** While this blog is not geared towards the commercial pilot, it is geared towards prospective and student pilots. Since some of those prospective and student pilots will go on to be commercial pilots, I occasionally feature commercial piloting jobs. This way prospective and student pilots will know what types of jobs are available in aviation. **
Becoming a jump plane pilot is a great way to build flying time to help you land a better paying flying gig. It is also a good way to earn a little extra side income. I would like to get a commercial certificate one day so I can fly jump planes for the skydiving club where I went skydiving.
Flying skydivers presents some unique challenges that other flying jobs don’t have. The most obvious is the shifting cargo. While you are in the air, the skydivers will either be moving from the back of the plane to the front before exiting, or from the front to the back. The direction of travel will depend on the type of airplane being flown.
For the Cessnas that I jumped out of, we moved from the back of the plane to the front. As each skydiver exited the airplane, the rest of us would move forward to help with the weight and balance, but the pilot is constantly having to adjust as the balance shifts.
For us student jumpers using the static line method in Cessnas, we would climb out of the airplane while holding on to the strut of the wing. We would then slide our hands up the strut towards the wing until our feet were no longer on the step over the wheel. While we would do this one at a time, this has to create a ton of drag that the pilot is having to battle.
When the student jumps, that drag is instantly removed so the pilot once again has to work to level the wings. Often at the same time the pilot is working to level the wings, the other skydivers are moving forward so the balance is shifting again as well.
The other challenge isn’t exactly unique to jump plane pilots, but it is much more of a focus than other aviation jobs, and that is fuel management. While flying a jump plane, it is critical to manage the fuel correctly.
When flying jump planes this means flying a consistent pattern to altitude. If you fly a wider pattern, you will burn up more fuel which will not only cost the jump club money, but possibly lives when you run out of fuel on your third run instead of having plenty of reserve left over.
This also means getting down as quickly as you can. You don’t want to be taking your time landing since this also will burn more of that precious fuel.
In addition to providing some unique challenges, flying a jump plane also provides some unique rewards. What other job gives you the opportunity to watch people plummet from an airplane and get saved by some fabric and strings?
When flying a jump plane the flying is challenging, the people are interesting, and the atmosphere at the airport is always fun. What more could you ask for?