2018 Chicago Skydiving Season well underway

We have been open since April 28th, but weather has significantly hampered our ability to operate.  The weather is improving now and we are open 6 days per week (closed Weds).  We go to 7 days operation starting around July 1.  

Skydive at Chicago's Best Skydiving Center, with super fast service times, awesome prices, and a totally unique view of Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline!

Chicago Skydiving Promo Video

There is a lot of great information on this blog about Chicago Skydiving.  Here is a promo for our dropzone that you may find entertaining and informative.


The Cost of Chicago Skydiving Explained

The skydiving business is a tricky one.  As many entrepeneurs have learned, just because you can do something doesn't mean you can run a business doing that thing (this applies to all aspects of business).  From a business perspective, the entity has relatively low fixed costs (as a proportion of sales) and very high variable costs.  Fixed costs are defined as those that recur regularly (i.e. rent, utilities, insurance, licensing, etc...)  Variable costs are defined as those costs that a business incurs based upon volume (for skydiving that is the cost of flying the airplane, packing & maintaining parachutes, etc...).  These facts are one reason that so many dropzones start (and fail) each year (often times taking customer's money with them).  

Groupon, Living Social, and all of the others on the bandwagon of social couponing greatly assist a dropzone in startup needs, but also directly lead to the eventual collapse (usually within one season) of the dropzone because the revenue is not sufficient to sustain the business.  Other companies that hurt the sport, and increase the cost are those that resell the service (Rushcube, Spot, Adrenaline365 to name a few).  These companies act as a middleman and sell you a product they cannot provide, then find a skydive center to provide the service (and charge you extra for their time).  You should always deal directly with the skydiving center (whereever you choose to jump).


The average cost of a tandem skydive is between $200 and $230, and here is why it seems to cost so much:

  • The smallest aircraft generally used for skydiving costs upwards of $120 per flight, the bigger the aircraft, the more it costs per flight, but more customers can share that cost, so the cost per customer decreases.
  • The equipment used for tandem skydiving costs nearly double to purchase as personal skydiving equipment.  One can buy a new parachute system (middle of the road) for about $8,000.00, but a tandem system costs nearly $16,000.  Tandem skydiving is hard on equipment, with repetitive jumps and heavy loads.  One can tack on an additional $2700 to the purchase cost for average maintenance costs over the effective lifespan.  Tandem systems are generally used for about 5 years or 2000 skydives, which results in a nearly $10/jump cost to own/operate a tandem parachute system.
  • Generally skydiving workers are hired as contractors, and migrate south in the winter.  They get paid per jump, per pack, or per flight.  The instructor can get paid between $30 and $70 per jump depending on experience and video duties
  • Marketing costs can be substantial.  Competition is fierce, and small dropzones like ours must compete with giants in the same market area.

The larger the dropzone, the larger the fixed cost, but the lower the variable cost (per customer).  At a large dropzone, the profit may be $100 or more on a $200 tandem, while at a small dropzone it may be $30 or less.  You may think... $30 per customer that isn't bad!  What will help you understand is volume.  A small dropzone may only complete 800 tandems per year.  Larger dropzones can serve 5000 customers or more.  In our area of the country we also only operate between 6 and 7 months each year, so we need to use our profit to survive the downtime in winter.  


Why do small dropzones even operate if they barely scrape by?  The primary reason is the love of skydiving.  Skydivers break-away from large centers to provide a better experinece.  Smaller skydiving centers are generally more receptive to individuals and can provide the best customer service.  At the smaller dropzones your instructor generally establishes a bond with you, if not a friendship.  Larger dropzones must do high-volume, and therefore it is more often than not like a cattle-call.  Larger dropzones can also only be supported around major metropolitan areas, where the volume is large.  


Small skydiving centers generally compete on quality and customer service, whilst the larger dropzones can compete on price.

Skydive Windy City Chicago is one of 6 skydiving centers in the Chicagoland area that operate sustainably.  We are one of the smallest, but we have the best customer service, location, and view.  

Skydiving Attire

One of the most frequent questions we receive from prospective jumpers is "What do I wear?"  For first-time jumpers or solo students, what to wear is simple.  You can wear whatever clothes are comfortable for the day (i.e. long pants and sweatshirt or jacket on colder days, or shorts and t-shirt on warmer days).  Most dropzones require lace-up tennis shoes (sneakers) and prohibit the wearing of hard-soled shoes or sandals.  Most skydiving centers will provide all other attire-related items that you need, including a jumpsuit, goggles, altimeter, helmet (for solo students) and gloves/hat (if cold enough to warrant them).  Wearing of jumpsuits is generally optional for tandem skydivers, but not for solo students.  If the weather is suitable for you, most skydiving centers will allow you to jump in shorts and a t-shirt, and some may allow you to jump with no clothes at all!  If you wear corrective lenses (glasses or contacts), the skydiving center will provide suitable eye protection so that you may wear the corrective lenses. 

The jumpsuit is designed to hold-up in the high-wind environment and protect you and your clothing in freefall and on landing.  The jumpsuit also helps to deter the cold.  As a general rule, the temperature will decrease by 3 degrees Farenheight for every 1000 feet of altitude, so for a 10,000' skydive, the temperature at altitude will be approximately 30 degrees less than on the ground. 

The experienced skydivers you see at the dropzone will be wearing a variety of different clothing items, depending on what they are doing on the jump.  Belly-flying jumpsuits are designed for belly-to-earth flying and look different than a free-flying jumpsuit (for vertical flying, i.e. head down or feet first).  Some experienced skydivers wear gloves on every jump, regardless of the temperature.  Helmets are optional for experienced skydivers.  There are additional suits that instructors and camera persons wear.  Most tandem instructors wear street clothes or jump pants and a t-shirt, while most videographers have camera-wings on their suits to give them more range in freefall (to capture that special moment).  Bigger suits with wings on the upper and lower body are called wingsuits (the public often refers to these suits as bird-man or flying squirrel suits), and allow the skydiver to slow his/her fall rate and increase forward speed.  Wearing the extra drag a wingsuit provides can increase a normal freefall from 60 to 240 seconds.

Whatever you wear, skydive near chicago and chicago area skydiving is the most fun you can have with your clothes on!

Skydiving Competitions

Skydivers come from all walks of life, and can complete in amatueur or professional competitions.  Amatueur competitions are held nearly every weekend at various skydiving centers around the country. Professional level competitions are held annually and include the US National Championships (which also has amatuer level classes), the World Cup of Skydiving, and the Skydiving World Championships.  The above mentioned competitions offer no purses for winning athletes or teams, akin to the Olympic Games.  Professional level competitions also exist around the globe that do offer purses for winning athletes or teams.

A multitude of disciplines exist for competition, and athletes can compete in multiple disciplines much like the Olympics.

Formation skydiving is the discipline most known to the public, and involves teams of 4, 8, and 16 jumpers race against the clock to complete as many predesignated geometric formations as possible in a set time period after exit from the aircraft.  One other formation skydiving discipline involves 10 person teams trying to complete one predesignated formation in as little time as possible after exit from the aircraft.

Vertical formation skydiving involves 4 person teams performing acrobatic maneuvers on upright and upside-down axes to complete as many predesignated formations as possible in 50 seconds.

Freeflying is a radical and truly 3-dimensional competition where 3 person teams freefall together in every imaginable orientation, carefully choreographed for speed and excitement.

Freestyle is a discipline where one jumper combines the dynamics of gymnastics witht he elegance of dance in a aerial performance.

Style and Accuracy is a competition where competitors perform a series of loops and turns in freefall as quickly as possible.  Then on separate jumps they try to land precisely on a target the size of a quarter.

Canopy Formation involves teams of 2, 4, or 8 jumpers building geometric formations with their parachutes as quickly as possible.

High Performance Canopy Competitions are the most spectator friendly competition.  Skydiving's most advanced athletes fly their high-performance parachutes through narrow courses over ground or water at speeds approaching those of freefall.  Events include speed, distance, and accuracy.  Other high-performance canopy competitions exist where competitors perform tricks while skimming across the ground (called Freestyle).

About Chicago's Skydiving Instructors

Skydiving Instructors come from all walks of life, and also may specialize in specific methods of instruction.  In the early days of sport parachuting, nearly everyone learned using  Static Line Progression.  As the sport developed, additional methods of instruction were developed, including IAD, AFF and Tandem.

Static Line Progression is a method of instruction where, after an extensive ground school (6-10 hours of ground training), the student boards the aircraft supervised by a Static Line Instructor.  The aircraft climbs to an altitude between 1800 and 4000 feet above the ground (3000 feet is pretty standard) for the exit.  The student's parachute is attached to the airplane with a device called a static line.  The student climbs out of the airplane and jumps off as he/she was taught during the ground school.  The parachute opens automaticallybecause as the student falls away from the airplane, the static line extracts his/her main parachute.  There is no significant freefall involved in the early levels of static line jumps.  The instructor must meet minimum requirements (200 jumps experience, hold a "C" license, and complete a supervised proficiency card) to become a static line instructor  Static line instructors do not jump with their students, only observe their exits and openings from the aircraft. 

IAD (Instructor Assisted Deployment) is another method of instruction that is closely tied to Static Line Progression.  The instructor rating is the same as for the Static Line Progression (the USPA instructor rating is Static Line/ IAD).  The student still attends an extensive ground school (6-10 hours of ground training).  The difference between static line and IAD is that the student's parachute is not attached to the aircraft, but the instructor holds the student's pilot chute in hand until the main parachute is open and he/she cannot hang on to it any longer.  IAD instructors do not jump with their students, only observe their exits and openings from the aircraft.  Jump altitudes are similar to those used for static line progression.

AFF (Accellerated Free Fall) is a method of instruction where the instructor(s) jump with the student.  AFF involves an extensive ground school  just like the static line and IAD methods, but is a bit more involved because of the freefall aspect.  AFF students enjoy a full freefall (up to one minute) from the very first jump.  AFF instructors need much more experience and must pass a rigorous course to earn their AFF instructor rating.  Candidates must hold a "C" license, hold a USPA Coach rating or an instructor rating from another discipline (and have at least 500 jumps if the coach rating has been held for less than 12 months), have a minimum of 6 hours of freefall time, and complete a supervised proficiency card.  The AFF rating is widely held to be the hardest instructor rating to attain.  AFF instructors must be able to manage their own body flight, and assess and correct that of the student.  Some skydiving centers have chosen to develop their own training program (such as AFP or STP) which exceeds the USPA requirements for AFF training, but the instructors must still hold the AFF instructor rating.

Tandem progression has allowed so many people to safely experience the sport of skydiving with little investment of time and money.  When jumping tandem, you will be attached to a qualified instructor, and you will freefall together and land under the same parachute.  Tandem classes last between 5 minutes and 30 minutes, depending on how involved the skydiving center you have chosen allows tandem jumpers to participate in their skydive.  Tandem instructors must have at least 500 jumps experience, 3 years in the sport, hold a "D" license, hold an instructional rating, hold a valid FAA class 3 medical certificate, and complete a supervised proficiency card.  Tandem instructors are often friendly and outgoing, as they work directly with the public.

The USPA Coach rating has been mentioned a couple times in this article.  The USPA coach rating is a stepping stone to a USPA instructional rating, and allows coach rating holders to jump with upper-level students and recent license holders.  To be a USPA coach, the candidate must hold a USPA "B" license or higher, have a minimum of 100 jumps, and complete a supervised proficiency card.

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.

Best Skydiving Equipment

A number of equipment manufacturers exist to support the sport of skydiving, including skydiving in Chicago.  Equipment technology has come a long way in the past couple of decades, and the equipment is more reliable and durable than ever.  There are manufacturers for jumpsuits, altimeters, parachutes, harness/container systems, and safety devices.  For experienced skydivers, the only equipment required is a harness/container system, reserve parachute, and main parachute.  For tandem and solo student skydivers, the equipment requirements are more stringent, and a minimum of two safety backup systems are required to be in place.  In the sport of skydiving, participants commonly refer to the entire system as a "rig."


Current equipment starts with the harness/container system.  These systems are commonly custom built for the wearer and the canopy size requirements.  The harness portion is the part that connects the jumper to the parachute, and the container is the part that holds the parachute when packed.  The standard configuration for the container portion of the system is with the reserve container located above the main container, both of which are on the wearer's back, like a backpack.  Included with the harness/container system are deployment bags and pilotchutes for the reserve and main parachutes.  When custom ordering a harness/container system, the purchaser can order nearly any color combination or design they wish, including tye-dye, camoflage, and abstract designs. 


The next components for the rig are the parachutes.  Two parachutes are required per FAA regulations.  The reserve parachute is the backup parachute, and will be used in the event the skydiver cannot open the main parachute, or the main parachute opens with an unresolvable problem that will prevent a safe landing.   Reserve parachutes are very similer in design to main parachutes, but lack much of the performance (sporty, fun) characteristics of the main parachutes.  The reserve parachute is a utility parachute, designed to open quickly, fly very reliably,  and get the skydiver to the ground safely.  Reserve parachutes can be ordered in many sizes (according to the user's weight and experience), and colors, including completely custom designs.  Reserve parachutes must be inspected and packed by a FAA certificated parachute rigger once every 180 days, whether it is used or not.  The reserve parachute is the backup, and nothing is left to chance.  The main parachute is the primary parachute, and will be used many times.  Main parachute performance varies greatly, from very docile designs to ultra-high performance models.  The main parachute is usually designed to open slower (and more comfortably) than reserve parachutes, and to provide a more fun and sporty flight.  Main parachutes can be customized in color or pattern, including putting logos on them.  Choosing the size and performance level of a main parachute is generally based upon the user's experience level and desired performance.  In general, smaller parachutes have higher performance and require more experience.


Backup safety devices are the next item for skydiving rigs.  These devices are optional for licensed skydivers, but required for tandem and solo student skydivers.  The first backup device is called an RSL (Reserve Static Line).  This device opens the reserve container when the main canopy is released (in the event of a malfunction).  The second backup device is called an AAD (Automatic Activation Device).  The AAD is an onboard computer which monitors the freefall and opens the reserve parachute if the freefall speed exceeds a preset number at a given altitude.  The AAD is a great last chance if the jumper is incapacitated or otherwise unable to perform his/her duties.

Other equipment used in skydiving include goggles, helmets, altimeters, audible altimeters (provide supplemental warnings aurally), and jumpsuits.

For tandem skydiving, and additional student harness is used, and is fitted to each student, then attached to the rig the instructor is wearing prior to exiting the aircraft.


As a tandem student, your dropzone of choice should be using an appropriate tandem parachute system, equipped with reserve and main parachutes, an RSL, and an AAD.  You should be provided goggles and a jumpsuit to wear as well.  Progressive dropzones also provide tandem students with an altimeter to wear on the skydive.  If the temperature is cold, dropzones also provide cold weather gear for you to wear on your skydive.

As a solo skydiving student, your dropzone of choice should be using appropriate studend parachute systems, equipped with reserve and main parachutes, an RSL, and an AAD.  You should be provided helmet, goggles, altimeter and a jumpsuit.  Cold weather gear should also be provided if temperatures are cold.


At Skydive Windy City Chicago, we only use the best (which also is the most expensive) equipment available.  We use UPT Sigma tandem systems and Airtec Cypres2 AADs.  We also have an enhanced RSL on our equipment (called the SkyHook RSL) which acts faster and more reliably than standard RSLs.  Safety is our first priority!

Chicago Area Skydiving Weather

Skydiving centers make every attempt to operate safely, even when those decisions negatively impact the bottom-line. One injury or bad experience is a million-fold worse than none. A common saying in the sport is:

"It is better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air, than to be in the air wishing you were on the ground."


Skydiving is a weather dependent sport.  All skydiving centers and licensed skydivers must comply with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs).

FAR 105.17:  Flight Visibility and Clearance from Cloud Requirements (for parachute operations) states:

No person may conduct a parachute operation, and no pilot in command of an aircraft may allow a parachute operation to be conducted from that aircraft--

(a) Into or through a cloud, or

(b) When flight visibility or the distance from any cloud is less than prescribed in the following table:

Altitude                                               Flight Visibility (statute miles)                      Distance from clouds

1,200 feet or less AGL                                           3                                    500' below, 1000' above, 2000' horizontal

>1200' AGL and <10,000' MSL                              3                                    500' below, 1000' above, 2000' horizontal

>1200' AGL and >10,000' MSL                              5                                   1000' below, 1000' above, 1 mile horizontal

Note:  AGL means above ground level;  MSL means above sea level

These rules are in place for safety reasons.  If we are inside or too close to a cloud, it may be impossible for an aircraft to see or avoid us. 

Skydiving centers also consider other meteorological conditions, which are not expressly ruled by the FARs.  Most skydiving centers will not operate in rainy conditions, even if the cloud clearance and visibilty meet the FAR minimums.  Most skydiving center will not operate when there is lightning within 20 miles of the field.

Many skydiving centers also self-impose wind limits for their operations.  The USPA (United States Parachute Association) does not have established wind limits for normal parachute operations (there are wind limits for solo student training and exhibition jumping).  Most parachutes have a forward speed of about 25 MPH, and many skydiving centers do not operate if the ground winds exceed that.  They also do not operate when winds aloft (especially those at parachute flight altitudes) exceed 40 MPH (where the parachute will be travelling 15 MPH backwards across the ground).

Other considerations are also made for factors like turbulence (even when the wind speed is not at or near the limits of the skydiving center).  Two types of turbulence can affect parachute operations:  Mechanical turbulence and clean air turbulence. 

Mechanical turbulence is a situation where winds pass over an object, such as trees or buildings.  On the downwind side of the object, the air is very unstable and can lead to  canopy collapses and downdrafts (both of which can result in severe injury or worse).  Clean air turbulence is not as predictable, but can be just as dangerous. 

Clean air turbulence can be a result of thermal activity, strong updrafts or downdrafts, or windshear (wind layers going different directions at different altitudes).

Your skydiving center of choice monitors and assesses the weather continuously, but are not weather experts.  They cannot accurately predict the weather.  They should however, give you honest information about current conditions, and maybe even an opinion about the weather for the day.

Chicago Skydiving Safety

Skydiving is a high-speed aerial sport that may expose participants to the risk of injury or death, but it can be done safely.  Skydiving safety has improved dramatically over the years.  An estimated 3,200,000 jumps are made each year in the United States, of which about 15% are tandem skydives.  In most recent 5 year period (2010-2014), the average has been 22.6 fatalities per year, up slightly from a 22.4 fatality average over the previous 5 years (2005-2009), and drastically down from a 29.2 fatality average over the 5 years prior to that (2000-2004) .  

The current fatality rate is approximately .0075 per 1000 (1 in 133,333 jumps made). 

Discussing only tandem deaths, the safety record improves even more, to .003 per 1000 (1 in over 400,000 jumps made).  

Check out the USPA's safety-faq page here

Analysis of most skydiving accidents show that most are caused by human error, despite the media's boiler-plate report that "the parachute failed to open."  Contrary to popular belief, very few skydiving accidents are caused by random or unexpected equipment failure.  Approximately 5 in 6 skydiving fatalities  occur with experienced skydivers performing aggressive maneuvers that have very little room for error.  These "daredevils" expose themselves to significant risks in exchange for the thrill of the advanced maneuvers.  Skydivers who are trained well, who stay current, and who take a conservative approach to the sport are involved in very few accidents, and suffer few, if any, injuries.

Factors contributing to the impressive Tandem Skydiving safety record:

1.  Your tandem instructor is well trained and current (jumps often to keep their skills honed).

2.  Your tandem instructor is on the jump with you (you're in it together, what happens to you happens to them).

3.  The tandem equipment has the latest safety features and advancements.  It is very reliable and well maintained.

4.  The tandem training class briefs you on your participation, including what is expected of you.

5.  Tandem jumps are made under conservative meteorological conditions.


Ok, so you've discussed the fatalities, what about injuries? 

Good question...  Injuries while Tandem Skydiving are also rare, but are most likely to occur at two points in the process:

1.  During exit... it is possible for the student to grab or hit the aircraft.  The instructor understands these risks, and minimizes them by reviewing the exit procedures with the tandem student and having the student cross their arms in front or hang on to their harness during the exit from the aircraft.  It is important that the tandem student follows the instructions and exit procedures.

2.  During landing... it is possible to injure the lower body (feet, ankles, legs, pelvis), even with a good landing.  The instructor understands these risks, and minimizes them by reviewing the landing procedures during the class, and also by completing practice landings after the parachute opens.  It is important that the tandem student listens to instructions and performs the actual landing just as they did the practice landings.

Tandem Skydiving is probably the best method for a person to experience skydiving.  Tandem Skydiving is statistically very safe.  More people die skiing/snowboarding each year than skydiving.  Approximately 50 times more people die each year from bicycling than skydiving.  More than 100 times more people die each year swimming (excluding boating related activities) than skydiving.  If we discuss the non-fatal injury statisics, they are even more drastic when compared with the statistically-safer skydiving.  Skydiving is not as dangerous as it seems on the surface.  If you have questions about Skydiving Safety, call your local Skydiving Center and ask them about it.

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