23 August 2005

"Feet on my Butt!"

"Pick up your feet", now... flare!"

I pulled down on the control lines as hard as I could, pulling them past my knees, and felt the chute hang just momentarily before we hit the ground on our butts with a thump. A single bounce and some pain from the rocks and grass going into my shorts later, we were seated 10 feet from where the plane had been parked before take off.

"Ok, sit back and I'll get you unhooked."

My jump master, Jeff, was releasing the catches that bound our harnesses together so I could stand up and get us untangled from the chute. Once on my feet I pulled him up, shook his hand and couldn't help but smile and thank him for such a great ride back to the earth.

"So, when will we be seeing you again?", Jeff asked me as we walked to the hanger.
"Soon", I said, "I'd like to talk to you about what it takes to jump solo..."

After decided that road racing motorcycles was too dangerous, or perhaps that I was too dangerous to myself while racing motorcycles, I thought I'd try jumping out of an airplane. Oddly enough, I did not get the massive adrenaline rush I was expecting. Instead, I found the whole experience rather relaxing, therapeutic and quite serene.

Friday afternoon my friend Anne told me she was doing a jump on Sunday for her birthday. Not being one to pass up a good excuse to put myself in harm's way I decided to go with her. Come Sunday morning we found ourselves in Rhome, TX at Skydive Cowtown wondering if this was in fact a good idea for a Sunday morning. Anne's husband Jerad was along to take pictures and watch his wife squirm nervously. He had jumped before, but his sister Jessica would be taking the plunge (her 2nd) with us.

While we signed 15 pages of paperwork the crew rolled a pair of Cesna 182's out of the hanger, prepared their equipment and took video of us doing stupid things around the airstrip.After 15 years of Army Ranger service and his current duties as NCO for two paratrooping battalions, Jeff (Anne and I's jump master) had stopped counting his jumps at 7,000. Jessica's jump master had stopped counting his at 5,000 and the camera man (for Anne's jump) had somewhere around 3,000! Needless to say, we were coupled with a very experience crew, even if the plane didn't start on the first try and was missing about as much paint as my old Neon.

After Anne's videotaped jump Jessica and I clambered into the harnesses and prepared for flight. For those of you who don't know, a Cesna 182 has about as much of a chance of holding 5 people and gear, as does your typical Miata. I was seated against the back wall in a fetal position, Jeff was seated with his back to the pilot and his feet under mine, Jessica's jump master was leaning against the dash with her seated in front of him and her feet against my butt. Yes, it was cramped.

At 10,000 feet we began the process of getting hooked up and rigged for the tandem jumps. We played human Tetris until I was sitting on my feet in front of Jeff, facing the pilot's seat and Jessica was balled up to my right. Up pops the door (a massive blast of air and noise fills the cabin) and a few seconds later she and her instructor are plunging out the door...The little voice in the back of my head, which was previously quite calm while Jeff and I talked (yelled) about such topics as our favorite foods and home towns, suddenly piped up:
"Hm, interesting. So, we're not landing with the plane, are we?"

I can hear Jeff yelling in my ear, "CRAWL TO THE DOOR!"

I do as I'm told and, remembering ground school, put my feet on the 6" x 6" platform on the plane's landing gear. Ok, arms crossed in front of my chest and as soon as we leave the plane I need to kick my legs back so my feet are on his butt. Sounds odd but this allows him to control all the air as we fall, and avoid inducing a flat spin or tumble.

So here I am looking out the door, 11,000 feet off the ground and my little voice pipes up again,
"What the hell am I doing?"

There's no time to think, and the last thing I hear before I'm vaulted out of the plane a split second later...


We did a number of sumersaults on our way out of the plane but I lost count after the first 1/2 tumble... my arms are crossed on my chest and my feet are squarely planted on his ass. We fall. I experience nothing but air.

A slight whistling noise in my ears and 120 mph air blast on my chest as we fall. I'm looking around but it feels as though we are sitting still and the world is rushing towards us to say hello. Luckily, the world is quite friendly and seems to want to talk over a cup of tea.

Falling, falling, falling... my mind is not racing. In fact, my mind is in no mood to talk. I'm just taking it in, the whole jump. The lay of the land below me and the idea that nothing actually seems to be getting much closer. In 45 seconds of freefall and we cover roughly 6,000 feet of airspace before he pulls the rip cord and my nuts are introduced to my sternum. I'm not sure how many g's we pulled going from 120 mph freefall to the 26 mph chute ride, but once the boys resituate themselves 2 feet lower and a few inches back to center, everything was good. We're hanging and conversing...

I'm excited but I'm not pumped, I thought this was quite strange but instead I'm simply calm and enjoying the feeling of hanging out in the middle of nowhere, flying. The fall was intense and I did need to remind myself to start breathing (10 seconds out of the plane), but the sensation was so surreal and unusual that I did not find it over taxing on my brain. There did not seem to be a whole slew of things to think about, because... well, you are just falling. I'm sure the process of controlling the fall is wickedly complicated, but hanging there as a passenger was quite simple and required little more thought than walking.

0 Your Opinion:

Post a Comment

<< Home