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Skydiving - Essay Example

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It is an adrenaline-based sport which involves the use of parachutes to ensure safe landing. The parachutes help in slowing down the…
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SKYDIVING Skydiving Skydiving is a popular sport involving individuals jumping off from a high place, usually an airplane, and falling down several thousand feet. It is an adrenaline-based sport which involves the use of parachutes to ensure safe landing. The parachutes help in slowing down the speed of the skydiver gradually to help them achieve a safe and smooth landing. (Lenaker 2002)
Skydiving is a purely physical sport and we need to understand a number of concepts of physics in order to fully understand how this sport works. When the skydiver first takes the leap, he tends to accelerate at a high speed. The reason behind this is the force of gravity. This gravity results in an acceleration of 9.8 m/s^2. Given this acceleration, the following formula determines how far the skydiver will travel in a given time:
X = Vi * t + .5 * g * t^2
where X is the distance travelled, t is the time and g is the acceleration due to gravity. (Lenaker 2002).
Air resistance is the force that acts against the gravity while the skydiver is accelerating downward. Air resistance acts upwards against the gravity which acts downwards. In the beginning, the push provided by air resistance is much smaller than the pull of gravity; therefore, the skydiver continues to accelerate downwards. However, as the skydiver falls faster and faster, the value of air resistance increases because of which the acceleration starts to decrease. Eventually, the force of air resistance becomes equal to that of the force of gravity. At this point, the skydiver stops accelerating and attains a constant speed. This constant speed is known as the terminal velocity. Terminal velocity is the maximum velocity that a particular body can reach when falling through the air. (Gordon et al 2000; Lenaker 2002)
The cross-sectional area of the skydiver plays a very important role in how quickly or slowly the skydiver will reach their terminal velocity. This is because the cross-sectional area determines the amount of air resistance that will act on the skydiver. Greater the cross-sectional area, greater will be the force of air resistance. For example, a skydiver who falls in a spread eagle position will encounter a greater air resistance than one who falls head, or feet, first. This is where the role of parachutes comes in. As soon as the skydiver opens their parachute, their cross-sectional area increases, leading to an increase in the air resistance. This air resistance becomes greater than the gravity. The upward net force causes the skydiver to slow down. As the speed of the skydiver decreases, so does the air resistance, until the skydiver reaches terminal velocity again. (Gordon et al. 2000).
As we can see, behind this energetic sport lie some complicated concepts of physics that enable us to fully enjoy it and experience the addictive rush of adrenaline that this sport provides!
Lenaker, D. (November 2002). The Physics of Skydiving. Physics 211. Retrieved from:
Gordon, J. R., Beichner, R. J., & Serway, R. A. (2000). Student solutions manual & study guide to accompany Physics for scientists and engineers, fifth edition [by] Serway, Beichner. Fort Worth: Harcourt College Pub. Read More
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