Terminal Velocity Of A Skydiver

December 21, 2022

Alright, listen up! Class is in session. Today’s physics lesson is… skydiving terminal velocity!


Skydiving terminal velocity is the constant speed that an object (or person) reaches when the equilibrium is met between the rate of fall (gravity) and the rate of drag (air resistance). It's determined by the overall mass and shape of an object (or human being) - the weight will cause it (or you) to fall at a specific rate, while the shape of the object (or body position) will determine the amount of drag. Drag is what causes the fall rate to slow down. 

The moment there’s an equal feeling coming from above and below - when gravity and resistance are balanced - terminal velocity is reached and you’ll no longer accelerate. When you reach your terminal velocity skydiving, you’ll know it - because it will no longer feel like you’re falling but more so floating on air! It can take anywhere from 5 to 10 seconds for a skydive to reach its terminal velocity.


The speed at which a skydiver falls is dependent on a few factors, which include:

  • Aircraft type (or how fast the plane is moving at exit)
  • Your body position in freefall
  • Your total weight (body+gear)
  • The density of the air



Thanks to physics, we can calculate the terminal velocity of a skydiver. Since we know now that this determination is dependent on multiple factors (see above), we’ll go over a few different skydiving terminal velocities for tandem skydivers, belly flying, and head-down flying. Which do you think would have the fastest speed?

Tandem Skydivers Terminal Velocity

Now that we know that weight plays a huge role in determining skydiving terminal velocity, we can imagine how much weight would be on a tandem skydive - it’s essentially double! Not to mention, the tandem rig is much heavier than a normal skydiving rig. Hence, one of the reasons why we have a weight limit at Skydive Danielson.

Back in the day, it was discovered that the extra weight was almost too fast for skydiving! This is why the drogue was invented to help sloooow down the fall rate for commercial skydiving operations. The drogue is the small-but-mighty white parachute that is released by the tandem instructor after exiting the plane and upon entering into freefall. The drogue creates that drag, or resistance, you need to help decrease the fall rate for a smooth parachute opening.

The drogue helps slow down the tandem terminal velocity to a normal 120 mph. Without the drogue, the tandem skydivers would be around 200 mph!


Belly Skydivers Terminal Velocity

Skydivers have ways to change their terminal velocity by simply changing their body position. Skydivers can fly in a belly-to-earth, back-to-earth, head down, and even in a sitting position. The most common way to fall is in the belly position (you’ve probably seen it before). In a stable belly position, a skydiver’s terminal velocity is around 120 mph. Remember: although this sounds crazy fast, you won’t actually feel like you’re going this fast!

Head Down Skydivers Terminal Velocity

If you flip your body position upside down and begin flying head down, you can increase your terminal velocity to about 150 - 180 mph! This is because you’re essentially decreasing the amount of surface area that you are presenting toward “the wind” or the air resistance, therefore, minimizing the amount of drag. These speeds have the potential to increase to over 300 mph as the skydiver gets more and more angled, essentially rocketing through the sky!


The current Guinness World Record for the fastest speed in ‘speed skydiving’ is 373.6 mph held by Henrik Raimer at the 2016 FAI World Championships. WOW! And of course, who can forget the first person to break the sound barrier in freefall, Felix Baumgartner. Felix reached a top speed of 843.6 mph while on his out-of-this-world freefall from 128K ft.

Are you feeling a need for speed? Book your 120 mph tandem skydive from 14,000 ft at our award-winning dropzone - Skydive Danielson! Blue skies and speedy skydives!