What Is Halo Jumping?

Thursday, February 29, 2024

If you’re someone who loves extreme activities, you may be wondering: what is HALO jumping? A HALO jump is high-altitude skydiving – it starts with an exit at an altitude much higher than that of a typical skydive and ends with the parachute opening at a lower, normal altitude. The end result is an incredible view, longer freefall, and a story you can brag to your friends about. 

HALO jumps are usually used by the military in high-altitude military parachuting operations meant to deliver soldiers or supplies into difficult areas to access. But military personnel aren’t the only ones who can experience the extreme conditions of HALO jumps. Civilian skydivers and even tandem passengers sometimes get lucky enough to get on a HALO skydive load. 

The reason HALO jumps are less common for civilians is that they require special equipment, extra planning, and additional safety measures to ensure the jump goes according to plan. Let’s break down exactly what a HALO skydive is and how to plan for the highest jump of your life! 

What Does HALO Mean?

When taken literally, HALO stands for High Altitude Low Opening. The “high altitude” portion of the acronym refers to the much higher-than-normal altitude that skydivers exit from on a HALO jump. And “low opening” just means that they are deploying their parachutes comparatively lower than where they exited. Especially on civilian HALO jumps, skydivers don’t actually deploy their parachutes any lower than they would on any other skydive. Safety is still the top factor, even on HALO jumps! 

HALO skydiving is a specialized form of skydiving that was developed and practiced primarily by special forces units during the Korean War. The concept emerged as a means for soldiers to quickly infiltrate enemy territory from high altitudes while minimizing the risk of detection.

The main difference between HALO and other types of skydiving is the altitude at which the skydivers exit the airplane. How high do Navy Seals HALO jump from, for example? Technically speaking, a military HALO jump is classified by an exit altitude ranging anywhere between 15,000 and 35,000 feet. This is, of course, quite a wide range of altitudes, but there’s a specific reason for it starting at 15,000 feet. 

Most civilian skydiving operations don’t exit from any higher than 15,000 feet on a typical skydive because of the extra equipment and planning required above that altitude. On average, sport skydives exit at an altitude of 10,000 to 14,000 feet – more than enough of a buffer to ensure no civilian skydivers accidentally cross into HALO territory. 

Equipment and Training for HALO Jumping

The most important piece of extra equipment needed to safely execute a HALO jump is oxygen. And not just the oxygen swirling around in freefall. Skydivers must breathe supplemental oxygen for any jump that exits above 15,000 feet. In fact, there are three classifications of HALO jumps that all require their own qualifications, training, and equipment. According to the United States Parachute Association (USPA):

1. For intermediate-altitude jumps (15,000-20,000 feet MSL): 

  • Participants should hold at least a USPA B license and have made 100 jumps.
  • All participants should put on masks and begin breathing oxygen at 8,000 feet MSL. Jumpers should stay on oxygen for as long as possible, removing their masks at the “climbout” or “exit” signal.

2. For high-altitude jumps (20,000-40,000 feet MSL): 

  • Participants should hold a USPA C license and have made at least one jump from 15,000 feet MSL or below using the same functioning bailout oxygen system.
  • All participants should put on masks and begin breathing oxygen at 8,000 feet MSL. Two minutes before exit, skydivers should activate bailout bottles and disconnect from the aircraft’s oxygen system.
  • Additionally, all skydivers should pre-breathe 100% oxygen under the supervision of the oxygen monitor for 30 minutes before takeoff when the goal altitude is above 25,000 feet MSL. 

3. For extreme-altitude jumps (40,000 feet MSL and higher):

  • Participants should hold a USPA D license and have made at least two jumps from below 35,000 feet MSL using the same functioning bailout oxygen and pressure systems.
  • Standard oxygen procedures are not established but must be developed for the specific mission and equipment.

Beyond these requirements, the gear that civilian skydivers use on HALO jumps is pretty much the same as what they would take on any other skydive. Helmets, goggles, altimeters, jumpsuits, and parachutes all function the same regardless of exit altitude. With that being said, the higher the altitude, the colder the air, so it may be wise to bundle up if you’re planning to partake in a HALO skydive. 

Bonus fact: Military HALO jumpers do sometimes use a “HALO parachute” to accommodate the extra weight of supplies and to touch down in areas within an extreme environment that are difficult to land in. 

Safety Considerations

The main reason for the additional training and specialty equipment required for HALO jumps is the risk of developing hypoxia. Hypoxia is a condition that occurs when there’s a deficiency in the amount of oxygen reaching the muscles and brain and results in symptoms like confusion, headache, anxiety, and even loss of consciousness. Not exactly what you want to experience during a skydive!

The extra scary part about hypoxia is that you often don’t even know it’s happening when you have it. That means that you could exit the airplane and participate in a skydive while not even realizing you aren’t in the right state of mind! This is why it’s so important to follow proper oxygen protocols and to have a designated person on the airplane who will monitor everyone on the load for odd or unexpected behavior. 

Spotting and landing are also slightly more complicated when exiting the airplane at a higher altitude. Wind speed generally increases the higher you go into the sky, so planning for extra drift in freefall and under parachute means more deliberate math and calculations. Skydivers also have to be more careful to make sure they are exiting at the right point over the ground to be able to make it back to the dropzone. And the higher you go, the harder it is to know exactly where you are. 

HALO jumps are a lot of fun (who doesn’t like more freefall time?), but they also require a lot more planning. It’s only fun if everyone lands safely! 

Where Can a Civilian HALO jump?

HALO skydiving is an item on most skydivers’ bucket lists (yes, even skydivers have bucket lists that include skydiving). Luckily, sport skydivers and tandem skydive jumpers alike can experience the extreme thrill of HALO jumping. But, as you can probably guess from the aforementioned litany of rules and requirements, HALO jumps can be hard to come by. 

The best way to catch a ride to the highest heights is to find a dropzone that’s holding a special HALO jumping event. But it’s difficult to fit HALO jumps into the middle of a day of regular altitude jumping, so be prepared to get up bright and early before regular operations begin to check this one off your list. 

And if you want to increase your chances of experiencing a HALO jump, become a licensed skydiver! Experienced jumpers can travel the world and jump wherever they want, which means they can seek out and participate in specialty jumps wherever they find them. Additionally, many specialty jumps (like HALO jumps) require additional qualifications to be met to complete the skydive. 

WNY Skydiving’s AFF program is a hands-on, individually focused training program that will take you all the way to your A License! Our instructors are highly experienced and know exactly how to work with new skydivers to get them comfortable in the sky. We’ve got your back from your very first ground training to your instructor rating! You can go from amateur to pro all within our skydiving family. 

At WNY Skydiving, we exit between 10,000 and 14,000 feet – that’s between 2 and 2.65 miles up – come jump with us! Blue skies!

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