How Fast Do Skydivers Fall When Skydiving

Published: November 10, 2020

This might seem like a one-answer question, but--surprise!--it's not. You'd need to ask yourself this, instead:

How fast does a skydiver who clocks in at thus-and-such a total weight fall at thus-and-such a landing altitude in thus-and-such weather conditions, when he/she adopts thus-and-such a body position?

That's a little more complicated than you thought, hey? But, at the end of the day, it all comes down to physics. And, perhaps thanks to the "extreme" reputation of our sport, one of the commonest items of curiosity when it comes to the science of skydiving is speed.

1. There's a pretty good average speed for tandem skydivers that works in most instances, so back to the question, How fast do skydivers fall?

It's a commonly thrown-around figure that the average freefall speed for a tandem pair is about 120 miles per hour. Not only does it represent a solid average (and a nice, clean number,) 120mph occupies sacred space even off the dropzone: after all, it sits at the far end of a US speedometer (even though the car itself is extremely unlikely to be able to go that fast). In that sense, 120mph basically defines "zoomy."

As a bit of trivia, get this: 120 miles per hour is also the precise wind speed that a standing person loses the ability to stay upright and in one place. (Check out XKCD for the visual on that.)

2. ...but you'll have no way to feel that you're going that fast.

If you've ever taken a ride in a race car, you'll know how fast 120mpg feels on the ground. It feels very fast. Between the mighty scream of tires over pavement, the howl of wind, the squeeze of your body against the seat and the movement of the blur past your window, your hard-computing brain doesn't miss a single mile per hour.

On a skydive, though, you have none of that. Unflustered by visual references, the world spread out like a map beneath you, you'll hear wind but you won't be, like, holy gobstoppers, I am going approximately one million miles per hour.

Sure, because you know the number off the top of your head, you'll know in your brain that you're freefalling at around 120--unless you pass a cloud--that'll be of intellectual interest only. If you pass a cloud, your true speed is revealed (and boy howdy is that fun).

3. People fall differently.

Y'know those factors we talked a bit about in the opening paragraph? They do come into play--moreso for sport skydivers than for tandems, however. Heavier folks fall faster. Jumpers in baggier clothing fall slower, because of the extra drag. Body position is a much bigger deal, as the more surface area you present to the wind, the slower you go.

Even the weather affects fall rates: hot weather makes a skydiver fall faster because the air molecules are further apart, while skydivers in cold weather have more air molecules slowing them down.

4. Freefall over? There's still more speed to enjoy!

Freefall speed can't last forever, of course. Once you've got a parachute open, however, you'll still be in motion until you land. You can expect your descent under that parachute to go about as fast as a car cruising down a city street--until your happy landing, of course.

Do you have more questions? Don't be shy! We're happy to answer them for you, right here on our blog. to see how fast you can go in Freefall? Book your northern California skydive today!