Skydiving Terminology Explained

Skydiving Terminology Explained

Published: May 27, 2015

There are a lot of terms in the skydiving lexicon that are used so frequently that we often forget that those on the outside of the sport don't know what they mean. Let's take a look at a few of the most frequently used:


An acronym for Accelerated Free Fall. Accelerated Free Fall is one of the more common training procedures used to become a certified skydiver. AFF typically consists of seven or eight (depending on the training facility) jumps with instructors who fall alongside you in free fall giving corrective feedback using hand signals during the jump. Experienced skydivers refer to the program as AFF as opposed to sounding out all three words.


An AAD is an automatic activation device. Sounds fancy doesn't it? It is pretty fancy. An AAD is a computer installed into a container that essentially acts as your fail safe should you collide with someone and pass out in free fall. The computer reads barometric pressure and speed, so when you get perilously low (750 feet) at a high rate of speed, it will automatically activate your reserve parachute (which is referred to as a canopy, which you're about to learn).

Canopy - That thing that saves your life... it is a parachute, but today everyone refers to it as a canopy. As parachutes morphed from round docile creatures to square ones offering higher performance, the name also gradually changed from parachute to canopy.


As Kleenex is to tissue paper so is Cypres to the AAD. A skydiver may remind another skydiver before a jump, "Is your Cypres on?" What he / she is actually asking is "Is your AAD (automatic activation device) switched on?"

Container - that backpack thingy that skydivers wear... it's called a container. Skydiving containers hold a main parachute and a reserve parachute.


A universal acronym for drop zone which means the place you jump which is also known as a skydive center. Most people refer to a drop zone, simply as DZ, as in "What are you doing this weekend?" "I'm going to the DZ." or if you're from a country outside of the US, it's pronounced, "D-Zed" (which is way more fun to say).

Free Fall

Everyone knows what this is... falling through the air, however the industry has adopted free fall into one word - freefall. As I type that word, a red line shows up underneath as Microsoft Word tells me I've misspelled it. If writing for an official news magazine, stick to free fall. If writing something aimed at skydivers, you're good with freefall.

Pilot Chute

Is the small or miniature parachute that skydivers use to deploy their canopies. The pilot chute catches air and pulls the bag which holds the canopy, out of the container (see definition above for container). If you're doing a tandem skydive, that pilot chute is known as thedrogue chute.

Square - Just to confuse you further, a non-round parachute is referred to as a square canopy even though it's not square at all. Today's modern canopy is actually rectangular in shape, but everyone refers to it as a square. The term is rooted in today's training. As a student, you learn to check for the three "S's'" when your canopy opens up by confirming it's: stable, steerable and SQUARE. It's not quite as memorable to say stable, steerable and rectangular... so square continues to stick.

So concludes our lesson in basic skydiving lexicon. Tune in next week for more fun with skydiving words! :-)

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