AFF or PFF
AFF/PFF is the most modern style of course. It is the only one that will give you a solo license (which allows you to jump alone anywhere in Canada) as it is the only type of course where you immediately start practicing free fall.
So you would begin your courses with a ground school that lasts approximately 6-7 hours where an instructor will explain the basics of the sport. He/she will explain emergency procedures, how to exit a plane, how to pilot your canopy, the different parts of the canopy and the basics of belly flying (flying on your belly).
At the end of this course, you will be given a brief written exam which you must pass to be able to proceed.
After this course is complete, depending where you live, if you are in proximity of a wind tunnel then your courses will involve you spending 20 minutes in this wind tunnel with an instructor who will teach you how to keep stable in the sky, how to turn and the basics of moving forwards and backwards. The 20 minutes are usually cut into 2 minute intervals which are split into two blocks of 10 minutes. After the first 10 minutes are over, you do a debriefing, watch the video of your tunnel time and get coached on how to improve before going back into the tunnel for another 10 minutes.
If you do not live in proximity of a wind tunnel, then after ground school, you will get 1 or 2 extra jumps instead. (In my opinion, you are WAY better off with the wind tunnel however. Because 45 seconds in the tunnel gives you about as much experience as a skydive so 20 minutes equates to about 25-26 skydives overall)
The next step, after doing the ground school (and wind tunnel if applicable) is getting into the sky. For your first jump, you will be accompanied by 2 instructors. Those instructors will make sure you have all your gear on properly and will coach you on how to exit the plane for this jump with the both of them.
Once you are out of the plane, they will hold on to your harness (or your grips if you’re wearing a jumpsuit that has them. The grips are the blue parts on the jumpsuit that I am wearing in this picture.) The reason they hold on is to make sure you are stable and not simply flying all over the place. If you are able to keep yourself at level and controlled, then one instructor will move in front of you and have you practice some movements (turns, checking altimeter and practice pulls – when you pretend to pull out your pilot chute)
Once you are at proper altitude, you throw out your pilot chute (or the instructors do it for you if you don’t remember to). You then fly your canopy (parachute) down towards the drop zone (you are guided by radio by a coach who is on the ground looking at you). The coach will guide you not only through flying to the drop zone, but he/she will also guide you into landing safely.
After this jump, if it is successful, you will do 5 more with 1 or 2 coaches which will assist you in progressing your skills. On the 7th jump, you will do a “test” where you will be expected to do certain movements in the sky (left turn, right turn, flips, etc…) This will usually be on video and is ALWAYS funny. Here’s mine. As you can see, I was very good at right turns, but couldn’t back flip or front flip haha!
The next jump will be done without instructors (assuming you passed the exam) and will be your first (You won’t owe beer for this one) jump 100% alone.
After this, you’ll do a “hop and pop” which is basically a low altitude jump where you jump out of the plane at 5000 feet (instead of 11000-13000 feet) and pull out your pilot chute right away.
This would be your 9th and final jump if you did the tunnel. Otherwise, you would have had 1 or 2 more coached jumps before hitting this point.
At the end of this, you will be given another written test and once successfully completed, you are officially certified “Solo”. (You now owe beer)
A solo certification is pretty useless outside Canada, so once you pass this, you will then aim at getting your A license.
To obtain your A license, you need to have at least 25 jumps completed, 10 coached jumps learning some basic skills required to jump in formation with people (learning to track – Fly away from people without losing too much altitude – Learning to be aware of your surroundings (other skydivers above and below you) and most importantly… Learning to track (VERY VERY important to know)
Once those coach jumps are done, you are given a written exam (which is harder than the solo one) and once you successfully complete said exam, you are officially A licensed (And once again owe beer).
The A license will allow you to jump alone anywhere in the world, you could jump in formation with a skydiver who has a B license and a minimum of 100 jumps or with a coach/instructor.