The History of Tandem Skydiving

Two people with one parachute? Doesn’t that only happen with action stars like Keanu Reeves and bank-robbing surfer Patrick Swayze in the movie Point Break? Actually, some of the first attempts at two-person parachute jumps took place in the heady early 20th century days of exhibition balloon flights and the first airshows.

One of the best-documented early tandem jumps involved British daredevil parachutist Dolly Shepherd. During a 1908 exhibition jump, Dolly and fellow female parachutist Louie May were both to ascend from a trapeze bar hung under a single balloon. When May’s chute would not separate from the balloon, the women held tightly to one another and jumped under Dolly’s parachute. The women landed safely, and Dolly went on to complete many more jumps, becoming a legend in her home country.

The Sport Grows

Parachuting then skydiving gained prominence as both military strategies and civilian sports, and interest in jumping with more than one person under a single canopy also grew. The military led the way toward tandem jumping with work on solutions for dropping men together with heavy equipment loads and techniques for inserting non-jump qualified personnel along with paratroopers.

Stories told among skydivers include reports going back to the mid-1960s of jumpers going tandem by putting two people into a single standard parachute harness. In the late 1970s at a Deland, Florida drop zone, well-known skydivers Bob Favreau and Mike Barber used homemade dual-harness adaptations to take Favreau’s son up for his 9th birthday and Barber’s girlfriend’s severely disabled son up for the boy’s 11th birthday. Skydivers who witnessed the feat postulate that this was the first civilian use of a dual-harness tandem system.

Aerial Entrepreneurs

Around that time, leading American skydivers and gear design innovators Ted Strong of Strong Enterprises and Bill Booth of United Parachute Technologies were working on developing a safe, user-friendly way to conduct tandem jumps.

On January 15, 1983, Ricky Meadows and Ted Strong jumped with the first ever dedicated tandem system. It was a revolution for the industry and the sport because tandem skydiving made the thrilling experience far more accessible to a wider range of people.

A year after the pioneering jumps, Strong Enterprises introduced the Dual Hawk Tandem System and received the first FAA exemption allowing tandem jumps. Around the same time, United Parachute Technologies also received the FAA exemption and Bill Booth was playing an instrumental role in obtaining FAA recognition of the tandem jump as a skydiving training technique.

From 1984 to 2001, tandem skydiving was only allowed in the U.S. under these exemptions for “volunteer experimental test jumpers”. In 2001, the United States Parachute Association won FAA approval for a comprehensive tandem instructor certification program.

Join the Fun

Equipment and techniques have constantly evolved since those first thrilling jumps in the 1980s, and now thousands of people each year enjoy the exhilaration of a tandem skydive. It is both a unique training method and a way for non-skydivers to experience the rush without spending the time and money needed for certification.

Is it your turn to join the millions who know the addictive joy of jumping out of a perfectly good airplane? Visit us at Skydive Key West and find out.