And there’s a nice connection to posting these in August as I did with the three last year describing the first and second Tandem jumps and the first AFF jump. The girl friend and I made those two Tandem jumps in August of 1997, so August is the month it all began.
While we started AFF school that September, and finished the following March, the day of jumping described below (one of our most fun times as the drop zone) took place on a very hot day in August of 1999. A lot of things started to go downhill after that, so in a number of ways this represents one of the high points in our lives. It was definitely one of those days to press in your memory book.
Two things to know: a CASA is a type of aircraft (in this case modified for skydiving), and a “boogie” is a skydiving event/party (jump all day and party all night; rinse; repeat).
In this old post (unlike the previous one which I left mostly untouched), I’ve made a few minor edits to smooth out some of the writing. (I wasn’t consistently using first-person present-tense, for example.) I’ve also replaced the ALL CAPS and *italics* plain text forms with their respective font effects.
Back in the Air!!
For no good reason other than it was just so wonderful, I gotta tell the world: Back In The Air!!! Went skydiving for the first time since last September (long story, won’t bore you more than I am). Wife and I got in eight jumps this weekend at the CASA Boogie (out at Hutchinson Skydiving).
Whah-Hoo!!! Nothing like it on earth. Better than chocolate! Almost better than sex (probably safer [grin]). Can’t wait to get my “knees in the breeze” again this weekend!
The Flying Bus
Imagine a bus. Now stick a couple wings on it and hang a big turboprop on each wing. Throw away the seats and rip off the back so it’s open to the air. Now fill it with about 25 people sitting closely together on the floor all facing the open back in three rows.
Everyone’s seatbelt buckled? Here we go. That big open back is our “wide-screen TV” where we watch the runway drop away behind us. Everyone cheers (it’s obligatory). Around 1,500 feet we can take off our seatbelts, because we no longer care if the plane develops a problem. If it does, we’re outta here!!
Around 3000+ feet someone yells “Hey, Asshole!” The rest of the “load” all gleefully holler back, “What!!” (This all is also obligatory.)
On those hot days, things get a lot cooler around 4000 feet; you get a blessed break from the pounding heat. It’s especially nice when you’ve just sweated out a quart of liquid packing your rig for the jump.
Around 10,000 feet we start standing up, double-checking our rigs and the rigs of people near us. The excitement becomes palpable, and the Tandem passengers out for their first skydive start to confront the fact that they are about to jump out of this thing! The different looks on their faces is memorable. Fear, tension, excitement… faces locked in grins they don’t feel.
They are about to experience something unlike anything ever. They are about to fly!
It takes about 15 minutes to get to altitude (14,000 feet). Plane’s going on jump run now, and the red “get ready” light comes on (in bigger planes such as the CASA, we depend on the pilot to get us to the “spot”… on smaller planes the jumpers direct the pilot). The first group moves onto the tailgate and gets in position.
The Moment of Truth
The moment arrives. The green “GO-GO-GO” light comes on. The first group yells in unison, “READY-SET-GO” and vanish off the ‘gate. The next group moves into position, counting off the seven-second delay (to ensure clear air). “READY-SET-GO” and they, too, drop out of sight.
Another group and another. Then my wife does a running swan dive off the back, and it’s my turn. Having botched the back pike twice, I decide to try something different: a running exit, a hop off the edge (the earth beautiful 14,000 feet below). I tuck my legs up, curl and lean back. Hard.
I spin backwards four times as I start to fall, accelerating from zero to 120 MPH in about 10 seconds. I see: sky/earth/sky/earth/sky/earth/sky/earth and then I unfold into a spread position that stops the spin dead.
I’m about 12,500 feet now, falling at a steady rate (120 MPH) towards the earth. At this altitude, there’s no sensation of “height”, no sensation of falling, just this incredible 120 MPH wind rushing past you from below. Words can never communicate the incredible experience of free fall.
I spin, I back flip, I front flip, I barrel roll. I bring my arms in and cup my body into the best “track” I can and watch the countryside crawl below me. Can I track all the way to the south end of the runway? Nope, I’m just not that good… yet. Maybe someday.
Keep an eye on your altimeter. You’re burning altitude fast. 1000 feet every six seconds! Free fall from 14,000 lasts about 70 seconds (assuming you “dump” at 3000 feet). “Ground rush”—the sensation of the ground getting closer—is different for everyone. For me, it starts about 4000 feet and is very pronounced by 3000 feet. It’s amazing to watch the ground speeding towards me (and a little scary!).
Soon, all too soon, the numbers get low, and it’s time to “wave off” (in case anyone’s above me) and deploy. I reach behind, grab my “hacky” and throw it out to the side as hard as I can. The high-speed wind grabs my pilot chute and the deployment sequence goes off without a hitch. My chute, my lovely, life-saving chute unfolds above me once again.
I’m “in the saddle” by 2500 feet and doing a whole different kind of flying. Now it’s calm and relaxed. I’m my own personal little glider aircraft. I can steer for thermals and try to extend the aloft time, but gravity always wins and brings me ever closer to earth.
I can see the air filled with the colorful canopies of the other jumpers. Huge nylon “bed sheets” in bright and bold neon colors. Every one different, every one proclaiming the owner’s taste (or lack thereof) in color scheme.
Soon, it’s time to get in position for the landing run.
At 1000 feet I’m approximately over where I want to land. I turn and ride the wind for the downwind leg until about 600 feet. Then I turn across the wind for the base leg to 300 feet and finally turn into the wind for the final approach. Here comes the ground… flare!! And I’m back on Mom Earth.
I’m—as always—grinning from ear-to-ear. The gut-wrenching fear-thrill of my first dozen jumps a couple of years past forever lost. You can get used to anything, but still the thrill is huge. You just jumped out of an airplane and fell to earth. And survived. Again. Incredible!!
And now, time to pack my faithful chute back in its bag for another go. And another, and another, until the day is done. To continue to live the dream of flying!
As they say: If riding in an airplane is flying, then riding in a boat is swimming. To experience the element, get out of the vehicle!
And to the old question, “Why jump out of a perfectly good airplane?”
The answer, “The door was open!”