Today was also my 8th jump, and certainly my most interesting. You are supposed to do your first solo rip cord pull immediately after your final practice rip cord pull, so I had to do two jumps today. It was raining lightly as we got in the plane. The wind sock couldn’t make up its mind at all, and the ascent was just as bouncy as before. This time I jumped closer to the drop zone, but not by much.
I exited the plane, counted to 3, reached down and grabbed my rip cord, pulled it out and threw it, and waited a couple more seconds for the chute to deploy. It was a completely different experience from all of my other jumps. Since I didn’t have the chute pulling me from the beginning, I felt myself move forward more so that I was parallel with the ground. It was great. Then once my chute came out I felt it pop as it caught the air and watched it completely deploy. I let out a whoop, grabbed the toggles and made a turn to indicate to the radio on the ground that I had control.
But though I had control of my canopy, I had no control over the wind, which was blowing in an unfriendly direction. I faced directly into the wind and was still being blown backwards. I knew there was pretty much no way I was going to land on the drop zone. I tried a few tricks to reduce my drag, but nothing helped me move forward. I suppose I could have started spiraling so that I would drop faster and not be in the air long enough to be blown back, but it didn’t occur to me at the time.
I started to look at where else I could land. There were some softball fields downwind that I might have been able to make, but there were fences and trees and it would have been a stretch to make it that far. There were a couple parks, but they had trees, and I didn’t know how big they were at 2000 feet. There was a sewage treatment plant to my right, so I knew I had to avoid that area at all costs. Below me was ok. It was essentially light brush, so I figured I’d go right below me as much as possible.
Fortunately, at about 1000 feet, I managed to penetrate and started moving forward. There was no way I was going to make it to the drop zone, but at least I was going to land in really light brush right next to the runway. So I steered myself a little bit and managed to land 50 feet to the side of the runway. I didn’t even bother to try to stand my landing and instead tried to not hurt myself. It turned out that the ground was amazingly soft, but densely populated with ragweed, the incredibly thorny and sharp bush. I wasn’t affected by it, but I was really concerned for the chute, which could easily have been torn by it. It was also starting to rain more, and wet chutes are not a good thing. So I carefully extracted my chute from the weeds and rolled it up. The pilot came and picked me up in the airplane, taxiing down the runway in the manner only a small airport could get away with.
So I have now pulled my own chute and done a solo dive, and boy was it awesome. Now I start getting to do more freefall, going to ever higher altitudes. I’ve also got some practical experience with wind and weather patterns and finding a good landing spot.