Thrilling Darkness Awaits With Nighttime Skydiving

January 11, 2019

Adrenaline always seeks its next fix, and there’s one waiting when the sun goes down.

Nighttime skydiving is a real thing, and we’re not just talking about highly-trained night HALO jumps from Special Forces on missions. Recreational jumpers, too, have the skies and the stars to themselves should they feel brave enough.

In the pitch black, orientation is available through the moon and lights below – and that’s about it.

“I have about ten night jumps, and every one of them has been memorable – and scared the bejeezus out of me,” Kipp Chambers (@lloyddobbler), a skydiving instructor with 850-plus jumps, shared in an online discussion at quora.com. “In free fall, provided you exit tightly, formations are easy and fun to build. But under canopy (after deploying your parachute) is when things get sketchy for me.”

A lit altimeter (preferably accompanied with an audible altimeter) is a must says the United States Parachute Association (USPA), which is 40,000-plus members strong, and further adds that skydivers performing night jumps often take flashlights to check that their canopies have properly deployed. Visibility is so key that the FAA requires skydivers jumping at night to be wearing a light visible for three miles in every direction.

That takes care of up in the air. Approaching the drop zone on the ground gets a little more complicated.

“Once (night jumpers) get close to the ground, this ambient light source is lost, because of the low angle of reflection,” the USPA says. “The lower they get, the darker the ground looks. At about 100 feet and below it may seem that they are landing in a black hole. Suddenly it becomes very dark, and the jumper hits the ground soon after.”

But there’s plenty of fun to be had as well.

Night jumpers outfit themselves with everything from LED lights to create spectacular dances in the sky to descending with fireworks over Las Vegas (the home, naturally, of skydive weddings). And as recently as Oct. 18, 2018, a new “sequential large formation” record for night jumps was recorded with an 18-way, four-formation performance high over Arizona.

Naturally, night jumps are memorable in their own way.

“It was my second night jump ever!” professional skydiver Katie Hawkins recalled when asked about her favorite jumps in a discussion with midwestfreefall.com. “The moon was full, and the skies were clear. The air was so silent that we spoke to each other in freefall. He told me to look at the moon with a smile on his face. I replied how beautiful it was. Then we took a moment to kiss one another before break-off.”

There are precautions to go over even before leaving the ground; the kind of considerations unique to night jumping as opposed to day. Jumpers will most likely be asked to sit in a dark room with no lights for a period of time to allow their eyes to adjust to the darkness, dropzone.com reports.

“If you learn nothing else about night jumping learn about the shadow effect,” the report adds. “In a lot of situations where the moon is at your back as you are landing, you will see a large black canopy rising up on a direct collision course with you. This is your shadow that you are flying into. Lots of jumpers have made avoidance turns only to pound themselves into the groundbreaking bones or killing themselves only to find out it was their shadow they were avoiding.”

When considering night jumps, would-be jumpers should take into account all careful precautions. The sport itself has a very safe track record. The USPA lists an average of 22.4 deaths out of 3.2 million annual jumps from its membership, which works out to 0.0075 fatalities per 1,000 jumps.

“Canopy collisions are perhaps the most dangerous reality of night jumps,” Chambers said. “When you’re flying your canopy in the sky with ten other people, scanning for a blinking light amongst thousands of blinking ground lights, it can be pretty scary. Luckily, the safety procedures and the relatively small number of night jumps made keep it safe.”