Heading! Altitude! Arch! Reach! Touch!
Today I passed AFF (accelerated free fall) level one. That is: for the first time ever, I jumped out of a plane with a parachute of my very own (albeit with a couple of instructors alongside for moral and other support). Once the parachute was deployed, I navigated to a good landing spot and touched down. Wow!
Skydiving is much safer these days than in times past. One thing I learned in my 6-8 hours of instruction is that modern parachutes are equipped with something a lot like a car airbag - an automatic electronic safety mechanism. The CYPRES (Cybernetic Parachute Release System) AAD (automatic activation device) calculates your location and rate of fall. If you are still freefalling as the ground gets dangerously close, a small explosion fires a wedge to cut the loop to deploy the reserve chute. Novices have it set to go off at 1500 feet; experts might cut it closer at, say, 750 feet. The technology was introduced in 1991. It took a few years to work out the bugs but nowadays everybody uses it.
One thing I learned in my one minute of freefall is that I still don't know what the hell I'm doing up there. It's like learning to ski or unicycle: an entirely new set of physical skills involving grace and balance and coordination and knowing where to put all your limbs to avoid disaster. I felt a lot more comfortable after the chute opened. The landing phase was gentle, even graceful.
Bugs Bunny still said it best.