Tag Archives: Skydiving

An Adventure – Learning to Skydive Part 2

Today’s Music: The Black Crowes – Go Faster

When last we left our intrepid adventurer, he had just let go of a tiny beer can with a propeller plane…
…is leaning out of the plane, peeling my fingers off, one by one.
And I think to myself that if my left hand lets go and my right one doesn’t, I am well and truly screwed.
So I let go….

…and I don’t know how much time passes…
…if it’s 5 seconds,5 hours or 5 years.

But I don’t remember anything until I look up and see my canopy open above me.

Every skydiver I’ve spoken to tells me the same thing. None of us remembers the first moments of our first jump.
I think it’s because of the enormity of it, the stepping out into nothing. The brain has no frame of reference, no way to understand what’s going on. So there’s a gap.
Modern parachutes are air-rams. There is a row of cells that hold air. Using the steering lines manipulates how much air is in the cells on the ends and gives the skydiver steering and speed control

The Air Ram Parachute

After I come out of the confusion and see that my chute opened correctly (as shown in the classroom pictures. I have no idea what I’d have done if it wasn’t) I fit my hands into the loops on the control lines. Then the voice of the spotter comes over the one way radio.
The spotter is standing at the landing zone with a pair of binoculars, watching me and guiding me in by telling me when, how long, and in which direction to turn.
It’s a one-way radio because, as the instructor put it, they don’t want to listen to everyone screaming.

Oh yeah, I screamed! I was whooping it up and cheering and howling and laughing my head off like I’d just won the lottery. I was happier than the the first time I got laid, the first time I drove and the fist time I got high rolled into one.

Just like that. Well, maybe a bit more like a little girl...

I knew the spotter could see my reaction through his binoculars, because he was laughing along with me and cheering me one.
Then we moved on to tricks.

To steer an air ram parachute, one of the lines is pulled. That collapses some of the cells on the end, causing the chute to turn towards the collapsed cells. So the spotter tells me turn left. And hold it…and hold it…hold it…
And I start whipping around, centripetal force stretching me out from the canopy, almost parallel to the ground, faster and faster, the view below me blurring as I whooped it up. Talk about going around in circles!
That’s also the moment where you find out exactly how strong your stomach is.
Mine did fine, thanks.


Gravity does its thing, and I drift slowly towards the landing zone, making my turns and just enjoying the view.
My jump was from aobut 2,000 feet, and I was under canopy and floating along by about 1500 feet. Not so high for things to be unrecognizable, but high enough (and peaceful enough) to enjoy the big picture,that feeling of connectedness to everything. It was strange, feeling so serene with so much adrenaline flowing through me, but somehow, that just made it more perfect.
So I float in, making my turns as they’re called out to me.The ground gets closer.
When navigating in for the landing, ideally the diver moves into the wind, so that the wind will slow his speed as he comes in.
And I realize “slow” is a very relative term.
Unlike, say, “rushing”. The ground is rushing towards me.
And it’s surprising enough, as I close that last 100 ft stretch between me and earth, that it doesn’t even occur to me to rattle off some Hitchikers Guide on the the way down.

At about 20 feet, the spotter yells for me to flare.

Flaring is where the skydiver pulls both control cords all the way in towards their waist, arms fully extended.
This causes the parachute to curl all the way down, and for a moment, causes the diver to lose speed.
The problem is, once the air rushes out, the chute collapses. It takes 400 feet for a chute to re-expand.
Just keep that in mind, and don’t do this too early.

No. No, I didn't look anywhere near that good.. Even if I did have cooler colors.

I flare, and dump enough speed to keep from really really hurting myself when I land.
Instead, I only just really hurt myself.
Remember those practice landings jumping off the picnic table?
Those have nothing to do with real life.
Add in the fact that I had plenty of forward momentum, and the landing was just comical.
My feet hit the ground. I rolled forward, dragged by the parachute.
It yanked me over to my knees. Onto the rock.
Seriously, in a field that big, how did the guy guide me into a spot that guaranteed that my knee would smack into a rock at 15 miles per hour?
I have no idea, but it’s a skill.
And I was down.

A moment later, I open my eyes, and see the spotter standing over me, a big grin on his face.
And I let out a shot of joyous, elated pain!
He laughs and asks me what’s wrong.
I tell him and congratulate him on his aforementioned skill. He laughs again, and helps me up. We gather up my parachute and I set off, limping, back to the shed, a million square yards of nylon flapping around me.

Worth. Every. Penny.

There was only one downside. I had paid for them to take a picture of my exit – that moment when I let go of the wing strut.
The Jumpmaster didn’t snap it.
He was too busy peeling my fingers off the plane.

Fortunately,the experience is one I’ll never forget. And now I want to go and do it again.

BASE jump anyone?

An Adventure – Learning to Skydive

Today’s Music: 38 Special – Hold On Loosely

To get a Class C skydive license, you need a whole bunch of jumps. In New York, because of the vagaries of the weather, it can take a while to amass them.
So far I’ve done two.
This is the story of the first…

It's easy. Just let gravity do the work...

I was going to take a friend of mine for his birthday. Turns out he was over the weight limit, but I still wanted to go, so I signed myself up.
Before the first jump, the diver has to take a class. The class goes over what a correctly opened parachute looks like, how to correct an incorrectly opened chute, and how to land. For the chute opening, we looked at pictures. For how to land, we jumped off a picnic table 20 or 30 times, and rolled into the grass.
All of that training was useless, as you’ll see.
Today, the governing body of Parachuting, the USPA, will let accredited training schools only do tandem jumps for their first jump.
A tandem is where the new jumper is strapped to the front of the experienced jumper.
It is much safer, much more controlled, and lots of fun.
But not near as much fun as possible.

Does this guy on my back make me look fat?

When I did it, Static Lines were still allowed for first jumps.
That means that the parachute is strapped to the jumper, and the chute release is strapped to the plane. When the jumper goes out, the line stretches to its full length, then pulls the chute open. The jumper doesn’t have to pull the rip cord, but does control the rest of the jump.
Much scarier. Much more fun!


The class (pictures and picnic table) are what you’re paying for for the first static line. They throw in the jump for free.
“Oh cool”, I can hear you say. No, not so much. Here’s why:
Anyone can sit through a class, look at pictures, and then shuffle off a picnic table two dozen times.
Many people get up to 3000 feet, look out the window,and scream to be put on the ground immediately.
No problem. But the jump was free. So no refund.
That didn’t happen to me. Nor was I phased by the fact the wind needed to be perfect (15 knots or less) for us to go. Which it wasn’t. So, we all sat around for a couple of hours after the class waiting for the wind to come down.
It didn’t.
I went back up the next week.
Still didn’t.
The next week?
Too windy.
Six weeks this went on. I drove up about 60 miles, the wind didn’t come down, I drove home.
Then one day, it was perfect.
Many people say they don’t understand why someone would jump out of a perfectly good airplane. This one wasn’t.
The pilot was sitting on a milk crate, and he was wearing two parachutes.
The engine, when it started, sounds like I do when I wake up, and I’m a pack a day smoker. Lots of coughing.
2 other brave souls made it out that day too.
The three of us got suited up, strapped on our parachutes, and climbed into the plane.
And up we went.
Here’s what happened…
The first guy got into jump position. Out he went. His chute opened.
Then he panicked. And opened his emergency chute. Without releasing his main chute.
So he has his rectangular air foil chute opened over his round emergency chute.
Which means? Anyone?
Exactly. No control.
He landed in a tree.

Not in the sky, not quite on the ground...

The plane circles the tree to guide the truck in to recover him. He walked away with some cuts and scratches, not even stitches were needed.
So now it’s me and tree-boy’s friend. Jumpmaster looks at us.
“Still want to go?”
The other guy looks nervous. His friend just had a serious problem and happened to get lucky. He was concerned. I understand that. He shook his head and declined.
It made perfect sense. I mean, skydiving is inherently suicidal dangerous.
But I’d been driving 120 miles a week to get here, this is the closest I’d been yet, and dammit, I really wanted to go.
“Yeah!” I said.
The Jumpmaster gave me instructions and I followed them.
“Turn around and slide up to the front of the plane”
Sitting on my butt, I pushed myself to the front until my back was against the dashboard. (Where I could see that the pilot’s milk crate seat wasn’t even bolted down!)
Jumpmaster grabbed my static line and secured it to the floor.
“Tug the line to make sure it’s secure”.
I gave it a yank. Yeah, secure, sure. What the hell do I know?
“Okay. Reach out of the door, put your hand on left hand on the wing strut and your feet on the step above the wheel”
I rotate half out of the plane. don’tlookdowndon’tlookdowndon’tlookdown.
“Grab the strut with your other hand, stand up and step off”
don’tlookdowndon’tlookdowndon’tlookdown. I grab on stand up and…step…off…
Now I’m flapping alongside the plane at 80 or so miles an hour. My arms are wide apart and have the strut in a deathgrip.
“Look up and let go”
The proper body shape for an exiting skydiver is an X, arms and legs out, back arched. This position catches the wind and keeps the jumper from being flipped over. The “look up” instruction is for the diver to look at the dot painted on the bottom of the wing, thereby getting the back arched prior to departure.
I look up. And start an internal dialogue with myself.
“Okay Guap. On three, let go. One, Two,Three”

“You didn’t let go”
“I know”
“Lets try again”
“One, two, three”

“You didn’t let go again”
“I know”
“Why didn’t you let go?”
“I don’t know”
“Lets talk about this”
As I’m having this pleasant conversation, I feel something on my left hand. So I look over.
And this motherf****r is leaning out of the plane, peeling my fingers off, one by one.
And I think to myself that if my left hand lets go and my right one doesn’t, I am well and truly screwed.
So I let go….

To be continued…