skydiving, sport of descending partly by parachute from an airplane or similar craft. Engaged in for both recreational and competitive purposes, skydiving involves three phases of activity: the free fall, the descent with open parachute, and the landing. In competitive skydiving, participants are judged according to their style in free fall and their accuracy in landing near a designated point. During the descent, divers can control the accuracy of their landing by manipulating the open parachute as a type of sail; skilled parachutists with good equipment can travel horizontally up to 10 mi (16 km) per hr during a normal fall. For reasons of safety, skydivers are required to open their parachutes at about 2,200 ft (670 m). Skydiving became a competitive sport after World War II. In 1951 the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (founded 1905), the world organizing body for most aeronautic sports, sponsored the first world championship of skydiving. In the United States the U.S. Parachute Association (USPA; founded 1957) sponsors an annual national championship. By the early 21st cent. interest in traditional skydiving waned as membership in the USPA fell. At the same time, however, interest in canopy piloting, or swooping, grew. Begun in the late 1990s, canopy piloting is the only kind of skydiving in which most of its movements can be seen from the ground. Swooping, which offers greater speed and danger than traditional skydiving, consists of maneuvers performed close to the earth or water, sometimes just inches away, and is enabled by jumping at lower altitudes and the use of smaller, more agile parachutes.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.