Written by Helen Glenn Court
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There is essentially no difference between parachuting and skydiving. In both sports, you have what some consider an absurd love of heights. In both, parachuting and skydiving you go up in an airplane and come down on your own. In both parachuting and skydiving, you're likely to be scared on your first jump. In both you wear and use a parachute. If you're responsible, you have the ride of a lifetime and land safely on the ground.

Parachuting, unlike hang gliding, is not regulated by the FAA--Federal Aeronautics Administration. It is, however, overseen by the USPA--United State Parachuting Association. Hang gliding is considered flying, parachuting is considered jumping. Fair enough, no? The association helps maintain teaching standards, parachuting safety and equipment specifications. It issues licenses for eight categories of parachuting skill.

What You Need to Know About Parachuting

You need some preparation, guidance and about four hours of training. You'll get this from USPA certified jumpers at drop zones. Drop zones are both training facilities and, literally, drop zones--that is, opportunities for licensed parachuters to jump.

You must be at least 16 years old. Ideally you'll weigh less than 200 pounds. You'll be in fairly good physical shape and condition. With about 25 pounds of equipment on your back, you'll stand in the open bay of an airplane at perhaps 10,000 feet. Then you will quickly wonder where, way down there on Earth, you got this fool idea. Then you will jump out into nowhere, drop as fast as 120 miles per hour for perhaps 50 seconds, maneuver your canopy open at the appropriate time, and find yourself on the ground saying, wow, that was something!

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