Skydiving in the St. Louis Area


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)

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

Introduction:

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 in the 2000's:

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 NOTAM. Drop zones that have been in operation for a certain length of time may have a permanent 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 a separate 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 2000 and 3000 feet. 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.

In conclusion:

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 Parachute Association.

If you would like more information about skydiving or skydiving operations you may contact Gary by email at peek@pcprg.com, or by phone at (636) 946-5272, (636) 723-4000, or (800) 435-1975.

www.skydivestlouisarea.com
Copyright © 2004-2011


log file