Tuesday, July 08, 2014

First Jump Course and AFF Level 1

  As I mentioned in my last two entries, I'm getting into skydiving. After doing the two tandem jumps, I realized I could conquer my fear and actually get certified to jump, so I signed up for the First Jump Course (Ground School) and the first actual jump. The type of jump training I'm taking is called "Accelerated Freefall" or AFF for short.  There are 7 levels to AFF. The first three jumps, you jump from 14,000 feet with two instructors, each holding onto you as you freefall.  There are certain tasks you must do correctly during the free fall and then you deploy your chute and when it's time to land, they will talk you down on the radio. The next 3 jumps, you jump with only 1 instructor who only holds on to you when necessary and they only talk to you on the radio if necessary. Jump 7 puts it all together with one instructor. If you do everything good on that jump, you are then certified to jump solo (sans instructors) and work on proficiency tasks until you get 25 jumps and can be awarded your "A" license.
  This past Saturday, I started with step 1. I got to Skydive Atlanta at 0750 for an 0800 class start time. After sign in, and getting our student hand book and log, the instructor, Nick, came out, introduced himself to me and the other 3 guys in the class. Of the 4 of us, two of us had some previous jump experience and the other two had zero. How those two got up the nerve to try AFF with not even doing a tandem first is well beyond my comprehension. I had to do two tandems before I could decide to try it. But, Good on Them.  The class took most of the day. Nick taught us everything he could from showing us the airplane, the parts of the rig, how to put it on, how to arch, how to throw out the pilot chute, the dive flow, hand signals, pull priorities, how to do emergency procedures, landing patterns and altitudes, decision altitudes, how to deal with nuisances and malfunctions and how to tell the difference between the two, how to land, how to recover, and the list goes on. As you can see, with a 6 hour class, there is a lot of information to take in. Near the end, there started to be a bit of information overload. 
  After the sit down portion was over, we headed out to the mock-up where they have the door of the airplane built to practice exits. We went over the entire skydive that we would be doing that afternoon a good number of times.  Getting to the door: Right hand on door, right foot in doorway, left hand on door,  left foot behind right foot.  To inside (main side) instructor "Check In!" and he nods. The outside (reserve side) instructor, "Check Out!" and he nods. Look forward and yell "Prop! Up! (while raising your knees and heels up so they can see since they can't hear you) Down! (putting knees and heels back down) "Arch!" as you step out the door of the airplane at 14,000 feet.  All of that should be in a sort of cadence so the instructors can time it to leave with you still holding on. After you are stable, then look at your altimeter and call out the altitude to your reserve side instructor and wait for thumbs up.  Same to main side. Also look for any hand signals for things you might need to fix. Then you do three practice pulls with your pilot chute, then do you altitude call out again. After that, you just watch altitude and for any hand signals to comply. At 6,000 feet, you "lock on to altimeter." Meaning: Watch it and don't look away. At 5,500 feet, you wave you hands above your head to let anyone around you know you are about to deploy your chute and then you throw your pilot chute out. When your chute is out and everything is good, you go to the "playground" and play with you canopy until you get to landing altitude and then you do your landing procedures and pattern while they talk to you on the radio. Simple enough, right?? As we were doing it in the mock up, it was easy. :)  After the mock drills, we went back to the classroom for the written test. 30 questions. All 4 of us scored a 100% on the tests. And so, all we had to do then was get manifested and wait for our load to be called.
  Two of the guys went up in Load 7 for the day and me and the other guy went up in load 8. After Load 7 came in, one of my instructors, Gary, came and found me. We went in the gear room and he showed me the gear checks to do prior to any jump and the first jump of the day. After all the checks were done, I put on the jumpsuit that has handles for the instructors to hold and then the rig. After all the gear was on, we went out to the mock up and did the practice jump a couple times so they were sure Nick taught me and I retained what he taught.  Then we got the call to load......
  I put on my helmet and we boarded the plane. Rock, paper scissors and we were going to be the last group out of the plane on that load. (That actually comes into play a bit later)  We take off and at 1,000 feet, we unbuckle our seatbelts and take off the helmet. At 5,500 feet, I give a practice wave off and pilot chute pull and we all check each other's altimeters to make sure they are close. At 10,000 we do another handle check (this is actually about the 4th or 5th one we've done since putting on the gear) and Gary goes over hands signals with me again along with the dive flow.  At 13,000 feet, Gary asks me, "Are you ready to skydive?" I say, "Yes Sir!!"  Although, at this point in time, my heart is starting to race again. It's not near as bad as the first time and it's not as bad as the second time, so each time is getting better, but there is a healthy fear/anticipation along with every jump. Close to 14,000 feet, the door opens and people start to empty out the airplane. It's now my time. I get to the door.. Rich climbs out the door and hangs on. Gary pats the door sill and that's my cue.  Right hand, right foot, left hand, left foot.  I'm standing in the doorway with my right shoulder under the top of the door and my head and left side outside the airplane.  I feel hands on both sides of my jumpsuit. "Check in!" The nod. "Check Out!" The nod. As I look forward at the prop, I take a deep breath to clear my mind.  "Prop! Up! Down! Arch!" and away we go.  It takes but a couple seconds to get stable and start my "circle of awareness" heading, altitude, reserve side, main side. As I call out my altitude, I get the signal to push my legs out. I do, but not enough. I call out to my main side and he also gives me the legs signal. I try it some more. But still not quite there. I do my three practice pulls and I get the legs signal again. I push out this time and can actually feel the difference and so I finally got it right. I was about to call out 8,000 feet to main side and as I look over, he's giving me the "Pull Now!" signal.  I had no idea what was wrong, but I'm not arguing, so I pulled.  By the time the chute opened, I was at about 7,000 feet. 1500 feet above my pull altitude and close to 2,500 feet above the altitude I should be at after opening. I looked up and the canopy was square, stable and steerable, so I was good. Except I was way the hell up there. I did my steering checks and then went over to close to where we were supposed to use as our "playground." Since I was so far up, I stayed a bit away from the playground and would work my way over there when I lost some altitude. I was a bit bummed at the "pull now" because I figured, somehow, I screwed up and he aborted the jump.  I played around with the canopy doing turns and flaring and slowly worked my way towards the playground. When they finally got on the radio with me, they wanted me closer to it, so they go me to come on over. I was still about 4000 feet up. They had me doing 90 degree turns and other stuff to bleed off some altitude. Finally, I was within landing pattern altitude and they started talking me in. I was still a bit high, so just like I was told not to do, I ran my downwind portion a bit long hoping to lose enough altitude to not run long in the landing area.  Well, I sure didn't run long. In fact, because of the headwind I had, I barely even made it to the landing area. And since I was so close to the edge, that is also where the big gas tank is they use to fill up the gas truck.  That thing was getting bigger by the minute and I was headed right to it. I put it a tiny bit of right and was able to go right beside it. I was so fixated on the gas pump, I didn't flare as much as I should have and butt scooted my landing. My chute fell and it covered the gas pump. That's how close I was.  But, I was down safe and I now I wanted to know what I did wrong.  Gary came over and helped get the chute off the gas pump and I asked why we pulled so high and if I did anything wrong. In turned out, Rich was watching our progress and because we were last of the airplane, we had run pretty far past the airport. He had us pull high so we all had enough altitude to make it back to the airport. They both even told me that, normally, when they give the "pull now" signal, most people question it and they were actually surprised when I pulled as quick as I did, so I got kudos for that.  Sweet!!
  So, my debrief went well. They told me what I need to work on. I need to have a better "cadence type count" in the door way for timing. I also need to work legs out. They also brought up the fact that ran my downwind long and not to do that again.  Other than those things, they were happy with my other tasks and cleared me for Level 2.  Whoo-hoo!!
1 down, 6 more to go.. I'll write about them here also.
Until next time...

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