Jumping from 30,000 Feet


Last update: 10/1/03

Disclaimer and Purpose


Parachuting is a high risk activity and can result in serious injury or death.

This website is for noncommercial, informational purposes only. This is not an instructional guide.

The purpose is to provide information on skydiving from high altitudes. I am not an instructor and I am not claiming to be one. For those interested in learning to skydive or participating in a high altitude jump, you must obtain training from competent and rated instructors.

Michael Wright, D13106
Website Editor

So you want to make a jump from 30,000 feet.

Here's what you need to qualify:

What is involved:

200 jumps (D-license equivalent)

Don't know how to skydive? Talk to the folks at U.S. Parachute Association, http://www.uspa.org. They'll tell you how to do it.

FAA Medical Certificate

Know how to skydive and have 200 jumps? Great! Get your FAA certificate. This medical certificate is issued to pilots and aircrews (three levels: I, II, III). Level III is sufficient and can be obtained from an Aviation physician (like a regular annual doctor's exam). Get this certificate now because you need it for the chamber ride. Don't bother with Level II or Level I certificates, these are for commercial and airline pilots.

Searchable Directory of Aviation Medical Examiners is at http://ame.cami.jccbi.gov (if this web site link doesn't work for you, then refer to the FAA address below). These are physicians that issue FAA medical certificates.

An FAA medical certificate is the official document to let the chamber ride staff you are physically fit to endure high altitude environment.

Physiological Flight Training (chamber ride)

Also see this article on altitude chamber rides in California.

Next thing to do is send in an application to attend a chamber ride course. Physiological Flight Training is a day long course that lectures on the human body when exposed to high altitudes, hypoxia, oxygen equipment, and gives its students experience to high altitude (in a barometric chamber). FAA provides chamber ride courses for civilians by making arrangements with military bases throughout the country to use their facilities normally used by military aircrews. You can reach the FAA Aeromedical Education at their web site (http://www.cami.jccbi.gov) or at the address below. Remember, you gotta have that medical certificate to attend the course (or at least go on the chamber ride). I was at one course where some of the students did not go on the chamber ride because their certificate expired or they forgot it at home. Air Force personnel do not budge from their policy of, "no certificate, no ride."

Physiological Flight Training in the United Kingdom

Want to know what the chamber ride looks like? Click here for Chamber Ride Photos

Click here for a pictorial summary of the common types of O2 regulators used.

One of the activities of the chamber ride was to remove your mask at "high altitude" to feel the effects of hypoxia, and to take correct action of re-donning the oxygen mask. This activity can be safely conducted since there are course advisors always wearing oxygen masks and available to assist students if necessary. During this period you want to note YOUR REACTIONS. You must experience this in order to learn when you are lacking oxygen.

Click here for further discussion on the types of hypoxia.

Do not try to set a record of how long you can stay off oxygen. If you wait too long and pass out, or even when close to passing out, you will not remember what happened. The time you spent in the class will be wasted (they are not going to make a "go-around" with the chamber).

Avoid gas forming foods (i.e. don't eat stinking beans). See the following list G.I. Tract.

Everyone else is not at risk of smelling your farts because they are wearing masks. However, as the surrounding pressure lowers, the gas in your body will expand. Normally, you can relief it by either belching or farting. If the gas expansion is too rapid, this gas becomes trapped and will hurt a lot. War story: Some guys scheduled for a chamber ride made bets on who could fart the stinkiest of farts so they ate loads of gas-forming foods the night before. During the chamber ride the next day, they were in such extreme pain from the expanding gas, they had to be carried out.

No Beards

Oxygen masks cannot be used with beards. So if you are not willing to shave your beard, then forget about the chamber ride or even the high altitude jump. Mustaches are fine, or whatever that can be fully inside the oxygen mask. However, you want your mustache, plus your face and hands, to be clean and oil-free.

Dangers of 100% Oxygen

100% Oxygen is classified as a non-flammable gas. The hazard is from the fact that it supports and accelerates combustion. Also the high pressure cylinders are a hazard. When the oxygen mixes with organic material then it works like an oxidizer in rocket fuel. Your greasy fingers from oily foods and oxygen equal a welding torch at the tip of your fingers. Oxygen fittings have been welded together by such a situation. Spontaneous combustion can occur inside your mask with a greasy mustache or oils in your mouth from greasy foods. Care must be used with 100% pure oxygen at 14.7 psi, and nobody should be smoking near the aircraft during prebreath.

Chamber Ride Certification

After you completed the chamber ride, they issue you a certificate (its not spectacular, just a little 2x2 inch piece of blue paper; it's important so don't lose it).

FAA Office

For more information about FAA Aeromedical Training Programs you can contact:

Physiological Flight Training

Physiological Flight Training is very educational even if you are not going to make a high altitude skydive. The instructors explain the symptoms of hypoxia and you can experience it on the chamber ride. Anytime you go above 10,000 above sea level, you are susceptible to the symptoms of hypoxia. What is spooky about hypoxia is that you do not instinctively know when you are in danger. In contrast, exposure to fire gives you a burning sensation for you to take evasive action or you'll get burned. However, symptoms of hypoxia or lack of oxygen, are not apparent. These symptoms can be dizziness, light-headed, tingling of fingers or toes, and drunkenness. However, these general descriptions are not readily apparent and everyone has their own particular reactions.

FAA Requirements for Supplemental Oxygen

FAR Part 91.211 states that no person may operate a civil aircraft at altitudes above 15,000 feet unless each occupant is provided with supplemental oxygen. It may be a thrill to jump above 15,000 feet but it is a violation if the aircraft does not have O2 available. If someone got hurt, or if a student got hurt, that could be considered negligence and hard to defend. If the aircraft is already plumbed for O2, the fix is easy. All that is needed is fill the bottle and put a bag of O2 masks in the plane (assuming the aircraft has an airworthy O2 system).

Jump Stories

For someone that is hypotic, the question then is, "what happens if you're in an emergency situation, are you able to think quickly, are you able to think clearly about what you need to do to survive and get down?" (a comment from the NOVA broadcast on PBS).

[Still want to jump from 30K?]

Make a High Altitude Jump Reservation

Go to Skydance Skydiving, http://www.skydance.net/sd/highj.htm for reservations.

Obviously, they don't do this for free and you cannot show up at the last minute. They need to know plenty in advance who will be on the load. Make your reservations and pay the money to secure a slot on the manifest ($$$ gets attention). Skydance also wants high altitude jumpers to show up the day before the jump to attend a briefing.

Be sure you have everything in order including an in-date reserve (duh!).

The 200 jump minimum is to not have lesser experienced people participate since they could be over-loaded with the additional hazards (for those with less than 200 jumps, be patient. You will soon become skygods).

If you are wondering, "When will this jump happen? So far it's all talk!" Well, there's a lot more s--- that can go wrong on the high altitude jumps because there's more gear involved; you can't even take breathing for granted. So far, these high altitude jumps have been relatively uneventful because of the additional precautions used. A good jump is an uneventful jump. (Don't say "nonchalant," instructors HATE that word.)

Get a good nights sleep before the day of the jump. Stay off the booze and avoid gas-forming foods. The jump will be very early in the morning, gearup and prebreath usually begins about 5:30 AM.


Cool? Yes it is. Cold? you bet. Typically -25 below zero (don't be concerned if that is F or C, its still cold). However, you don't wear tons and tons of clothing. You will not be at 30K for long but you will be in the airplane pre-breathing for a hour and you will really sweat with too much clothing.

On my 30K jumps, I wear the following (with a rig of course):

Avoid exposing skin during freefall. The flightsuit I use is an additional layer of clothing with large pockets to stow reading material (for the prebreath), gloves, and camera.


You have to wear the helmets to wear the oxygen masks. If you use flex goggles (Kroops), put these on before the helmet and you have to wear them the whole time starting with pre-breath. I've used paper towels before the jump to keep the goggles off my face and to clear away moisture (which can freeze up on the mask during the jump).

Another option is to use ski goggles which can be put on after the helmet. Disadvantage of ski goggles is lower visibility than flex goggles. I recommend that you first try on ski goggles and do a regular skydive (without the oxygen mask) to determine if you can be comfortable of jumping with ski goggles.


The briefing, usually the day before the high altitude jump, is to review hazards involved in jumping from high altitudes, use of oxygen equipment, and operational procedures of the jump. Tad Smith provides training at Skydance Skydiving for high altitude jumps and provides oxygen equipment which includes the military-issue oxygen mask. Helmets will also be provided as these have receivers for the masks. Tad thoroughly stresses that this is not an ordinary skydive.

Familiarization Jump

Important: Get a gear check prior to boarding.

You will wear everything from the thick clothing to the oxygen mask and helmet for this jump (except bailout bottle). This is for you to experience the lower visibility from the mask and lower dexterity of thick clothing. You will not be concerned with high altitude hazards, however, you will also have to pull higher typically at 3,500 feet. The oxygen mask makes it very difficult to eyeball the cutaway handle and reserve handle. Also, you cannot see you chest-mount altimeter, so a wrist-mount altimeter must be used. Use this jump to get the feel of freefalling with an oxygen mask, do some practice pulls on the way down, and pay attention to altitude.

After you have opened your main and its in good shape, before you unhook one side of your oxygen mask, try to locate your handles. You may have to feel for them, but use this opportunity to gain experience, you may need it for the real thing. From my experience, the handles are not where I first thought they would be.

Jump from 24,000 feet

Important: Get a gear check prior to boarding.

On this jump, you will pre-breath for about 1/2 hour to flush much of the nitrogen from your bloodstream. You will be breathing pure oxygen up to altitude. When its time to jump, the Tad will open the door, spot, and then give you the command to exit. At this point, you will disconnect your hose from your chest-mount receptacle and exit (go immediately, don't hang out looking at the spot or float). The hazards of hypoxia are quite minimum since your useful time of conscious is long enough that you will re-enter the earth's thicker atmosphere before hypoxia will be a problem. You will not be carrying the bailout bottle.

Jump from 30,000 feet

Important: Get a gear check prior to boarding. Its also important to keep your pilot chute snug in its pocket and your reserve pins are adequately seated. Having a canopy dump at 30,000 feet is not only tacky, its dangerous. One problem is your bailout bottle does not have sufficient capacity to sustain you with oxygen for the long ride down. Another problem is the snatch force on opening is very high. You and your canopy will be torn up. Canopies used by military special forces when opening above 20,000 feet have a different deployment mechanism to reduce the opening shock at high altitudes.

Finally! The real thing. All the money, the paperwork, the time, and the agony you've put up with and now this is your moment: Jumping where the airliners fly so get ready for a kick-ass skydive.

But first, you will pre-breath 100% oxygen for about 1 hour to flush much of the nitrogen from your bloodstream before the plane leaves the ground. You can read, play tic-tac-toe, or whatever. I usually try to get comfortable and snooze. Also, be sure to go pee before boarding. You have to be secured to oxygen for the whole period. It only takes one breath of regular air, even after an hour of pre-breathing, to replenish the nitrogen in your body. That means if you accidentally disconnect right before take-off, you are off the load since your prebreath has been zilched (nobody is going wait another hour because someone "hosed" themselves).

You will continue breathing pure oxygen up to altitude. When close to 30,000 feet, you pay attention to Tad, the jumpmaster. About ten minutes prior to exit is when many things happen. Tad will proceed to the aircraft door and give everyone a 10 minute warning. At this point, check your straps, secure your goggles and be ready to go. During this time, he will spot along with the pilot. They talk to each other using the intercom in their masks.

Tad will give the "get ready" warning and the "activate bailout bottle" command. When you pull the "green apple" handle of the bottle, you will feel the pressure in your mask go POOF!!! Its nothing to worry about. Tad will look at everyone's eyes as they get big, then he knows the bailout is working as it surprises the jumpers. This is positive pressure breathing because at extreme altitudes, oxygen has to be forced into your lungs since the surrounding pressure is much less than sea level.

Don't just pull the "green apple" with all your might. You want to give it a good tug to break an internal stem in the bottle, the travel is only about 1/4 inch. One over-zealous jumper pulled green apple and the cord right off the bottle.

Shortly after activating the bailouts, Tad will give the command to disconnect your hose from your chest-mount receptacle and exit. Don't spend a long time poisted to do a skygod exit or straddle floaters, when Tad signals go, just go. Get out fast since the true airspeed is higher and the last jumper does not want to exit over the next county. After exit, look back up at the plane because the sky is darker blue at 30K than it is at 12K. Its so kewl.

Now don't plan on turning a lot of points just because you have two and a half minutes of freefall time. Its a different environment, spend the time to check it out. At this altitude you can look down at the high 13K peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

Also, when you first see your altimeter approach your planned opening altitude, don't just pull. Look at the ground since jumping from 30K, an Altimaster will pass through "0" two times before 3500 AGL (but if you are below 3500, its a good idea to pull.)

During re-entry, you will feel as you pass into warmer layers of air. Freefall experience at 30K doesn't feel much different than at 12K. It does feel different, but it doesn't really feel different [oh thank you for such a clear explanation]. Although your true airspeed is higher (180 mph), your indicated airspeed will still be about 120 mph. This is why if you pull above 20,000 feet, it will hurt. A lot.

Once down to 12K or so, the ground will take on a familiar appearance. At this point, its just another boring skydive but pay attention since everyone is probably scattered about the sky. Also, the oxygen mask restricts your vision of the cutaway and reserve handles so pull higher, around 3500, to give yourself plenty of time to deal with a malfunction.

Be prepared to land on the opposite side of the bailout bottle if you cannot standup a landing. Driving the bailout bottle into the dirt is tacky.

Promptly return to the designated staging area so everyone knows everyone else is OK and they got all the oxygen equipment back.

At this point, participants should take it easy for the day. You can do regular skydives but pay attention to how you are feeling. If you feel cramps or pain in joints, seek medical attention immediately from an aviation physician. If the bends were to occur, gaseous nitrogen in the body, this can be serious. Formation of nitrogen gas bubbles on the nerves can result in neurological damage or death. The military limits their jumpers to two HALO/HAHO jumps per day.

You are now able to put lots of zeros behind a "3" in your log book, and have a jump story to end all jump stories.

Now if you want to jump at 60,000 feet or higher, you will need one of these, click here for Spacesuit Photos.

Disclaimer and Purpose


Parachuting is a high risk activity and can result in serious injury or death.

This website is for noncommercial, informational purposes only. This is not an instructional guide.

The purpose is to provide information on skydiving from high altitudes. I am not an instructor and I am not claiming to be one. For those interested in learning to skydive or participating in a high altitude jump, you must obtain training from competent and rated instructors.

Michael Wright, D13106
Website Editor

Feedback is desired (suggestions, comments, errors, gripes, whatever) Michael Wright, mfwright@batnet.com

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