Skydiving Terminal Velocity

When we step out of the airplane and into the wide-open skies, our skydiving freefall speed is one factor of the thrill we experience. Gravity is pulling us towards the Earth’s surface at an acceleration of 9.8 m/s2 (32.2 ft/s2).

Is this ringing any high school physics bells yet? Well, at a certain point during the fall, you will stop accelerating and your fall towards the earth will maintain a constant velocity. This occurs when the air resistance (drag) is equal to the force of gravity, and this velocity is what’s known as terminal velocity.

What Determines Terminal Velocity?

Your skydive terminal velocity depends on several factors, including:

  1. Your mass
  2. Your surface area exposed to the air
  3. Acceleration due to gravity

The Equation

v =√(2mg/ρCA)


m = mass
g = acceleration due to gravity
ρ= air density. This number actually varies with altitude
C = coefficient of drag. This is an aerodynamics number used to model all of the complex dependencies of shape, inclination, and flow conditions on drag.
A = projected area of the skydiver. This is the amount of surface area positioned directly into the wind.

On average, skydivers reach a terminal velocity of about 54 m/s (or 177 ft/s)! That’s pretty fast! Skydivers often say that jump-anxiety just melts away once you hit terminal.

Changing Your Skydiving Terminal Velocity

As mentioned before, your skydiving velocity is directly related to the projected area. What this means is, you can even change your terminal velocity by changing your position as you fall. So, let’s say your jump starts in the spread-eagle position, your projected area would be much greater than if you dove head-first from the aircraft! You can also increase your skydiving speed by reducing your drag with more aerodynamic jump clothing and equipment. Another option would be to pack on the pounds prior to the jump, but beware of the weight limit for tandem skydiving!

Speed Skydiving

In fact, there is a whole segment of the sport of skydiving dedicated to achieving the highest possible terminal velocity. It’s called speed skydiving, and it’s the fastest non-motorized sport on Earth. These jumpers optimize their freefall by streamlining their bodies with specially designed helmets and slick bodysuits. They must also aim to reach their highest velocity at the highest possible altitude to take advantage of low air density which allows for lower drag.

The Skydive Taft Experience

Skydive Taft has been serving Southern California and Los Angeles for over twenty years. Our award-winning drop zone is staffed by the best instructors in the business. Book your next adventure with us today and find out why skydivers love our vibes. Be sure to check out our blog for more interesting discussion on skydiving topics and keep updated on what’s going on at Taft.