Tuesday, June 03, 2014


Skydiving. Ever been? Ever wanted too? I actually have the tale of two jumps for you.

Flashback:  September 1982. I’m a freshman in college and I HATE Phys Ed courses.  I sign up for a tennis course the first quarter and promptly withdraw from it. Second quarter I notice that “Sport Parachuting” was listed. Sweet!! I can do that. So, I signed up and, I actually went to the classes. The ground school that normally takes about 5 hours at a Drop Zone (DZ), we did in 6 weeks. We learned to exit the airplane, how to land, how control the canopy (what control there was in the old military round chutes that we were jumping) and how to deal with malfunctions.  At the end of the class, you have two options. Take a written test on the info we discussed or go jump from a plane at 3000 feet. If you jump, you get an automatic “A” in the class. Hell yes.. I’m actually going to make an “A” in college!! February 1983, we meet up for our actual jump at a DZ in Locust Grove, GA.  We get a quick refresher ground school, don our jumpsuits and our rigs. This is going to be a static line jump. A 15 foot line is attached to the floor of the airplane while the other end is attached to your parachute container. You jump, you fall 15 feet, the static line opens your container and, WHAM,  your chute opens and then they talk you down on a radio that is attached to your harness. . Easy enough. And that is exactly how it happened, except for two minor details. As I stepped out of the plane, I pushed with the wrong foot and spun leaving the door. When my chute opened, I was still spinning and my lines twisted all up. They taught us how to correct it and I did what I needed to do to get them untangled. The opening was rough. It snatched me so hard, my feet flew above my head. But, I was good. Now, just talk me down and we’re good to go. Waiting for my instructions…  Still waiting... Ummm. Hello?  Anyone on this thing??  WTF??? Oh well, it looks like I’m going to have to do my best to get down in the general area without breaking anything or myself.  I actually did pretty good at staying the area and when I finally got down to an altitude where they could yell at me (my radio was on the wrong channel) I was headed right towards a small shack and they yelled, “FULL BRAKES!!”  I yanked on both toggles and fell like a rock from about 30 feet into the parking lot. I hit feet, ass, head onto that Georgia red clay parking lot. It was a hard hit, but I was fine except for a sprained ankle. And, I had my “A” in the class!! FYI: It was the only “A” I ever made in college.  I wanted to do it again, but never really got around to doing it after the ankle healed up.
  Fast forward to February 2014: We get a new guy in our shop and we find out he just happens to be a certified skydiving instructor that works at one of the local DZ’s. That got me remembering that day in ’83 and I decided I wanted to try it again. However the difference is, I was 18 back then, I’m 49 now with a couple of significant neck surgeries and a whole bunch of metal added to my repertoire.  But, after hearing more, there are some major differences in skydiving from then to now also. They have square, actual flyable, canopies and not those round things from before. Tandem jumps where you are strapped to a qualified instructor that takes care of everything, instead of static line and you do everything, along with hoping your radio is on the right channel. And MUCH smoother openings/landings than before.  Oh, and you jump from 14,000 feet versus 3,000. Oh yeah.. Let’s do this. I actually find a female in my shop that also wants to go, Tina, so we pick a date, sign up and show up at the DZ. The weather was really crappy and it never got any better, so our first day was a bust.  The weather was so iffy, neither of us even got nervous the entire time we were up there. We got a great tour of the place and enjoyed our time up there, but no jumping.  We made plans to go back up the following weekend on Sunday.  When we met up on Sunday, the sky was a clear and as blue as it could get. I knew it was going to happen that day. We went back to the DZ and got signed in. We go in for the ground briefing and when the instructor is explaining how it will go down, he mentions that we will go over to the door and “put your toes over the edge.”  Tina said she looked at me and my face lost all emotion. She said she only looked at me because she felt the exact same thing. It hit us at the same time: This shit is about to get real.  I’m going first, so I get in my harness and just hang out. We do a bit of videoing and photo taking and then we head to board.  During the flight, I’m not really nervous. We do some more video and we get everything hooked up and tightened up.  After we get to 14,000 feet, it’s time to start the jump run. The door goes up and the Army Silver Wings, that are riding with us, jump. Then a student with his two instructors all jump out. Then, there was no one between me and that open door. This shit just got real!! We scoot to the end of the bench and then stand up and shuffle over to the door. I “put my feet over the edge” and hold on to my “happy handles” and think, “WTF am I doing up here???” By then, it was too late, we tumble out the door and I give one big grunt, which is better than screaming in my opinion, and then he throws the pilot chute to slow us down a bit. We start our stable freefall and at this time, I’m starting to have fun. However, my goggles blew up a bit and now I’m having a rush of 145mph wind come in one side and proceed to beat up my left eye.  We had decided on the ground that he would show me his altimeter and when we got to deployment altitude (5500 feet) he would let me pull the chute if I wanted too. He kept putting the altimeter out, but I never got see it. We did a couple turns and if I wasn’t having my eye beat to a pulp, I would have really enjoyed it. Finally, when we got to 5500, he tapped me and I reached back for the ripcord. I wasn’t sure if the tap was to locate it or pull it, so I located and waited.  He finally tugged on my arm a bit and I knew to pull, so I pulled the chute. The opening was nothing like the ’83 opening. It was smooth  and before I realized it, we were now riding the canopy. He did a few maneuvers and then let me try it out a bit. Of course, I was very timid on the controls but did mess around with it a bit. After we got down to pattern altitude, he took back over and brought us in for a smooth butt-scoot landing.  It was an awesome time!!  However, my eye hurt so bad from the air beating it took, I couldn’t get overly excited about the ride.  Don’t get me wrong. I had a blast, but the pain just kept me from enjoying at that exact moment.  Tina took her ride next time and she had a blast too!! Totally different form 1983 and SO much better!!

  Now, I’m trying to decide if I want to get certified to skydive. I had a great time, but I was scared to death just before we jumped. Is it a natural feeling? Maybe, but I honestly have no idea. So, we are scheduled to do another jump, also tandem, this weekend. How that day goes will let me decide if I have it in me to continue on to training to become a skydiver. If I decide to do it, of course, I will write about it here. If not, I will write about jump #3 and move on. Stay tuned for updates…

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