I jumped out of a plane from 18,000 feet above the ground. I free fell 125 miles per hour for a minute and a half.
Too high for birds. Out of harm’s way from planes. It was just me, the sky, and the wind whistling through my ears and slicking my hair back like Jon Hamm as Don Draper in Mad Men.
Oh, and the guy strapped to my back who held my life in his hands was also there.
Eighteen-thousand feet above sea level is the equivalent of 3.4 miles. Skydive Space Center is located just a few miles from the Atlantic Ocean.
That’s relevant because, at a few feet above sea level, Skydive Space Center is technically the highest skydive tandem in the world. Other facilities that offer 18,000-foot tandem skydives are typically not as close to the ocean, which means the actual ground where you land isn’t located at sea level.
Since 18,000 feet is a metric based on total height due to oxygen levels, Skydive Space Center allows you to fall from 18,000 feet total — while others may say it’s 18,000 feet but are located 1,000 feet above sea level (actually a 17,000-foot skydive).
Skydive Space Center, about a 45-minute drive from Orlando or Cocoa Beach, draws crowds from all over the state, and around the world, because it offers the tallest skydive tandem jump in Florida and the tallest skydive tandem jump in the world (more details about jumps and pricing are at the end of the post).
This also makes Skydive Space Center among the best places to skydive in the U.S.
Now let’s get to the 18,000 feet skydive experience!
I always anticipated skydiving would evoke the same feeling of dropping from the world’s tallest roller coaster.
I thought I’d get that butterfly-esque sensation that sets in when I hear “click, click, click” during the slow, upward climb. That’s always followed by a pit-of-the-stomach feeling triggered by the sight of the ground from a 90-degree angle. When my eyes catch a glimpse of a pile of track, I always know it’s going to save my life.
Skydiving wasn’t like that at all. The feeling was abundantly different — considerably and substantially different from beginning to end.
Not many things in life frighten me. Driving in, I was a bit nervous. But not scared. When my tandem instructor told me that I should be nervous because I’m “strapped to a stranger jumping out of an airplane,” it began to hit me.
The hour drive from Orlando to Skydive Space Center in Titusville, Florida, was normal. Back roads and highways filled with conversation between myself and my then-roommate, Tammam.
When we arrived, the pleasant lady in the front office informed us that $50 more would get us up to 15,000 feet and that our student IDs would get us an even deeper discount. Being the adrenaline junkie I am, I convinced Tammam it would be a great idea.
What I didn’t realize at the time is that the birthday gift I got for myself would be capped with a free in-flight upgrade and it would become one of the greatest experiences of my life.
“Any last words to friends and family sitting on the couch watching this?” asked my tandem instructor.
“I hope you see the video,” I said as I cracked a nervous smile.
The engines of the 16-person Cessna roared as I boarded and grabbed a seat on the opposite side of the plastic door we were to jump out of. The remaining crew and jumpers boarded and we slowly made our incline to 18,000 feet.
A girl had paid for 18,000 feet, so she was the first to jump. I was the first on the plane and grabbed the seat closest to the door. I lucked out. I was the second jumper out of the plane.
Although I don’t directly recall my instructor’s words, I’m pretty sure he said, “I know you paid for 15,000 feet. Fuck it, let’s jump.”
“Fuck it, let’s jump,” I said.
We inched our way to the edge of the plane. I couldn’t feel a thing. I was numb from head to toe. At 3.4 miles above sea level, I looked out of the plane’s open door toward the Atlantic Ocean and toward the endless clouds.
I stepped to the edge of the plane. Then we jumped.
We were free falling about 125 miles per hour. It didn’t feel like we were going that fast. It felt as if we were floating in the sky. Simply floating. Not falling. Not flying. Just Floating. There was so much space below us and above us that it didn’t feel like we were getting closer to the ground.
It was one of the strangest, most intense feelings I’ve ever had.
Even though I write words for a living, I can’t seem to find any that actually describe or fit the feeling of falling from 18,000 feet at 125 miles per hour.
It was it. It was life. It was vulnerability and adrenaline coursing through my veins and pumping through my vital organs. The organs that keep me alive were shocked, battered and confused.
It was everything I had hoped it would be when I imagined it for the first time when I was just a youngster with no cares in the world. At that moment, I was 25 and falling from the sky without a care in the world.
No matter where you search or what you do, I can assure that you’ll never find a feeling quite like falling from the sky.
Skydive Space Center Tandem Details
18,000 Feet Skydive
- World’s highest skydive tandem
- 90-second free fall
- 8- to 10-minute parachute ride
- $249 (list price)
15,000 Feet Skydive
- Florida’s highest skydive tandem
- 60-second free fall
- 8- to 10- minute parachute ride
- $199 (list price)
11,000 Feet Skydive
- 30-second free fall
- 8- to 10-minute parachute ride
- $159 (list price)
Videos and pictures are an extra $89.95. You can get $10 off if you show an active military or student ID, and $20 off per jumper if you bring a group of 10 or more.