By Howard Deevers


There is little doubt that Parachute Jumping in Southern Arizona is a popular sport. Parachute Jumping is also called “Skydiving.” Skydive Arizona located at Eloy, AZ is probably the most busy jumping operator in the state, if not the whole U S. If you have ever seen a TV commercial with skydiving as a part of the commercial, it was probably filmed at Eloy.

To find out just how popular the sport is, just open your Phoenix Sectional chart, and look for that little Parachute symbol next to the airports. That symbol indicates that Parachute activity takes place near this airport. That symbol does not indicate how much jumping activity goes on there, just that it does go on there. More information may be found in the Facilities Directory for that airport, or not.

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Many of my friends, and I quote this: “There is no good reason to jump out of a perfectly good airplane.” In other words, this is not a sport that interests us. However, I do have many friends that really like jumping out of airplanes. Skydivers keep a log book, just as pilots do, and some of my friends have jumps in the thousands, while others are only interested in the sport for a short time. Just like any other sport, I will respect their choice of that sport. It just does not appeal to me.

In Southern Arizona, not all of the “Jumping” is done as a sport. A lot of it is actual military training, and you will find that at airports like Pinal, (MZJ) or Marana (AVQ) frequently. These military are training in the event that they would be required to land behind enemy lines during a conflict. We hope they are never called on to do that, but there is no substitute for being prepared. Either military or sport jumping will require preparation, just like we do in aviation when we do a pre flight and flight plan. It may seem to us on the ground, or flying in that area, that a bunch of people just jumped out of an airplane and are gliding to earth under those canopies. Unless you are into the sport, and have made a jump, or jumps, you probably do not know about the preparations that those jumpers go through.

If you have attended any major air shows in Arizona, or many other places in the U S, you have probably seen the U S Army Golden Knights, precision skydiving team perform. Many times they are the opening exhibit of the air show. Jumping from 15000 feet, they do a free fall, with a smoke canister trailing smoke, so the people on the ground can spot them better. Somewhere around 10000 feet they open their parachutes, and do an impressive job of landing on a pre designated spot.

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A variety of aircraft are used for parachute jumping, from a Cessna 182 or 206 for just a few jumpers to a twin engine Turbine Sky Vans, and similar planes that can carry up to 16 or more jumpers, and occasionally, we will get a C-130 or even C-17 large cargo planes that can carry much larger loads and can go up higher. The pilot of the plane with the jumpers on board coordinates with a ground observer to be sure it is safe for the jumpers to exit the plane. After the jumpers are out of the aircraft, the pilot starts a descent to join the traffic pattern and land to pick up other jumpers that may be waiting to go.

I have not seen parachute jumping activity at any control towered airports. There may be some control towered (Class D airspace) airports that do allow parachute jumping that I just don't know about. In Southern Arizona, all of the jumping activity is at non towered airports, in Class E airspace. It is within the Class E airspace that most of the conflicts between the larger and faster jumper aircraft, and the basic trainer aircraft occur. To their credit, I have noticed that the higher/faster jumper aircraft will stay a little higher, and farther out, than the traffic already in the pattern for landing. They will extend the downwind leg as needed for spacing. But to the trainers in the pattern, it appears that the jumper planes are “barging in.” Operations at non towered airports is spelled out in the Airmans Information Manual (AIM). It would do all pilots operating at these busy airports that have parachute jumping activity to review the AIM from time to time.

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The Arizona Pilots Association and the FAASTeam have presented several seminars on non-towered airport operations. One thing we must remember is that Parachutes DO have the right of way over powered aircraft. We also trust that the Jumpers know where their target landing zone is and will do their best to arrive at that point.

Skydiving can be a fun activity for those that like the thrill of floating to the ground, or it can be serious business for military trainers. We, as pilots, should respect their right to use the airspace as much as they should respect our right to be in the traffic pattern at our airports. We should all respect others so we can all enjoy our chosen activity as safely as possible.

Look for a safety program sponsored by ARIZONA PILOTS ASSOCIATION at a location near you. Check the website for locations and times. And, don’t forget to “Bring your wingman.”

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