I got to do something that was literally above and beyond the range of the word cool. I got to jump out of an airplane at 14,000 ft.
Most people that do that sort of thing go tandem. Meaning they harness themselves to the front of some expert before they jump out of a plane so that all they have to do is enjoy the ride. It's a lot of fun that way because all you have to do is fall.
I on the other hand, am a bit too big to go tandem so I had to leave the plane on my own. I took a 5-hour class (that lasted for 8 hours) that taught the finer points of falling out of an airplane. They go over how you fall and how everything works so you can function on the way out. They teach you how to land and how to react once out of the plane. They also go over emergency procedures and what to do if something isn't working correctly. You are all alone out there when you do the accelerated free fall class and it was important to really get this stuff. I went over it and over it and over it..
I must say that I am amazed that I had the presence of mind to actually do that stuff upon exiting the plane. The sensory overload is beyond compare. You leave the airplane and enter a world that is just indescribable. The world is rushing up at you at 160 miles an hour. The wind is deafening. The view is spectacular. The drop zone suddenly seems very, very small. Something that was very large while standing there was suddenly the size of a postage stamp, and the spot you were supposed to hit was the size of an "o". Literally, it was about the size of that o.
It was great fun! I was in complete awe with the whole experience.
The day started for me at 5:30 am. I had to wake up early because the skydiving place was about an hour away and we needed to be there before 8:00 am. I got up, showered, and got ready to go. I wasn't nervous at all, and was a bit excited. Normally getting up at 5:30 in the morning was just out of the question, but not this day. No sir, I hopped out of bed.
I drove to my friend, Pat's house and picked him up. Soon, we were off. We headed to the drop-zone and only stopped for about 20 minutes to pick up some food. Once we got there we started to fill out a bunch of paperwork, the basic, "Our lawyer is bigger than your lawyer" stuff. Once everyone was there we all went into a classroom and began the lessons.
I won't bore you with the detail's here but the class wasn't as good as it should have been. They really should have drilled things in more than they did. At one point in the class I was quite confused and was getting nervous because of my confusion. Eventually I got it all and knew what I had to do. I wasn't "comfortable" with everything because we only went over it for 5 hours, but I figured I got it. Looking back on it, that 5 hour course should have been stretched out over several days. (but then they do call it Accelerated free fall. It's accelerated alright.. sheesh)
The winds were blowing hard that day. The gusts were up to 28 miles an hour, holding around 22. They put us on hold for quite a while. Eventually we got to go up, I think they just gave up on waiting because they wanted to get us out of an airplane before we forgot everything. Again looking back on this, they should have waited.
Eventually I got suited up and get my chute on and was ready to go. The only thing left was the ride up to 14,000. They loaded the "twin otter" up with people, two AFF students (Pat and I) and our main and reserve jump masters. Two tandem jumpers and their jumpmasters and two cameramen for the tandem jumpers, plus a couple veteran jumpers; So about 15 people and all. At 10,000ft they opened the door and out the Tandem people went. Once they were out they closed the door and up the plane headed for 14k.
Now I was super surprised at how calm I was. I totally wasn't scared. I figured I would be terrified, but I wasn't. I was just going over all the things I had to do once I got out of the plane. The only time I was "hesitant" and that's not to say I was afraid either, I just was taken aback a little, a moment of pause if you will; was when they cranked that door back open at 14,000 feet. It was a little chilly. When that cold hit me, I was like.. "Yeeesh.. what am I doing?" But that feeling went away as soon as it came, and I was ready to go.
I got up in the doorway with the two jumpmasters that were going to go out the door with me and looked out at the world, really, really far below. I yelled to my left JM,
"Ready left?" I yelled to my left Jumpmaster
He yelled back, "Okay!"
"Ready right?" I said to the other.
"Okay!", He said with a big smile.
At which point my brain said.. "uh.. excuse me.. what are you about to do?" Muhahahaha too late brain, because, with a 1,2,3.. we're already out the door!
I didn't arch enough when I went out the door and we did a gentle tumble over backwards to look at the plane flying away. Now at the time I thought my jumpmasters did this on purpose because it was a very cool site. But in reality it was because I wasn't arched enough. My left JM gave me the arch sign and I arched as hard as I could and we were good to go from then on.
It took me maybe two or three seconds to un-overload my brain and remember that I had stuff to do. I can see why many people freak out at this point, the sensory overload comes at you fast and hard, and there is NO getting around it. It is a completely foreign environment and the ground is coming up fast.
Once I got my brain back on track, I did my heading and what they called the circle of awareness. I looked around and realized where we were and that everything was okay. I checked my altimeter and yelled it out to my left JM. He gave me a thumbs up. I yelled it out to my right JM and he gave me the same. (Come to find out they were both shocked that they actually heard me. Falling at 160 miles an hour makes a lot of noise, as a general rule you don't hear anything but the scream of the passing wind.) I then did three practice touches to my pull-chute to make sure I could actually find it when the time came. Then once that was don I checked altimeter again and yelled it out. Then I had about 5 seconds to enjoy the view before it was time to wave off and pull my chute. At 6,400 ft things went a little wrong but nothing big.
At 6,000 ft you are supposed to lock on to your altimeter and then "wave off" at 5,500ft. at which point you pull your chute. I went to do this and waved my hands just in time to whack my right jumpmaster in the hand. He was about to give me the "pull chute" sign when I hit him. Normally you don't wave off until 5,500 feet and pull sometime there after before you hit 4,500 ft. But we were FAR away from the dropzone because of both wind and that we were the last ones to leave the plane, he wanted me to pull sooner so I could get all the way back to the dropzone. No biggie really. It scared me when I hit him because at that point I noticed that the two jumpmasters were having a conversation over my back (using eye and hand gestures). They both agreed that we needed to pull a little sooner or we would have a long walk ahead of us. When I whacked my right JM, he jerked away from me so as to get out of the way. Well this scared me because of the look on his face and I thought I had done something wrong. I of course hadn't but at the time I was worried I had. I didn't know what he wanted me to do and so I just decided, "when in doubt, pull it out." I reached to pull my chute. At which point I accidentally grabbed my JM's altimeter instead of the pullchute.. hehe whoops.. But I got the chute out and about 3 seconds later I was under a lovely canopy.
That's when everything slowed down to a speed that was much easier to process. I made sure the canopy was good and released my toggles. (The things you use to steer the chute with) I steered around for a while and did a lot of S-turns. I knew that my JM's had misjudged and that I was going to over shoot the DropZone by quite a bit, so I S-turned like a mad dog to try to cut some of my altitude down while not losing ground. The wind was blowing at 25 miles an hour though so I knew I was going to miss the DZ by a bit.
At 500 ft, I was RIGHT over the runway. And the PLANE LANDED UNDER ME!!! That was kind cool. I turned back and forth a bit more and then settled in on a landing zone. (The whole world is a landing zone by the way).. The landing was what I feared the most. I thought it was going to be bad. It wasn't though. I was a bit canted so I didn't land standing up. I was going to try to but I figured instead of risking in I would just do a PLF and be done with it. (Parachute Landing Fall.. basically you fall down instead of trying to land on your feet) It was nice and gentle. I got up and had a big smile on my face. I was about half a mile away from the LZ. Pat, the guy that went with me, landed about 3 miles away.. hehe
I walked back in and we talked about it. My jumpmasters said I did an excellent job and that I could come back any time to fly with them. That made me feel good. They also told me that they were shocked that they actually heard me because that just doesn't happen. My voice was quite hoarse the next day.
I don't think I had as much fun as those that went tandem because I was too busy thinking about all the stuff I had to do to not die. Where as the tandem flyer is just along for the ride and can have fun.
I also think that no matter what you should have to do a tandem jump first. I think that those that do tandem first will have the experience necessary to NOT freak out on the way out the door.
It was an interesting first trip and I plan to go again this weekend. I don't think I am "hooked" but I did enjoy it.