Falling From The Sky

More serious post coming tomorrow I hope, but for now, this. About 0200 this morning, my brain decided I needed to be up and thinking about skydiving. Since I had to suffer through it, thought I would share the suffering. Well, and some laughter too.

Many, many moons ago, I did indeed jump out of perfectly good airplanes and fall from the sky. I joined the university sky diving club, and in addition to the first jump lessons jumped in on much more. I learned to pack a chute, was getting trained on packing reserves, and enjoyed the company of a crazy but interesting group of people. Not going to share too many names and such, just in case any shenanigans might not have had their statute of limitations expire. Or some people might not want to admit they were at certain parties or did certain things including jump out of perfectly good airplanes.

I do still remember my first jump (thank you lightning for leaving that one intact). Beautiful day, puffy clouds in the sky, you really couldn’t ask for better. Now, being a small club we jumped from a small plane. No ramp, no standing in the door, just a somewhat uncomfortable ride up, hook up your static line (first jumps are made so you really have to work at it to F up), then get out on a little step/platform while holding onto the wing strut. Jumpmaster makes a final check, reassures you, then has you let go and go into proper jump position.

For me, I barely hit the arch when the static line hit and the chute opened. It’s hard to describe the sensation of the chute opening, but imagine King Kong yanking you up by your harness as hard as he can. Not bad, but you do feel it. Per training, I quickly checked to be sure my chute was good, then enjoyed the view. On my way down, I went through a cloud which was amazing. Cool, moist, slightly gray whispiness. Really wish it could have lasted longer as it was neat.

Soon it was time to land, and I actually made the drop zone. In what became a trend, my Parachute Landing Fall (PLF) was somewhat spectacular. Not in a good way either. But, any landing you walk away from jumping out of planes or flying them is a good one. I walked away, and mentally was ready to go again.

In short, it was a pretty good first jump. Not so much for my buddy who I will call “Mike”. Mike was a bodybuilder/weightlifter who had muscles on muscles. Even our baggy jump suits (designed to help you play flying squirrel while in freefall) could not hide his physique. What it did hide, however, was an issue for him.

Mike left the plane right after me, and I was looking around after checking my chute and such. I heard a scream above me, a male voice rising rapidly. I looked up, and there was Mike, literally pulling himself up his shrouds one-handed while the other frantically tried to get one of his leg straps off his balls. Yep, he made the mistake you only make once and had not gotten his leg straps in the right position. Baggy jump suits do make that a bit difficult to be fair. That said, the King Kong sensation I mentioned earlier becomes more like having Hammering Hank in his prime hit your groin with a baseball bat. Been told it feels like that for the ladies too.

Mike made it on down safely, did a good PLF, and oddly enough had his leg straps undone almost immediately. It was his first and last jump.

First jumps bring out a number of odd reactions. There was a young lady who wanted to jump and so went through the lessons the club offered. Seemed nice enough but also a bit flaky in some ways, so it was decided to hook her up with a voice-operated radio so she could be coached from the ground if need be. Our reserves had an automatic opening system, so you were pretty much guaranteed to make it down in one piece, one way or another.

I was on the ground near the instructors when she jumped, and we were all watching. She did two things not uncommon on a first jump. First, she screamed. She kept screaming, and we heard it clear as day courtesy of the voice-activated radio. Second, she was a runner. If she had been on the ground I think she would have done 0-60 in under five seconds. Unlike most, she kept running even after the chute opened.

Since she was still screaming, the instructors could not coach her. Which she needed as she seemed to forget everything she had been taught. She even pulled both toggles down at once, which collapses your chute. Radio useless, we all started shouting from the ground. Thankfully, she did finally release the toggles and the chute did open back up. Even with us yelling instructions up to her, I don’t think she ever did really steer herself towards the drop zone. Instead, she came down onto the parking apron of the airport, still running, hit, and pitched face forward into the asphalt. Proof that God looks after fools and drunks, she got up without a scratch.

As we were around her, making sure she was unhurt, she said something to the effect ‘that wasn’t so bad. Can I go again?” I think the resounding no from more than one person hurt her feelings. That said, I don’t think she realized how close she came to potentially being a cake — as in a splat cake. If she hadn’t let go of the toggles, no one was sure if the auto-deploy on the reserve would have work based on velocity. Add in the lack of steering and no attempt at PLF, well…

Besides, you did need to steer. One reason was that the airport where we jumped, there was a guard dog kennel nearby. The dogs there viewed our arrival each Saturday as if it was that of a Chicken Delight truck. I’m not saying they put on bibs and salivated as they watched us, but… One of the members I got to know had a close call with them, as his departure from the plane was such that it made hitting the airport interesting. Since we were using round chutes mostly (squares/parasails were a very new thing), you didn’t have a lot of maneuver.

The jumpmaster had put him out so that he ended up headed straight to the kennels. Frantically trying to steer away from them, he had to bring his knees up to his chest to clear the kennel fence. The dogs were jumping and trying to catch him before he got away. He later swore that there were marks from the dogs on the bottom of his boots. Lifting up his legs did let him clear, and he landed just a few feet outside the kennels.

Being a jumpmaster and telling people when to leave the plane is an art rather than a science. For some, I swear it was a Picasso painting with no science involved. After my first or second jump I switched to a precision round so that I had a bit more control and maneuverability even if you did hit a bit harder since it was smaller than a reserve. ‘Eh, you’ll probably hit the airport’ is not something you want to hear, and I swear it may have been the unofficial motto for the jumpmasters.

When they did a demo jump onto campus, not long before I joined I think, only a couple of the jumpers hit the large parade field that was the target. One jumper landed in the parking lot of an off-campus fraternity house, going over backwards onto a concrete parking bumper that shattered their helmet. Another took out the power line to an on-campus dorm with their jaw. Another landed on the other side of the dorm and I seem to remember a tree may have been involved.

But the most interesting miscalculation happened before I joined, and it not only put the jumper down well away from the airport but resulted in what I call The Gabriel Incident.

As I said, square chutes were just becoming a thing. The club had a member who bought one, which was brilliant white. Soon, his helmet, jump suit, and even boots I was told, were brilliant white. He made quite a sight when he jumped. It also almost got him badly hurt or worse.

Between the vagaries of jumpmasters, winds, and other delights, the club had a chase vehicle to go get those who landed away from the target. Not going to mention the year this was, but it was an early 70s station wagon in all it’s glory. And it was lucky it was available that day.

Let us just say that things went awry. Our intrepid jumper in white ended up well away from the airport, well out into the farmlands. By chance, he ended up landing near a small church of a non-traditional type. One person involved simply called it a ‘roller church’ but they were well into their service when the jumper flashed by their windows. Which apparently sent a number into paroxysms and cries of “Gabriel, Gabriel” filled the air.

At least until someone went outside, realized it was just a jumper, and decided that it had been done deliberately to mock them. Luckily, no torches or pitchforks were handy, but soon a small mob of people were after the jumper. So, here he is, chute wrapped up in his arms as he best can, running down a rural farm road with an angry mob intent of vengeance behind him.

The driver and others in the chase car came up on this scene and made a bold decision. They didn’t stop.

Instead, they got around the mob and the jumper, lowered the back window of the station wagon, and slowed down just enough he could push his chute into the back. Someone grabbed him and pulled him partly in, at which point the driver reportedly put the pedal to the metal and took off with the jumper’s legs still dangling out the back.

For obvious reasons, this remained a favorite story of the club. It also does make me wish that modern helmet-mounted video had been around then. It could be a tall tale, but I will say that I was warned to avoid going anywhere near a certain small church out in the country either on the ground or in the air, and they were serious when they said it.

No, I never did a nude jump. Had a couple of (female) members of the club taken part I probably would have. As it was, they had done one not long before I joined, and didn’t do another while I was a member.

My last jump was sadly not with the club. Another member and I went to another group to get some jumps in, and frankly it was a mistake. Let’s just say the people in that group were many things, including possibly sociopathic. Let’s just say that “George” of the magnificent mustache and I were glad to leave that day and may possibly have discussed tossing someone out of a plane sans parachute after finding out they had tossed animals out of the plane for fun. Or at least they claimed they had done so.

My memories are a bit fragmented (stupid lightning), but I can’t remember if a third person was with us or not. If not, it was George who came down almost a mile away because the jumpmaster mis-set the auto open on his reserve. It fired as he left the plane and went into freefall, leaving him no choice but to cut away his main and come down on reserve. No way to make the drop zone, there were winds, and his landing was reminiscent of the opening scenes of The Six Million Dollar Man. He sat up, waved to show he was okay, then went back down. Never would admit if he was out cold or not.

Me, I made my most spectacular landing yet. You can stall a round chute almost like a square, if you time things just right. That day, I did not get it right. Short version, I came to a picture-perfect stop — while still ten or more feet above a freshly plowed field. Think Wile E. Coyote frantically blowing up at a collapsed chute and that would have been me. I threw my back risers up, got out the word “Oh” and finished the phrase after I hit. When you bury yourself up to your knees in a freshly plowed field, there is no PLF. I went over on my back hard.

I was supposed to do a free-fall jump but between what had happened and what we had learned about our hosts, I was already not real eager. There were some issues repacking my chute, but I was assured all was good. In fact, it wasn’t until I was out on the jump step that the jumpmaster admitted all might not be good, but if there was an issue to just reach back ‘and beat the s*** out of it with your elbows.’ Think I made it back into the plane in less than half a second.

George and I were happy to leave that day, and we shared our adventure and what we had learned with the club and others. For me, it was right after that “adventure” that I got the opportunity to become a pilot. But, it was a choice of becoming a pilot or continuing to jump. So, I made the jump to flight.

It was fun, and I do miss it. Even with the changes, not sure how well my joints would take my doing another. An orthopedic surgeon who did some work on me at that time told me I had five more jumps in me, max. Don’t think I have that many in me now, and what I do have left I will save for an emergency.

I will say I was glad to miss the “cake” that happened later. Don’t know about new systems, but will simply say that you should not spend a lot of time trying to clear a malf because if you wait to less than a thousand feet to cut away and deploy your reserve, it will open and cover you like a shroud after you hit.

That said, part of me really would like to jump one of the modern squares. Maybe even do a tandem jump. Many jumpers, including the female members of the club at the time, referred to it as “The most fun you can have with your clothes on.” At the time I agreed, though today I would put flying and certain types of shooting in that category as well.

If you’ve got the itch, do it. Jumping out of planes is fun. If you don’t have the itch, well, shake your head at my adventures. Hope some of it made you laugh and smile.

Oh, one more thing. What do you do if a jumper freezes on the step? Some jumpmasters actually carried a baton to whack fingers. Or, as happened with a military jumper who wanted to try it our way, you have a pilot who just gives the jumpmaster a sadistic grin and puts the throttles full forward. Feet go out quick I’m told, and then the fingers peel off and off they go. And, occasionally, they did help someone back in. Depended on judgement and circumstances.

Getting hit by lightning is not fun! If you would like to help me in my recovery efforts, which include moving once we have medical issues cleared up, feel free to hit the fundraiser at A New Life on GiveSendGo, use the options in the Tip Jar in the upper right, or drop me a line to discuss other methods. It is thanks to your gifts and prayers that I am still going. Thank you.

4 thoughts on “Falling From The Sky”

  1. They should give out a wings medal for successful jumps.
    Pappy was 101st when it meant something and kept his chute for ceiling decoration.

  2. I should have done this earlier on my life but with two hip replacements-it’s not recommended!

    1. No, it’s not but I’ve been surprised at who they let do tandem jumps and the advanced ages allowed.

Comments are closed.