Today I can cross another thing of my list of things to do before death. Fortunately, it’s not a thing that I did RIGHT before death. It was awesome. I really can’t believe I let myself jump out of the plane. I was surprised I did it. The landing wasn’t perfect, but it I’m alive and well and nothing is broken, so I have nothing to complain about.
I’ll go into all the gory details in case you’re interested. Last night we had a few hours of training. Essentially, we watched some videos, with the jumpmaster pausing every once in a while to provide more detail, amend the video, and answer questions. I went to bed, but didn’t sleep well. In the morning, I woke at 5:30, and managed to convince myself to stay in bed for another hour before actually getting up. I timed myself making a full breakfast from scratch. I had 2 scrambled eggs, hash browns (from a real potato, not frozen), 3 sausages, and a glass of juice. 6 minutes from start to finish. The hash browns are what took the longest to cook. I wrote down all my passwords on a sticky note just in case, but it was surprisingly hard to do. I know all my passwords better by habit than knowing what they actually are. I couldn’t do some of them without trying them first on the keyboard.
We all arrived at the airport by 8, got in our jumpsuits, and got another hour of training. I was graced with a bright bright yellow suit. The jump order was exactly what I had hoped for. Ryan was jumping first, I was second, and Dave was third. We were in the first plane. Doug and Wendy showed up to take pictures and watch. We got in the plane and strapped in. We were facing backwards and sitting on the floor. There was only one seat for the pilot; the rest was padded floor. The neat thing about facing backwards was that I could watch as we took off and climbed, and I could see outside the window easily. It was a great view. I picked out features I knew, made sure I saw the drop zone, and enjoyed the ride.
After we took off, we essentially made a big circle as we climbed to 3500 feet. As we approached the airport again, the jumpmaster opened the door, and cool air immediately swirled in. It was remarkable how clearly I could see the ground from the air, which made sense because there was just air. Ryan got up to the door, stuck his feet out and planted his hands in place. The jumpmaster told him to look at the wing and jump. After some hesitation, he dropped out of sight. The door closed and we looked for him. His chute had opened fine and he was doing well.
We were flying what is called an IAD, or Instructor Assisted Deployment. This means that the instructor is holding the first chute in his hand and throws it out when you jump. The first chute catches the air and pulls the main chute out, so you are in free fall for only a short period of time before the chute is fully opened. Ryan’s worked perfectly. As we watched him prepare for landing, though, it didn’t look so successful. He seemed to be way closer to the runway than the field, and as we watched the shadow catch up to the parachute, we could see it was going to be bad. Of course, we were about a mile away from him, so we didn’t know for sure. It turned out that he had glanced off a suburban and landed on his feet just fine. He wasn’t hurt, and the suburban was only slightly damaged, but it wasn’t enough to deter him from going up a second time later.
The timing of it worked out that as one person jumps the plane describes a big circle, and almost as soon as the jumper lands, the plane is in position for the next jumper. It was my turn. I put my feet outside the plane and my hands in position. My head couldn’t believe that I was about to do this, and when the jumpmaster told me to look at the wing and jump, I paused for a second thinking maybe I wouldn’t. Then the more assertive and exciting part of me kicked my own butt and I jumped out. I don’t exactly remember the first few milliseconds. As soon as I was aware, I was trying to kick a little, which is wrong, so I forced myself to assume the arch position we had been taught. Then I realized I hadn’t been counting, which is also wrong, so I picked up at about 3, figuring that to be about where I was in the count. Then I felt the chute deploy. I waited a second, then looked up to make sure everything was correct. I was flying with a 9-celled square student’s chute. Amazingly, all my cells had inflated properly, and I was in full control of the chute. The radio rubber-banded to my chest strap buzzed to life as the guy on the ground told me to gain control of the chute and start turning. I did as he told me, confirming that I could hear him just fine. He continued to give me instruction as I descended, all the while watching the scenery, the drop zone, everything I could get my eyes on. It was great fun.
As I was preparing to land, I saw that I was going to make the field, and I was glad of that. I knew that at about 15 feet I was supposed to flare, which would stop my forward motion and I would be able to land on my feet, but I was also watching the guy on the ground giving me instructions. He was supposed to put his hands down when I was supposed to flare. I kept watching him, not seeing how close I was to the ground, but he kept his hands up. I quickly decided that he was never going to put his hands down, so at the last possible second I did, but it wasn’t enough. I also made the mistake of lifting my legs, which is also wrong, so I landed squarely on my butt and slid for a bit. It was a little painful for a while, but I quickly recovered, glad that I was at least safe on the ground, and only a few yards from bullseye.
You’ll notice I made quite a few mistakes on my way down, and I was well aware of them immediately after I had done them, but it wasn’t catastrophic at all, and the next time I jump I’m sure I’ll do a lot better. This is really a testament to the safety of the sport now. If I could screw up as much as I did and still be totally fine, then it should be no problem for anybody else.
That said, let me regale you with the excitement that was Dave’s landing. As he descended his final feet, he seemed to be doing the opposite of what the guy on the radio was telling him, and doing it to the extreme. He lost a lot of altitude while he was screwing around, and there was no way he was going to make it to the field. In fact, he ended up on the tarmac 100 yards from where he was supposed to. From our vantage on the field, it looked like he had either hit a plane, a fence, or a building. In fact, he was fine, but it was probably not Wendy’s best experience, seeing her husband drop out of the sky far from where he should.
For the next plane, two other people went up, and Ryan decided to go again, too. There was a different person on the radio on the ground, and he managed to bring everyone on to the field with great landings. This time I took pictures, which we’ll be sending to the other people who jumped. When I got home I took great enjoyment in burning the postit with my passwords. It really made me realize that I was home and everything was ok.
So to summarize, I had a great time. I’m glad I did it, it seems really safe even after all the silly mistakes we made, and it’s definitely worth doing.