Though skydiving is often billed as a once-in-a-lifetime experience, for the staff at Jump Florida Skydiving, it's a job. As they climb above the scenic landscape of Lake Country in a Cessna 205 aircraft, they stay calm as excitement radiates off customers—as young as 18 and as old as 79—about to make their first leap. At the ideal altitude, the plane levels off, and jumpers get into position. The sky is amazingly clear around the plane, which takes off from a private airport, so there are no commercial jets or flocks of migrating geese obstructing the airspace. Tandem or solo divers step to the edge, take a deep breath, and experience the thrill of accelerating at 9.81 meters per second per second.
While participants revel in their adrenaline-fueled thrills, the staff keeps them safe by adhering to the strict standards of the United States Parachute Association. These protocols enforce rigorous regulations, safety guidelines, and eminently cool member handshakes. On the ground, the team prioritizes hospitality, offering guest rooms, a restaurant, spectator fields, and a nerve-diffusing bar.
Engines start to roar, propellers spin, and a large parachute expands into the sky, carrying a light aircraft and its passengers toward the clouds. Silver Lining Aviation's certified instructors create adventures like this every day as they teach visitors to soar behind the controls of sport aircrafts such as powered parachutes, weight-shift trikes, and gyroplanes. Led by licensed FAA flight instructor Craig Ewing, Silver Lining's team takes prospective pilots on introductory flights that allow them to experience aircrafts such as the Airwolf 912 and nibble on different flavors of clouds. The aviation experts also sell sport aircrafts, which patiently wait onsite as customers work through custom ground- and flight-training programs. In most cases, the flight instructors prepare their pupils for aerial navigation in as little as two weeks. They also assist new pilots with replacement parts, provide 24/7 support, and cook oil soup to feed hungry aircraft.
Sportations connects amateur adrenaline jockeys to certified professional adventurers, drawing from a nationwide network of aeronauts and speed demons to introduce habitual pedestrians to the wonders of skydiving, ballooning, hang gliding, and stock-car racing. Thrill seekers can zipline across a forest canopy, hollering like Tarzan or taunting nearby birds until they agree to race. Helicopter tours ferry patrons skyward over landmarks and cityscapes, whereas paragliding adventures get up close and personal with blue skies and clouds. For most sports, Sportations accommodates groups of any size, from physics classes empirically proving gravity's existence to solo ballooning supervillains declaring dominion over all they see.
At Heli Aviation Florida, LLC, the Robinson R22, R44, and R66 helicopters that make up the fleet serve a number of roles. They not only lift casual passengers into the sky for sightseeing tours, photography sessions, and search parties for lost Mylar balloons, but also give traffic-patrol pilots a bird's-eye view of the morning commute. Plus, they're used during flying lessons.
Aerial fun and excitement aboard the helicopters are second only to one thing at Heli Aviation Florida—safety. The Helicopter Association International member relies on the Target Zero Safety Management System, whose goal is nothing short of perfection, or zero accidents while providing helicopter services.
After full safety briefings each day, the pilots take off from their 10,000-square-foot area at Sarasota Bradenton International Airport, which features a lobby, classrooms, a training area, and hanger space.
More than 60 times a day, Skydive Air Adventures' King Air jump plane climbs to nearly 3 miles above the earth's surface. Once there, instructors strap themselves to novice divers and plunge out of the aircraft during tandem flights. The frequency of these dives has allowed some of them to rack up serious airtime; many instructors have more than 8,000 dives under their belts, including Carl Smith, who has jumped from planes and escalators to heaven more than 14,900 times. To keep track of all these jumps, Skydive Air Adventures can shoot photos and videos of every wind-blown expression and ear-to-ear grin.
It's not often that you find yourself falling headfirst toward the earth, wind whipping by, before you pull a cord on your chute and float gently to the ground. This thrill-seeking experience is available to first-time and returning divers at Skydive Spaceland, which sends people plummeting out of planes on a regular basis. Tandem dives pair newbies with experienced instructors, and skydiving lessons teach students how to take the plunge on their own. To prepare patrons for the jump, an online pro-shop sells helmets, goggles, and t-shirts that prove you've conquered your fear of heights and cotton that could shrink in the dryer.