(Static Line Edition)
The first thing I saw as I walked to my classroom was the notice on the combined cadet force notice board about parachute jumping. 15 (lucky?) people could sign up and have the chance to fulfill a possible once in a lifetime opportunity to throw themselves out the back of a moving object at a rather high altitude compared with the ground. In around 1.567 seconds of madness I had put my name on the list. A few days later, I received the parental consent letter, all I had to do was tell my parents and hopefully they would let me do it. I did this the most random way I could, by walking into the kitchen on a Sunday morning and saying “I want to jump out of a plane”. They said “good for you” and I was happy.
A few months later there I was, the day before our course, very nervous. Unfortunately (luckily?) due to the fuel crisis occurring in our country at that time we couldn’t do the jump that weekend.
Fast-forward four weeks later and there I was, in a minibus with 5 others. On our way down the M4 to the RAF base where we would be trained how to jump and from where the plane would take-off.
Our instructor, Dave Hix, was a good bloke he told us of how his newborn son had done about thirty jumps, before he was born, inside his mum. We learnt our exit and emergency procedure, how to land, and what to do if we land in a tree. It was very educational.
A few hours of learning and it is time to wait, and wait some more. Being learners we have to wait for the wind to be below a certain speed, which I believe was 15 knots. After much decision making it was decided the girls, of which there were three, would go in the first jump, and the boys, the other three, would go in the second. We waited some more.
After some waiting the boys were told that they would go first as they were heavier and the wind was just slowing down. Out of the three guys, I was last, which was nice. A few minutes later armed with our parachutes we were on our way to the plane, a tiny pink Cessna. That plane was the scariest thing I have ever been in, boy was I glad to get out. It wasn't that the thought of getting out the plane that was scary, it just didn't feel safe.
After my friends have gone, its come to me, I slide across to the door, which was open at 3200feet and look out of the corner of my eye at the ground below. Then the plane turned right, and as the door was on the right, I got an even nicer view of the ground. Thinking “please don’t fall out”. Soon though the words come from the jumpmaster “Cut! In the door” which basically tells the pilot to cut the engine and to tell me to face the door. So I turn towards the door and put my hands on the left and right frame with my fingers on the outside. It was very cold. The next command given is “climb out” which involves the following
- Right foot on the foot step above the wheel
- Left hand on the metal bar holding up the wing which was above us
- Right hand on the same bar
- Move body outside plane
- Put left foot on the right hand side of the foot step
- Dangle right root out to my right
- Move hands up metal bar until I am facing into the wind
In this position I am balanced against the slip stream which is hitting my body at around 70mph. Then I look at the jumpmaster (on my first jump I forgot to look at him). He shouts “GO!”
This is not the time to decide not to jump, you are hanging on the side of the aircraft at 3200feet and it is freezing cold. When he shouts go, you go.
So I push myself out into space, there is an awful lot of space up there. You tend to fall quite fast, accelerating at 9.8m/s^2, this fortunately only lasts a few seconds. My parachute was a static line chute, so the bag, which holds my parachute, which is inside my harness, is attached to the plane. So when I jump, the plane pulls the bag out, which pulls the parachute out and everything is great (unless something has gone wrong).
If you imagine when you jump off anything, how you accelerate, literally that is what it feels like (surprising that) but you don’t hit the ground half a second later. I believe, from 3200 feet it would take 30 seconds to hit the ground if your parachute were to fail to open. On my first jump, even though my eyes were open, my brain wasn’t registering what I was seeing, it was like a messed up dream. Luckily, Adrenaline helps to make this experience as pleasurable as possible.
As soon as you push off the training takes over, almost as if autopilot is engaged immediately. I carry out the drills.
- Shout “one-thousand, two-thousand, three-thousand, four-thousand, check canopy”
- Check the canopy for 4 things – square (its actually rectangle but that’s just complicating the issue, yes some people find it complicated), controllable, undamaged, and attachment.
- Check Lines – check for dangling lines or twisted lines, but always remember to make sure that your canopy is flyable first.
- Control Check – There are two toggles attached to the harness just above your head by Velcro. Pump them down from their natural position to as far as they will go between your legs as possible twice. Practise left turn, practise right turn.
- Check Airspace – Look around for any planes, birds, other parachutists or unidentified flying objects. Priority is given to the parachutist who is lowest since the canopy blocks your view above and therefore the lower parachutists will not be able to see the ones above them.
- Locate Dropzone – Find the place where you are meant to land, at my dropzone there are three huge hangers and a very large field surrounded by a road. Plus they put a cross and arrow in the middle of the field.
- Move to play area – The play area is the airspace where you are allowed to play a little, do a few turns, do a practise flare, etc etc. The area is decided by the direction of the wind.
The Play Area
From that point until you reach 1500 feet you are free to do as you wish in the play area always checking that you won’t collide with anyone when you do turns.
Next there is a set of heights (in feet) at which you have to do certain things.
- 1500 – Stop doing major turns/flares as they will cause you to accelerate. Also start to think about the route you are going to take down, as described following this.
- 800 - 1000 – Start with-wind leg – you are moving with the wind.
- 500 – start across wind leg, so the wind is moving across from your left to right or vicar versa.
- 300 – start against-wind leg – so the wind is moving against you slowing you down as much as possible.
- 100 – Move steering toggles as high as they will go. Also put knees and feet together bent at the knee.
- 5 – Pull both steering toggles down as far down between your legs as possible to flare, which is basically puts full brakes on and stalls the parachute. Don’t release the flare otherwise you’ll just fall face first into the ground.
- 0 - Land.
All is not done, you still have a large volume of canopy behind you, and if it’s windy you’ll go flying again. So pack the canopy into a small ball with all the lines in the middle so the person who packs it job is a little easier.
I am glad that I did the jump, although I get annoyed when people seem to think I did it so I can talk about. “Was it scary?” “Yes” “then why did you do it” “because it was scary” “but why”. When I’ve done a freefall I’ll make a freefall addition to this node.
How not to do it
I go to school with the daughter of Uri Gellar, and she did the jump with our group, she somehow managed to make the following mistakes
- Nearly Fell out of the plane, the jumpmaster had to grab hold of her to stop her. Although this is the overall goal she was slightly premature.
- Had twisted lines and did not correct them
- Tried to use the toggles while lines were twisted, could have induced a malfunction
- Ignored the instructions sent to her over the radio
- Ended up in a field with a famous ox
It is very hard not to know what to do when jumping out of plane, the tuition she was given could not have been improved upon in any way whatsoever. All the mistakes she made, were her own fault.
Parachuting was a fantastic experience and I have been back twice since, I am taking it up as a sport for no reason other than it is a lot of fun. I recommend it to everyone, if you have the opportunity to do something you may never have a chance to do, think seriously about if you want to take it.