Well, back at it again. Off to the DZ I go. Not exactly what I thought I’d be doing on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. This time my wife and son came along for encouragement. Yes, I’m sure at that at one point her thoughts of my skydiving adventures were a moot point with no further discussion. The trick here is to slowly present the sport in bits and pieces; not over whelming her with a crazy adrenaline-driven story about jumping out of a perfectly good plane. You have to show some repose and present a demeanor that lets your loved ones know that you truly know what you’re doing and have a great respect for the sport. Actually, with all seriousness, I would say that anybody considering skydiving should be reserved enough to carefully think about what they are getting into so that their intentions are not miss lead.
I called the DZ in the morning to see what would be a good time for an AFF student to arrive. I was advised that there were some tandem reservations already setup around noon and that I might be able to get in before or, definitely after those jumps. I arrived at the DZ around 10:30 a.m. It appeared that things were still getting started. I checked in at the manifest desk. The nice lady put my name on a list with other students and then advised me that as soon as she could find me two Jump Masters she’d let me know. She also pointed out that winds were boarder line, averaging between 19 to 22 mph. AFF students cannot jump when wind speeds are greater than 19 mph. Looks like I’m grounded for the time being. One Jump Masters, that was with me on my first jump, gave me a copy of the level 2 skills and suggested that I study them until the wind died down.
Ok, this is the hurry up and wait part. I’ve discovered that the AFF student is at the mercy of the weather and the availability of Jump Masters. I started going over the skill sheet; physically rehearsing the movements as if I was getting ready for an audition. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look anything like a line dance.
The first two tandem loads went quick enough. However, I soon found that I had to explain the whole wait-my- turn thing to my wife and son They were not quite sure why I wasn’t plunging from the sky yet. After all, they came to cheer me on, but it looked like the pompoms were wilting as the day went on.
It wasn’t until jump 5 I finally got the word I was going up. My JM hooked me up with all my gear and told me to get dressed. This time I was able to get a larger set of goggles that would fit over my prescription sunglasses. Man, it sure is bright without them.
Well, Mother Nature likes to tease. Just as we were getting ready to board the plane we were advised that there would be a fifteen minute hold as winds had picked up to 23mph. Great! Not again. I slowly started to realize that all this could be scrubbed. This has happened multiple times during our Parachute Mobile Missions. Fortunately, the winds subsided and off we went.
I must say, I was a lot more relaxed this time and felt assured that with each jump it would only get easier. On the ascent my JM asked me to verbally recite the jump sequence and to let him know when we reached 5,500 feet and to explain what I would be doing at that altitude on the way down. No problem. I would be deploying my parachute, just so you all know. Getting out to the outside edge of the plane seemed to go a lot smoother than before, but since I’m tall, I found that I really had to lean forward on the way out to avoid clunking the back of my head. I’m looking forward to face-out exits. My “check in & check out” sequence was a lot smoother and I didn’t delay with the stepp-off.
The level 2 skills are easy enough: one practice pull, a left and right turn and 4 to 5 seconds of tracking. Tracking is when you bring in your arms and straighten out your legs. This creates lateral movement as well as speed. This was actually kind of cool. I had to resist the temptation to put one fisted arm forward and the other next to my chest; ya, the Superman flight position. The only area that I really blew this time was my deployment pull. If you look at the video you will see that when I reached for the pilot chute I didn’t keep my body position natural and my left leg swung over to the right. Practice, practice, practice.
I hope to get level 3 and 4 completed this Sunday. Not sure I’ll always have video available; it all depends on the JM I am assigned. Anyone that wants to come out and make faces at me are more than welcome.
Until next time,
Written by Rob Fenn, KC6TYD
I’ve always had a small fascination with skydiving. The thought of falling through the air and then gently landing under a colorful parachute was captivating. But, I always thought of it as unattainable; it was for the elite and most daring. Well, not so true. Being involved with Parachute Mobile has given me the opportunity to get a first hand look at what it takes to be a skydiver and all the people involved. I know, it’s so dangerous. Yes, it is. It’s very dangerous. But after doing some research I have found it’s the individual skydiver that makes it dangerous, not necessarily the sport. What I’m saying is that driving your car to work is dangerous but we take that for granted. Throw in some aggressive driving, add some alcohol or talk on the phone and now you have a dangerous driver. It seems that most of the skydiving accidents that I have seen reported were caused by dangerous skydivers. Not completing check lists before jumps, making irresponsible maneuvers while in free fall or while under canopy, not keeping your gear up to current standards are all contributing factors. I’ve always appreciated the saying “Safety never takes a vacation”. So true.
So, after months of mental preparedness and countless hours reviewing hundreds of skydiving YouTube videos I decided to take the Advance Free Fall class. Here’s how it works: after the required ground school the student will be required to complete seven free fall jumps. No, you’re not by yourself. The first three jumps are with two very trained and seasoned Jump Masters who have a grip on you until you deploy your chute. Each of the seven jumps has skill(s) that you have to complete. This includes practice reaches for the pilot chute, altitude awareness and turns to name a few. You’re even graded on how well you control your parachute and landing techniques. The course is very thorough.
Thanks to Michael, Jumper 2, who taught part of the ground school. With just three students the ground school portion wasn’t too difficult and went faster than I thought it would. But then, I had already been reading and teaching myself some of the stuff, however, there is still no substitute for the real thing. Later in the day we were finally assigned our Jump Masters and after another run through of the skills required for the first jump we were ready to gear up. Was I nervous? A little, but not too bad. I was surprisingly more relaxed than I thought I’d be. Soon, the gear was on and we headed out to the plane to run through the procedure I would need to know when exiting the plane. Wow! Three of us all standing on this very small lip on the outside of the plane. Off we go. The ascent took about 15 minutes. During this time I’m continuously running the skill sequence through my head. So far so good. We finally reach 13, 000 feet. There was one student that was in front of me so he was out first.
Within seconds three people are gone and now I’m up. Wait, that went too fast, am I really ready? Oh well, it’s too late now. I back up to the door as we rehearsed and stand up straight on the small ledge on the outside of the plane. So this is what 100 MPH wind feels like. OK, now what was the sequence again? Crap, I had it and as I looked into the abyss everything went blank for a couple of seconds. Oh ya, I got it. Check with each Jump Master, move up, down, arch, and jump. Talk about a leap of faith! I really don’t recall the next two seconds. It’s like jumping into really cold water and your breath is taken away. God bless the skills requirements because they gave me something to quickly focus on. For the next 30 seconds or so I went through the required skills. Check in with each Jump Master, check altimeter and make three practice reaches for the pilot chute. Done, with 1,000 feet to spare. At 6,000 feet I waved off and deployed my parachute. Wow, the parachute comes out just like it’s suppose to. I guess that’s an important thing. At this point I could breathe a little better. The hard part was over and now it was time to relax and enjoy the view. It’s hard to describe, but floating around in the sky at 5,000 feet has got to be a high point in my life thus far. OK, time to get back to work. I had to steer over to a predetermined location to set up for landing. I was a little too far off, probably because I took so long letting go of the plane, but I made it back. Unfortunately I burned off too much altitude so my Jump Master advised me to change my landing approach. I made a right 360 degree turn; came in for final and flared about ten feet above the ground. Yes! A stand up landing. I so badly did not want to be that person that lands on their butt and then dragged several feet.
OK, when can I do this again? If you ever even thought about trying this I’d say go for it. You can always purchase a tandem jump first to get a feel for it. Go to bayareaskydiving.com for information.
Life does offer so many opportunities. If you don’t take some of the more daring ones then how boring is that?
Rob Fenn, KC6TYD
Robs AFF Lever 2 Jump