Dropzone Review: Skydive Cross Keys

Logo for skydive cross keys
Official Website: https://www.skydivecrosskeys.com/

I waited a long time to write this review. I really wanted to make sure I had all the right information to help me determine how to discuss Skydive Cross Keys. Unlike some of the other dropzones that I’ve jumped at, I wasn’t immediately sure about Skydive Cross Keys. There were a number of things I knew I really liked, and at least some things I knew I didn’t. That’s I think very normal and to be expected at most dropzones. Let’s discuss…

The People & The Vibes

I really like the people at Skydive Cross Keys. They were all very warm and welcoming and I found it really easy to make friends there. I’ve jumped with some awesome folks at Skydive Cross Keys in the last year, and made some memories that will last a lifetime. The community there is open and inviting, and they really do their best to make it feel like home. I think the folks that jump there have a lot of pride in jumping there, and it shows. Many folks will tell you that they drive from hours away, past multiple other dropzones, just to jump at Skydive Cross Keys. I have multiple times heard folks refer to Skydive Cross Keys as “the place”. As in “this is the place”.

Over the last year I was getting back into the sport. I had taken three years off over the pandemic, and so needed some time to get my feet back under me. One thing I really appreciated in that time at Skydive Cross Keys was the general culture of safety, and being “heads up”. You get the feeling that everyone there is doing their best to ensure that the entire skydiving community there is safe, on every jump. However, as I kept jumping there, I did notice that there was a sort of dark side to this as well. While it was nice for the first bit as I was remembering how to fly. After a while, the feeling that the culture there was ‘safety oriented’ became somewhat overbearing. Under the guise of “safety” sits a sort of veiled elitism that is hard to shake.

I did get the feeling that someone can join this group of ‘elites’ in order to be taken seriously. But I just don’t vibe well with that kind of culture. Under the hood, the culture of ‘safety’ is often used as a cudgel by some of the more senior jumpers there to establish superiority over others. In that way, the vibe at Skydive Cross Keys is honestly somewhat broken, regardless of how amazing everyone there is.

I can give an example of this. On multiple occasions there, I had the S&TA tell myself and others exactly where to fly while turning onto base, he said it was important not to overfly the airplane, loading area, and fuel tanks. He didn’t put any qualifications on when to do this, and just made it clear he expected it all the time. He would also sit outside watching the landing area in a chair, so any deviations from what he asked would often be met with a talking to.

On one day, the S&TA was not there, but I flew this exactly turn from downwind to base. I was met in the landing area by another senior jumper there who shall remain nameless. He shouted at me, for flying the flight line as proscribed by the S&TA. He insisted everyone needed to fly over the loading area, and that I had “cut the inside” by not extending out that far.

It was at this moment that I knew Skydive Cross Keys would not be my home dropzone. Far too often I had seen this type of correction being given to others, haphazardly, and without any real debate. If a ‘more senior’ jumper told you something, you were expected to simply listen. Often, the advice was simply aggressively wrong. Examples include:

  • “If you’re in a strong headwind and don’t think you’ll make it back, sit in deep brakes and sink out of it”
  • “I saw you land cross wind (to avoid a treeline), make sure you turn into the wind on final every time”
  • “Make sure you disconnect your RSL if you have to chop line twists”

The real nail in the coffin for the vibe there came with the addition of some strange dropzone mandates. First there was a new rule made about having to be in the loading area at the 5 minute call, or else you would be taken off the load. While this is not the most extreme rule, and is quite understandable, the reality of it’s implementation was again, elitist. I watched multiple people jump the closed loading area gate and be allowed to board, ‘because of who they were’. I even asked manifest about this who said “well thats _____”.

Rules that are created to benefit certain folks are not really principled attempts to create order, or add safety. Even if that was originally the intention. The reality is that Skydive Cross Keys vibe is very elitist, this isn’t apparent on the surface, but the deeper you dig the more clear it becomes. It shows up in these things I’ve already described. It shows up in additional rules they’ve added such as their ‘angle leader’ rules which require you to get special approval to lead any angle jump (from a select list of angle jump experts they curate). It shows up in how the people there talk about other dropzones, with great derision…

I really wanted to love Skydive Cross Keys, and for a while I did. But this type of elitism is not my favorite. At the end of the day, the overbearing attitude at Skydive Cross Keys completely ruined the vibe for me. It became unfun to jump there. I realized this after having to deal with conflicting demands from different folks about how to fly the landing pattern left me more concerned about “who” was watching me land; than the actual pattern itself.

Again, I do want to end this section by stressing that – 90% of the people at Skydive Cross Keys are actually incredibly awesome, and I (having moved away) will miss jumping with, and hanging out with them. The reality is that there is however, maybe 10% of the folks there who are very much embedded in this culture of elitism, and they 100% ruin the vibe there.

Category Score: 4/10

Safety & Gear

As I mentioned above, I started jumping at Skydive Cross Keys after a three year break. I also upsized, so I was renting for a bit. The rental gear at Skydive Cross Keys is top notch. I jumped rig #14 a number of times, and felt very comfortable in it every time. There is also a great selection of rental gear, so if something doesn’t fit you, or fly like you expect, there are other options to choose from. The gear is also maintained well, and the instructors do a great job of helping you get it sorted.

The landing area is quite large, especially by east coast standards.

However, there is a serious safety issue with respect to the complete lack of outs in the nearby area.

There are some outs, in a few directions. But it is very easy for someone to get stuck out and have to go quite a ways over the forest, in order to get to any safe landing area. There is also the issue with the housing developments to the east, which make it a virtual minefield to land east of the main landing area at all. Unfortunately, this is also the direction the uppers often blow in, leaving students holding just at the tip of the runway, and sometimes barely making it back to land on the grass right by the end.

Another major safety issue with Skydive Cross Keys is the air traffic.

Skydive Cross Keys is located very close to Philadelphia. Air traffic heading into Philadelphia regularly overflies the dropzone, and can be seen in the sky over the landing area at 3-4k feet. This is well within the range to strike a skydiver. Disaster is adverted by an agreement with ATC to divert planes away from the dropzone while skydivers are actively in the air. However, as soon as the pilot of the jump plane calls ATC to inform them that all skydivers are “below 5k” the air traffic over the dropzone resumes. Because of this I have observed air traffic over the dropzone as the last skydivers are landing for the day. This issue could seriously complicate a premature deployment, as if you found yourself under canopy unexpectedly at 10k, you may be about to meet a jetliner – no joke.

Another major issue arises in the form of military overflights. Military aircraft appear to have absolutely no regard for this rule, and I have personally observed an MV-22 Osprey below me (I mean, directly below me) while I was in freefall. I tracked to avoid its flight path, and then deployed above it.

In summary, I have some real tangible concerns about safety at Skydive Cross Keys, but I do think that the folks there are doing everything in their power to make the dropzone as safe as it can be. For that I’m only docking a few points from the maximum score, because I really do think that in spite of the added danger, they are managing it quite well.

Category Score: 7/10

Aircraft & Facilities

In terms of Aircraft, I think Skydive Cross Keys is doing everything in their power to be a maximally safe and competent dropzone. I think in many ways they are absolutely nailing it. I never felt concerned about the planes, or the pilots. While some dropzones have planes that give you a sort of uneasy feeling, and pilots that like to take their chances with accelerated stalls on takeoff – I never once felt any concern about this at Skydive Cross Keys (Majo especially rocks).

The facilities there are also top notch. They have a large and easily useable hanger. There is a lounge, and a student room, as well as additional student areas. Multiple bathrooms, a gift shop, an outdoor seating area… it’s pretty great.

One thing that is somewhat sad about Skydive Cross Keys, is that there is no ability to camp there. I think this is something that is out of their control, but it is a real issue with the use of the facilities. While many folks sleep in their cars in order to skirt this rule, having camping accessible, or even a bunkhouse or something else nearby, would be a welcome improvement.

Category Score: 7/10 (biggest issue is lacking camping & camping alternatives such as bunkhouse)


I have mixed feelings about Skydive Cross Keys. I think there are many things that they are doing really well, and there is certainly lots of friendly good vibes, and talent to go around there. The elitism that runs deep there, really does ruin the dropzone for me unfortunately. To be honest, I think it’s something that ruins good skydivers. Skydive Cross Keys, is doing everything in their power to build a safe program, to support the community, and to manage risk. But no amount of program, or actuarial risk management, can help you manage a parachute malfunction. When the time comes, the thing that keeps you safe is you. There’s nobody else up there. I think Skydive Cross Keys sorely misses the mark, by focusing too much on rules, and program development, at the expense of building competent skydivers. They train folks to be afraid of being corrected on the ground (to think about “rules”), when they should be training folks to handle themselves in the air.

Overall Score: 7/10

About the author

Professional hacker & security engineer. Currently at Google, opinions all my own. On Twitter as @zaeyx. Skydiver, snowboarder, writer, weightlifter, runner, energetic to the point of being a bit crazy.

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