds aloft. The jumpers will exit upwind of the
landing area usually no more than a mile away and only that far if the
winds aloft are very strong. Skydiving freefall usually takes place below
10,000 feet with small jump aircraft or 15,000 for larger aircraft.
Parachute opening altitude is usually between 2500 and 6900 feet, but can be higher.
Occasionally skydivers will deploy their parachutes immediately upon
exit to perform maneuvers under canopy. In this case the jump aircraft
will usually descend in a circle near them. After opening, the jumpers
will be guiding their canopies back to the landing area adjusting for
the influence of the upper winds. Modern "square" parachutes descend
at about 1000 feet per minute and have forward speeds of 20 to 30 MPH.
Why it is easy to avoid contact with a parachute:
Due to their constant rate of descent, parachutes are not really in the
air for all that long, and since their forward speed is slow compared to
an airplane, they are very easy to see. Their slow speed also makes it
very easy for a pilot to avoid coming close to a parachute even if
they unexpectedly find one in their path. Since skydivers must jump
upwind of the airport in order to make it back to the landing area,
their location while jumping is also predictable.
Additional tips for avoiding conflict with skydiving operations:
If you are concerned about coming too close to a jumper under canopy when
approaching to land at an airport, consider doing a straight-in approach.
Since the exit point is always upwind of the landing area it is very
unlikely for a jumper to be at the downwind side of a runway where you
would be landing.
When flying VFR or planning a VFR cross country, do not fly directly over
an airport where skydiving may be taking place
. However, this does not mean
you have to avoid the airport entirely. Since jumping seldom takes place
more than a mile or two away from the airport, so you can still fly close
enough to have a good look at the airport and to include it in your
emergency procedure plans.
An airport where skydiving takes place is a fun and educational place for
a pilot to visit once they know how operations are conducted there. Any
pilot that has any questions or concerns about flying in the vicinity of
a "drop zone" should feel free to contact the skydiving operation.
About the author:
Gary Peek is a Commercial Pilot, jump pilot, Master Parachute Rigger,
and skydiving Instructor/Examiner. His articles on skydiving have been
published in Parachutist, the official publication of the United States
If you would like more information about skydiving or skydiving operations
you may contact Gary by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
or by phone at (636) 946-5272, (636) 723-4000, or (800) 435-1975.