Thursday, April 02, 2015

1, 2, 3, 3, 3, 3....

In my last post, I discussed how I was NOT born to be a skydiver. Yeah, I totally proved that statement this weekend.  Last time, which happened to be September 2014, I was able to jump Level Three AFF with two instructors. I didn’t do good, but I didn’t do horrible either, so although I had to repeat Level 3, they cleared me to jump with only one instructor the next time. Unfortunately, the “next time” didn’t come until 29 March 2015, 6 months after the last jump. When I went in to talk to manifest, they said they would let instructors decide if I jump level 3 with two instructors or go back to level 2. They decided I would stay at Level 3 with 2 instructors.

  On to the first jump of the day briefing. Since it had been 6 months, I got quizzed on everything from malfunctions, the nuisances, to landing priorities, pulling priorities, hand signals, etc, etc, etc. It was a long first jump briefing, which it should be after a multi-month layoff. We get my equipment and check it all over and then get manifested on the 2nd load of the day. One of my friends that works there as a Tandem Instructor, James, showed up to video my jump for me since I have never had any outside video taken.  At the 20 minute call, we get geared up and go over the dive flow, which is very little on this level. We exit, I do my circle of awareness, 1 practice pull, a set of toe taps and then they will try and let go of me for the first time to see if I can stay stable. The ride to altitude is uneventful. The door opens and the fun jumpers bail out a one single and a 4-way. I was next.  James crawls out onto the back step and waits for us. My reserve side instructor, Mike, goes out and my main side, Gary, motions me to get in the door. Right hand, right foot, left hand, left foot. Check in, Check out, Prop, Up, Down, Arch, Arch Arch!!! And, holy shit did I fuck up that exit. Instead of just jumping to the side and letting gravity do its thing, somehow, I almost launched into a dive and in doing so, tumbled us all out of whack. We tumbled so much, Mike let go of me and let Gary get us straightened out. After he did, Mike flew back in to take his side of me again. By the time everything got straightened out and I was able to get my COA, practice pull, toe taps done, they gave me a couple of body corrections and we were already at 5500 feet. I waved and pulled. Wow.. You know, it’s one thing to get a bit rusty after taking some time off away something you know how to do, but when take time off from something you don’t even have a clue how to do to begin with, when you come back, you aren’t rusty, you straight up SUCK!!!  On top of all this, we had a bad spot out of the plane and there was no way I was going to make my “playground” to do my canopy work. To start with, I thought I was going to be lucky to get back to the airport since I was down wind of the landing zone. But, due to pulling at 5500 feet, I had plenty of altitude to make it back and even had to bleed some off as I did a straight in approach. The landing was my typical butt slide in my landing area, so nothing new there.

  The debrief was humbling and disheartening. I totally screwed the pooch on the exit and that set the tone for the whole jump. Needless to say, Level 3 was going to have to happen again, but Gary was ok with me dropping down to one instructor if I was comfortable with it, which I was. James was leaving, so he handed me his SD cards from his cameras and Gary and I watched the video from the jump to explain what I did wrong. The video is awesome from the jacked up exit to when I pull. I was able to see everything I did wrong and we were going to do things better for the next jump.

  I manifested for the next load and we got ready. Again the ride to altitude was a non-event. This time, it was just me and Gary. No Reserve side instructor, no photographer. At 13,500, the door opens and the fun jumpers bail. Gary checks to make sure we are clear and then motions for me to get in the door. Right, right, left, left. Check in, Prop, Up, Down, Arch. This time, I do the exit correctly and it seems to be going much better. We, as a unit, are stable right out the door and I do my COA, practice pull and toe taps. We’re still at about 10,000 feet at this time, so Gary starts giving me my body corrections. Legs out, hands in, arch, hands out, legs out, arch.  Unfortunately, my little pea brain only seems to be able to complete two of the tasks at a time. If I had my hands right and my arch right, my legs were in. If my legs were right and my hands were right, my arch was off. When I fix one, I would screw up one of the others. We did this for the entire free fall and FINALLY, at about 7000 feet, I was able to get everything where they were supposed to be. Unfortunately, at 7000 feet, I have less than 3 seconds before the freefall is over and I have to pull, so Gary never even let go of me. We did open up right over the “playground,” so I was able to do my canopy work and my normal landing pattern. The only issue I had after opening was, as I came in to land, the wind had completely died and I had no headwind to slow me down with my flare. I came in pretty hot and with my ill-timed flare, all I heard on the radio was Gary saying, “Prepare to PLF.” Of course, all I managed was, again, my typical butt-slide landing but, in this case, it was an extra-long slide due to forward speed being faster than normal.  That ended up being one of the harder landings I’ve had since I started this endeavor.  For the jump, although I did finally get into position, I was about 4000 feet too low when it happened. I need to be able to get stable within the first few thousand feet for it to count. The next level, I am supposed to be stable and do maneuvers without assistance, so to be able to get stable quick is paramount and I totally except the fact that I’m not ready to move to level 4 yet. So, level 3 yet again, is on the horizon. Gary said he's not ready to hand me a bowling ball just yet, so there is hope for me.  Maybe some tunnel time is in order?? 

  On a good note for the day, my fear of the open door is fading away.  Even after a multi-month absence from the door, when it opened up for the first time that day, I felt some serious butterflies as my turn approached, but there wasn’t that deathly, absolute fear that I remembered from the first tandem. The second jump of the day, I barely even gave it any thought when the cold air rushed in from the open door. So, although I’m not doing so well at flying my body yet, my mind freak over that open door is most definitely on the downswing. And knowing how terrified I was that first time, this is HUGE!!
Pics taken by James Harker..
Top: My totally jacked up exit on Jump #1. (I'm in Red)
Bottom: The only millisecond I was in the correct position during Jump #1.
Until next time… 

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At 02 April, 2015 18:53, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice humbling write up, Dale. You have more guts than me. Dave Mills


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