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AFF or Accelerated Free Fall is an intensive course to become a skydiver in as few as 8 jumps. You make your first skydive from 12,000 feet with an instructor each side. The idea is that your brain has time to get past the 'sensory overload' you feel for the first few seconds after leaving the plane. There can be such a cacophony of sensations that it's difficult to process. But the ever-adaptable brain soon adjusts, and thinking power is restored. When the 'lights come on', the instructors communicate with hand signals. You will do some 'circles of awareness', looking at the ground, the altimeter, and reading it aloud to the instructor. Then some practice pulls, and open your parachute for real at around 5,000 feet.
An extensive debrief of the skydive will make sure your next one is even better. Mostly this will include a video of your jump, which helps understanding. The second jump will be quite similar, with hopefully a good stable body position, following corrections from the debrief. On your third jump, if all is well, your instructors should release you completely - quite a feeling!
From now on your jumps will be with just one instructor, as you have acquired and demonstrated freefall and survival skills. You'll try a maneuver and receive instant feedback, so the time in free fall is maximised for learning. You will learn to turn; 90, and 360°; left, and right; and stop on heading.
You will do various different 2-way exits, and perhaps a solo exit or an unstable exit, where you will leave in a ball, and intentionally somersault for a few seconds, before coming out into a stable position. You may do back loops or barrel rolls, which serve a similar function, you have to show you can stop tumbling and get stable again. You will learn to move away from each other horizontally, in a delta track, and how to turn in this position.
Canopy skills are taught from the beginning, instruction is given over the radio, and each flight will be debriefed. Over the course the help on the radio is gradually reduced so you will become confident in steering, turning with various inputs and choosing a place to land. By now you should be 'flaring' the canopy on your own initiative for landing, and arriving on your feet.
A solo jump usually finishes off the AFF course. Getting to this level may take a few extra jumps, or you may do it in 8. The beauty of AFF is that it can be tailored to the individual. the exact content of each jump can be varied to exactly suit each student. There is plenty of free fall time to add or repeat exercises, depending how each jump goes. By the final Level 8 graduation jump you need to have shown reasonable skills of everything listed in the AFF Manual but this needn't be on the specified level. Your instructor must be confident in your basic survival skills before signing you off. Now you are a qualified skydiver you can turn up and jump with others in small groups, and will gradually increase your knowledge by jumping more and being around the sport.
An AFF course is to qualify you as a skydiver. It is a considerable investment, so be sure that is what you want. A few drop zones offer a Level 1 AFF jump so you can try it before you pay for the whole course. If you aren't certain then it's smart to do a tandem jump and / or go in a wind tunnel before AFF to find out if you like skydiving. If you love it then AFF is the best, most motivating, way to learn, and the most enjoyable too.
If you want to be a skydiver, the only reason not to do AFF is financial. Jumps may be cheaper in the static line progression system. Be aware that you will need more jumps to qualify, and this will probably take months instead of a week or weeks. In the long run the cost is very similar, especially when you add up the extra travelling and extras. It is just spread out more.
A lot depends on where in the world you live. Use google to find the closest drop zones to you, and see if that is a reasonable distance to travel. Look at their websites, call and ask about their AFF programme, and pay them a visit. Talk to the AFF school, the students and instructors there, get a feel for the places. Are the students happy or do they wish they'd started elsewhere? You are going to spend a lot of money on your future sport, so you want to spend it wisely. Ideally you want to do AFF and continue at the same drop zone, as this will be the smoothest transition from novice to weekend recreational jumper. Good luck!
Pictures of AFF: AFF Storyboard in Pictures
Videos of AFF: Preparing for AFF