Since the dawn of time, humans have been obsessed with the sky. Naturally, this lead to an interest in flying and ultimately in falling. Origins of this interest and of the act of falling, have been traced back to Greek philosopher Aristotle when he mentioned falling objects in his book of Physics. Galileo advanced this idea when he dropped two objects of equal mass at the same time at the end of the 1500s.
According to Merriam Webster, the definition of free fall is 1.) the condition of unrestricted motion in a gravitational field; also: such motion. 2.) the part of a parachute jump before the parachute opens.
The second definition is what captures extreme sports fanatics, the act of falling through the air, free, with nothing but wind and gravity. All of this occurs before the parachute is deployed. There is math behind it, relating to gravity acting on the body and the speed at which one falls. Speaking in relations to physics, a person will increase their speed as they fall until they reach terminal velocity. Terminal velocity is the fastest speed a person (or object) can fall. There is a mathematical equation behind this which includes mass, acceleration due to gravity, drag coefficient, density, and the projected area of an object. Generally, it is determined people can fall no faster than 120 miles per hour during free fall.
While there is nothing natural about falling for humans, an art has risen behind it. Essentially, people trying to control their falling in a three dimensional space. It is a new form of control and of movement in an unfamiliar environment.
There is an element of control that most people not familiar with skydiving do not know about. An unconscious body falls with the back to the earth because it is the easiest position to achieve. A skydiver tries to avoid falling in this position, thus implementing control.
Two different positions in skydiving are the neutral position and the box position, and each has a different purpose.
The Neutral Position
Using our bodies, it is possible to have some control over the art of freefall. The neutral body position is when a person is falling facing the earth with a slight pelvis arch, the arms and legs equally creating the same amount of drag through the air. The idea is that the arms and legs balance a person out as they fall through the air. Achieving this position varies according to each individual. Increasing the arch in a person’s body can often cause a person to freefall with more stability.
The key elements of achieving a neutral body position are the hips; they should be the lowest point of the body in relation to the wind. Keeping the spine straight helps with this. Next, the knees need to be a little wider than shoulder-width apart. Pointing the toes helps extend the legs properly. (Do not flex the feet: this causes the legs to bend.) Finally, the arms should be somewhat forward and the elbows should be in front of the shoulder line. While increasing their arch, a person will lift their chest, and the elbows should still be level with the shoulders or slightly lower.
The Box Position
Aside, from the neutral position, there is the box position. This can be used to achieve turns, go backwards or forwards, make sideways movement, and change a person’s fall rate. In this position, a person’s elbows are straight out from their shoulders and their arms are at a 90 degree angle from their shoulders. The legs are bent at 45 degree angles. By moving in different positions, a person can control the direction they fall in. Turning left or right is possible. A person can turn right by moving their arm to the left and vice versa. To stop turning or change in movement, a person needs to return to the neutral position.
Before beginning freefall, it is important to relax and stretch out the body. While in the air, it is also important to breathe effectively in a controlled way with smooth deep inhales and a relaxed slow exhale. In addition, this can make a person less tense while in freefall.
This is not something a person will need to worry about on their first jump because most first jumps are tandem jumps, but a person can take more skydiving lessons with an instructor to increase their skill level and awareness in the air. There are two basic types of programs for a person to improve their skydiving skills: Static Line and Accelerated Free Fall. Each has their own advantages and disadvantages. The static line is generally done in a group with less individualized attention while the accelerated free fall is done in less than ten jumps with a certified instructor.
Regardless of which course a person takes, he or she will become better at skydiving. Through practice in this new environment, a controlled three dimensional atmosphere, a person can become more and more familiar with falling through the air. Eventually a person can learn the art of freefall.