My First Days as a Jump Pilot
by Chris Rosenfelt

After more than 7 years of flying skydivers I thought that I would write an article for anyone that is thinking of becoming a Jump Pilot. I will start by telling the story of the day that I first heard of this world, my first day on the job, followed by a lot of information that you need to know about this exciting job.

So I had just finished up the training for my Commercial Certificate and I was hanging out at my pilot school and I ran into Cody my flight instructor.  The jokster that he is, said "What are you doing here?", "Why aren't you out getting paid to fly, that's what your Commercial is for!"  We laughed and I said, "I JUST got it, plus no one is hiring anyway".  He informed me that I was wrong and that I should check out a certain website and how "at this time of year they're hiring Jump Pilots big time!"  To which I said, "What is a Jump Pilot?"  Again we laughed and he informed me that Jump Pilots fly skydivers up to altitude and kick'em out!  I was instantly intrigued.

That very night I checked out the site he mentioned and sure enough, I found drop zones (places where skydiving operations are conducted) all over the country that were hiring!  Some of which were ONLY requiring 300TT and a high performance endorsement! I started calling the phone numbers and the first 3 ads that I responded to ALL offered me the job over the phone!!  Not only that, but they were asking me, "When can you start?"  I was like... ummm... can I call you back?  This was all happening SO fast! But then again, I like fast!  So after thinking about the pros and cons of each drop zone , I decided to fly for Capitol Skydiving near Austin, TX. Within ONLY one week of Cody telling me what a Jump Pilot was, I was in my car with everything I could fit in it, moving half way across the country!  I will never ever forget how excited I felt driving to my first drop zone!  You can not put a price tag on that joy.

As I drove through and past the city of Austin, following the directions to the drop zone, I quickly realized that (unlike L.A. where I'm from), after you get 10 minutes out of any city in Texas you can QUICKLY find yourself in cow country!  I was like "What the..." I even pulled off the road thinking that I had made a wrong turn or something. I called the DZO (drop zone owner) and told him where I was and he said, "You're on the correct road, just keep going down that road until you see some big red balls on a power line and that's where we are."  I was thinking, oh crap, did he just say "balls on a power line"? That's never good.  Did they belong to the last pilot?

I drove up, walked in the door and the man said, "You must be Chris?" I said, "Indeed I am and you must be Mike!" Within 10 minutes of small talk greetings he walked me out to the Cessna 206 (with the cargo door removed) and said, "Now show me that you know how to fly this airplane!" I was like (hard swallow), "alright". Now, I MUST explain something first, I had never been in a situation even remotely close to this one. This was a private airport (TE96), with a dirt runway, 2600 feet long by 30 feet wide! With power lines running across the threshold of the runway! Remember? The ones with the big red balls on them?  PLUS, I quickly discovered why that airport is called "Crosswinds" airport! Yikes! I was use to flying at Long Beach airport, runway 25L is roughly 5000 feet long by 100 feet wide. No dirt, no power lines. By the way, this is a good point in my story to tell all the younger pilots, during your training, go out and explore small, distant airports. I wish that I had done more of that in my training. Always challenge yourself, never ever get complacent.

So, my new boss Mike asked me to fly him to a local airport and do some touch and goes. To get familiar with the C206 on a long hard surfaced runway before landing at his short grass strip airport. As we flew to local Taylor airport, I looked down at the ground and realized, yikes, there's not very many landmarks down there! It looked like a giant quilt... farmland. I hope you're starting to understand why flying to unfamiliar airports during your training is so important. I'm flying my new boss in his airplane, thinking, he is going to ask me to fly him back to Crosswinds airport and I don't think that I'm going to be able to even find it! And no, there was no GPS in the airplane at that time. I nailed my touch and goes and then, sure enough, he said "Now take me back to Crosswinds". 

 Luckily I had noticed 4 large grain elevators kinda near the approach end of the little airport. I was scanning for those sucka's big time! I wanted to show him that I could get us back there without asking him or ATC (he told me not to bother them). I found the grain elevators! To this day, I have never been SO happy to see some grain elevators! They led me to the airport! Now, I had to deal with the dreaded power lines! All Mike said was, "I don't care if we have to go around, just don't flirt with those power lines, I lost one pilot to those already". Yeah, that wasn't distracting or It sure wasn't funny at the time, but it is now.

So, I am happy to say I nailed 3 touch and goes there as well! I parked the airplane and tied it down. He said, "I'm very happy with your flying", "I want this airplane pre-flighted by 8am, you'll have your first load of skydivers at 9am." and walked back into the office. I'll never forget that shock! The words that came out of my mouth to him were, "Sounds good!". But inside I was like... wait... what about... what the... did he just say? Again, this is hilarious now, but at the time it was straight craziness! 

Needless to say, I didn't sleep much that night and not just because I was in a completely new environment. I remember thinking, "Am I really gonna drop people out of that airplane tomorrow?", "Like really?", "Are the skydivers going to be nervous that a rookie is flying tomorrow?" By the way, the answer to that question is... hell yes! Most skydivers are sketchy of new pilots. Yes they do make them nervous, which is completely understandable. Most TI's (tandem instructors) and Videographers have spent many more hours in airplanes than rookie Jump Pilots and they will watch your EVERY move. But it's smart of them to do and I'm glad they do it. They tend to sit a little bit closer to the door when a newbie pilot is flying. If you're a good pilot and you have a good personality you will be welcomed into that drop zone family fairly quickly, and it truly is a family too! We all work together... I mean "fly" together, look out for each other, go out to dinner together and play together. You TRULY get to know each other. Some of them will be lifelong friends of yours.


Most of the Jump Pilot hiring is done in the months of March and April. You will find a few drop zones that will hire you with a minimum of a Commercial Certificate, 2nd Class Medical and 300TT. That number, by the way, is a bare minimum and most drop zones require at least 500TT due to their insurance policies. They will also have a pilot on hand to train you how to fly skydivers. For more information on training check out my Training page and get familiar with the FARs that govern Skydiving.

Not all pilots will cut it. Through out the years I have had to let a few pilots go that simply could not get it. I even remember one of them that was too freaked out that we have to open the door during flight. Um... yeah... we HAVE to open the door or they can't jump out NEXT!

There are a few drop zones that will hire you into a Caravan or PAC750 if you have at least 1,000TT plus 25 hours in type, and jump pilot experience, again per their insurance requirements. I love the Caravan and have created the website to help Caravan Pilots, Mechanics and Owners. The Caravan is the most popular turbine jump airplane worldwide. Check out my Skydive Aircraft list for more information about all of the various jumpships!

Pay and Perks

You will fly approximately 100 hours per month. The amount of hours flown per month varies depending on what month it is (June-August is peak), whether you are the main pilot or a back-up, if your drop zone is newer or older and established. Weather will obviously also play a role. A Cessna 182 (the most popular jump plane worldwide) can do 2.5 loads per flight hour up to 11,000ft MSL. If you are flying less loads than that per flight hour you are doing something wrong. By the way, my record amount of loads in a C182 is 23 loads in one day! Crazy huh? At $15/load, not a bad payday.

During the off peak season you will be flying less than half of what you were during the Summer. So I highly recommend that you have some supplemental income coming in. Most northern drop zones are closed Oct - March. Drop zones in northern states that have larger aircraft ie. Caravans, PAC 750s or Twin Otters lease those to southern drop zones that only have 182s or 206s. When the larger aircraft are leased to other companies, the leasing company usually provides the pilot not the leasee. I've worked for companies on either end of the spectrum. And that is another huge perk to this job, if you happen to be flying a smaller jump plane at a drop zone that decides to lease a larger one, you can get your hands on that larger aircraft at zero cost to you! Before I was hired to fly them, I had flown many Caravans and Twin Otters from the right seat during skydiving operations. The pilot's will usually instruct you while you fly it. Be sure and watch the "Flying for Skydiving Operations" video on my Resources page.


Flying skydivers is very challenging and weight and balance is one of the most challenging parts of it. You should already know not to take-off with an airplane that is heavier than it's Max. Take-Off weight limit. For a C182 I believe that it's 2950lbs. Plus you have the whole weight shift during flight issue, when they move from a seated position to an exit position. In a Cessna 182, you will often have 2 skydivers hanging from the right wing strut plus 2 more hanging out of the doorway. Talk about parasite drag! When they are hanging on the strut and in the doorway, the control wheel is fully to the left and opposite rudder. You MUST watch your airspeed! Skydivers have been killed because the pilot stalled the airplane with skydivers in the doorway. They lose their grip on the wing strut and end up getting struck by the bottom of the wing or the leading edge of the horizontal stabilizer.

After they drop away, its neutral control wheel and full left rudder to get the door to drop down enough for me to grab and latch it. Tell ATC, "Jumpers away", close the cowl flaps and then I would put the airplane in a left bank, keeping an eye on the divers the ENTIRE time and then I put it into a slip. Alternating between right and left slips. This can be accomplished without over stressing the airplane. We slip the airplane to descend faster and to avoid shock cooling. There have been debates in my Jump Pilot group on whether or not we should slip the airplane on the way down. I can tell you that I've flown over 6,500 loads of skydivers and it worked great with zero problems. But if the DZO doesn't want you to slip it, then don't do it. You do not own that airplane and you should respect their property. 

I keep the airspeed within the yellow arc. The VSI is pegged, but I'm guessing around 3,000 fpm. It is very important to keep your eye on the skydivers the entire time, while scanning for other traffic. Also, don't forget to tell ATC: "Jumpers on the ground", they usually appreciate that. Do them favors whenever you can, they help us every single day and I believe that most pilots take them for granted. 

Whenever I've been hired at a new DZ, I have always arranged a meeting with the local ATC facility. I feel that it is important to personally meet the people that protect us everyday, thank them and shake their hand. It is also important to ask them what we as Jump Pilots can do to make their jobs easier. Maybe I have an "old school" approach but I believe that it's a school that's respectable and always appreciated by the Controllers that I meet.

I must add the fact that I love the positive energy at drop zones! Everybody is having fun and most skydivers are passionate about what they do as I am about flying them! According to my logbook, I have flown over 6,500 loads of skydivers and I have smiled EVERY single time they have jumped out! After more than 7 years of flying skydivers, I still think... dude, those people just jumped out of your airplane! As I hear their screams fall  How can you not smile about that? I hope this article helps a few young birds decide if they want to become a jump pilot! It's definitely not for everyone. It's only for cool pilots!

How to Properly Fly Skydivers in a Cessna Caravan

by Chris Rosenfelt

The Cessna 208A Caravan and 208B Grand Caravan are by far the most common turbine jump airplanes in the world. From Skydive Switzerland to Skydive Andes, from Skydive Sydney to Skydive Dubai and everything in between you will find Caravans hard at work flying skydivers. Jump pilots love how fun and easy it is to fly, owners love its lower operating costs compared to other turbine aircraft and skydivers love the high wing and large exit door.

There are many versions of the Caravan: 208A, 208B, 208B EX, Black Hawk upgrade Aero Twin upgrade and Texas Turbines upgrade. The 208A Caravan aka “Mini Van” climbs fair, the 208B Grand Caravan aka “Grand Van” climbs good and the Black Hawk (850hp), Aero Twin (1000hp) and Texas Turbines (1000hp) conversions climb great! The version that you will see at most drop zones around the world is the 208B Grand Caravan, and is why I will mostly refer to this model.

For most of the jump pilots that will transition from a piston to a turbine, this will be your airplane. Most of us pilots did our training in a high wing single engine Cessna which makes the Caravan the easiest turbine to transition to and another reason why DZOs love it.

The Numbers:

  • Capacity - 17 skydivers
  • Empty Weight - 4570 lbs
  • Maximum Take Off Weight - 8750 lbs
  • Useful Load - 4180 lbs
  • Fuel Capacity - 332 gallons / 2224 lbs
  • Powerplant - Pratt & Whitney PT6A-114A 675hp
  • TBO - 3600 hrs
  • Time to Climb - approx. 15 mins

Before Take Off:

The loading of the Caravan is similar to most other turbine jump airplanes. There are 2 benches that the skydivers straddle and face the back of the airplane. Make sure that no one sits in the very back near the back wall, and trust me, they will try and sit there no matter how many times you tell them not to. It’s not quite as big of a deal if you have a light load. But I have definitely noticed some CG issues on that with heavier loads.

One of the most critical parts of any Caravan pilots day is avoiding a “hot start”. A hot start is when temperatures rise above 1090 degrees Celsius in the combustion section and cause internal damage to the engine on start up. You may have a hot start if you have a weak battery, if the emergency power lever is not stowed or if the bleed air switch was left on. Most hot starts are the fault of the pilot, it is very rare for a Caravan to have a true hot start. If you cause one, you more than likely will be looking for another job in the near future. The engine will need to be removed and tore down for a complete internal inspection at the very least.

After start up, be sure and check to see that you do not have a fuel imbalance greater than 200lbs. If you do, turn the lighter tank switch off, in order to burn off fuel from the heavier side. You should burn enough fuel during your taxi and run up to equal things out a little. Monitor that fuel imbalance in the air as well. I’ve flown a Caravan that liked to drink from one tank more than the other and I had to constantly monitor that.

I know a lot of us jump pilots fly from rough airstrips, so be sure and make use of the Inertial Separator while taxiing. It will minimize ingestion of foreign matter into the compressor. Just be sure and stow it before take off or you will notice a great reduction in take off power and it is very hard to stow with full throttle.

Take Off:

As part of your GUMPSFITS check, add 20 degrees of flaps for take off. Advance the throttle slow and steady. As with most airplanes, it will let you know when its ready to rotate, but it’s usually around 70 KIAS because we’re usually heavy. Obviously, when we’re lighter, it will want to get off the ground sooner or at a lower airspeed. Climb out initially at around 90 KIAS and then lower the nose to 100 KIAS, which is slightly less than Vy (104 KIAS). That speed seems to work the best for the C208B. As with any jump plane you fly, initially you should experiment with different airspeeds while timing yourself. Your torque should be Max. until ITT or Ng limit. Retract flaps 10 degrees at a time starting at 1000 ft AGL. Check in with ATC.

Jump Run:

Once on jump run your airspeed should be at 85 KIAS, your flaps at 10 degrees, torque between 600-900ft-lbs and prop RPM at 1850. It will be possible to lower that airspeed and RPM slightly as you get more comfortable flying this airplane. At about 2 miles out turn the red door light on. Make your 2 minute call to ATC and then a 1 minute call on CTAF. Turn on the green jump light. While the jumpers are exiting, make sure that your tail never gets low. I have personally never had a skydiver strike the horizontal stabilizer of the Caravan, but I have heard of it happening.

It is important to note that a lot of Grand Vans have a front float step and you will notice that if someone is on it they will be very close to the left flap trailing edge. I have had inexperienced jumpers on that front float step bend the corner of the flap with their rig. Brief your video and fun jumpers not to lean up against the flap. Luckily most DZs will only allow experienced jumpers to use the front float step but even some of them do not realize how easily they can bend it.


We jump pilots are basically doing an emergency descent on every flight. As soon as the last skydiver exits, put the flaps up, power to idle and jump light off while simultaniously lowering the nose. Constantly scan for other air traffic that might be in the area and/or any skydivers that might have pulled high. The maximum cargo door open airspeed is 155 KIAS. Your descent rate will be around 5000 ft/min. If it’s your last load of the day, be sure and thank ATC for all their help. They appreciate it and it’s the least we can do, considering that they look out for us every day. For landing, use full flaps unless it’s windy. After landing, again, if you’re on a dirt or similar airstrip, use the inertial separator.

If your’re a new turbine pilot be sure and read the book The Turbine Pilot’s Flight Manual available in our store. Most pilot’s that have moved up to the turbine world have read it and highly recommend it. Also, for the new Caravan pilots, be sure and read Caravan - Cessna’s Swiss Army Knife with Wings it is available for purchase in our online store!

If you have any questions about this or any of my other articles feel free to email me anytime and be sure to check out my sites, and for more information.


  1. Awesome post, Chris! I enjoyed it!!:-D

  2. That was incredible and inspiring!!

    1. Thank you Peter. Let me know if you have any questions.

  3. Absolutely loved this article thank you Christopher! You just made my jump pilot dreams a little more realistic haha now to pass the first of my CPL exams next week eeeeeeek! -Gen

    1. Thank you Gen! Email me if you have any questions. Good luck on the CPL exams!

  4. Thanks for answering my emails. I'm posting these questions here because I figured there might be people looking to do what I'm about to ask: Is there a such thing as a career skydive pilot? Who pays for the type ratings for twin turbines like the Twin Otter or the King Air? Does the DZ operator pay for you to get typed or is that something the pilot pays for himself (or herself) or is there another way? What does a twin turbine jump pilot earn and does it justify paying for a type rating? Thanks!

    1. Hi Brett, thank you for posting your questions. I do know some career Skydive Pilots. They are all Chief Pilots at major Drop Zones around the world. They're earning over $60k per year plus free housing. As far as type ratings, there is no such thing as a Twin Otter type rating in the U.S or Canada (I'm not sure about other countries) because the MGTOW is less than 12,500lbs and it is not a "turbo jet". The King Airs that are used to fly skydivers are the 90,100 and 200 series and they do not require a type rating either. The pay for a twin turbine jump pilot ranges from $30k-$70k per year. Depending on how busy the DZ is and if it's a year round DZ or not. Also, most include free housing.

  5. Chris, thank you for writing down your thoughts and publishing this article. Your work is been very helpful over the years on this blog and others. I have learned so much about being a jump pilot and Flying the Caravan even before I start flying them.