Skydiving Aircraft Operations
In order to skydive, we must use aircraft to climb to a safe altitude. The most common aircraft used for skydiving is still the Cessna 182 Skylane. Cessna has produced the piston-powered 182 Skylane since 1956. Other piston-powered Cessna aircraft regularly used for skydiving include the 205, 206, and 207 ( known variously as the Super Skywagon, Skywagon, Stationair, and Super Skylane). Skydivers have also jumped out of other Cessna piston-powered aircraft, including the 140, 150, 172, 180, and the 210. Cessna also builds a turbine-powered aircraft under model designations 208 (Caravan) and 208B (grand Caravan) that are commonly used at medium to large volume skydiving centers. Other manufacturers also build aircraft that is used for skydiving. DeHaviland built the Beaver and Twin Otter. The Twin Otter is the aircraft of choice at very large skydiving centers. Pilatus built an aircraft called the Porter, which has been converted from a piston to a turbine, and is used at a few skydiving centers in the USA, but is quite popular in Europe. Gippsland makes the GA8, which is primarily used down-under. Pacific Aerospace builds the PAC-750XL, which is becoming more popular in the USA due to its capacity and speed of climb. Finally Piper, who build the PA-31-310 (Navajo) and the PA-31-350 (Chieftan... we have one of these we are getting ready to use as a jumpship). In 2010, Quest started delivering the Kodiak, which is used at one USA dropzone already. Other specialty aircraft used include the Casa C-212 Aviocar and the Short SC-7 Skyvan. Skydivers have also exited from some very exotic aircraft including the Pitts Biplane, Steerman Biplane, B-17, B-29, and C-130 just to name a few. Most skydiving aircraft flying today (with the exception of the PAC750XL and the Kodiak) are from the 1950s through the 1970s, which seems very old, but the aircraft are very durable and well maintained.
Skydiving Aircraft Operations are followed closely by the FAA, and the majority of skydiving centers operate under Part 91 (General operating and flight rules) and Part 105 (Parachute operations) of the Federal Aviation Regulations. Aircraft is rigorously and routinely inspected, and operators must adhere to strict maintenance schedules, with complete inspections required as often as each 100 hours of flight time (as little as two weeks at busy centers). Skydiving aircraft at reputable dropzones is among the best maintained aircraft in the country.
Flying these airplanes are very skilled pilots, who generally hold commercial pilot designations. Flying skydivers is true hands-on flying. Quick climbs and descents are needed to keep costs down. So often we take-off very heavy (near the gross weight rating of the aircraft) and in tough wind-conditions. The load is shifting often during the climb, keeping pilots on their toes. During the exit, skydivers can produce an immense amount of parasitic drag on the aircraft, slowing it to near its stall point and requiring the pilot to compensate with the controls to keep it flying level and straight. Once the skydivers have left, the pilot must descend quickly to pick up the next load of jumpers, normally landing empty. The pilot must not only fly efficiently, they must protect the aircraft from damage/failure. On the climb to altitude, the engine(s) get very hot because they are working hard. On the descent, the engine(s) are rarely under load, and want to cool too quickly, which can cause engine damage. Remember, the pilot needs the airplane to work, so they take great care to fly it properly, while still adhering the Federal Aviation Regulations.