Tuesday, February 07, 2006

An Anniversary....

I'm not in the same time zone, and since the actual event happened on the other side of the International Dateline, I'm a day late...but my calendar in 1971 said "February 7th." NAS Agana, Guam. Cessna 172 Skyhawk. Larry the Lawyer (and willing Instructor/Jumpmaster). Dad and two of his friends. Me. Leon Steppe. Blue skies. Light Winds. Orange flight suits. Surplus military C-9 28' "rounds." 24' cotton twill "belly wart" reserves. White motorcycle helmets. Combat boots. Big smiles. Picture for the album. "Do you want to go first?" Leon asked me. He was a co-worker of my father's, but closer to my age tahn to my Dad. I said what ever he wanted was fine, then he volunteered that he'd rather go first, so he could get it done with. I don't really recall the ride up, or Leon jumping, other than he went before I did. I can still picture looking in at Larry (as I was perched, holding the right strut with both hands, feet planted on the step on the main mount strut. He yelled "GO!" above the about 70-80 kts of wind. I next recall the opening shock and it wasn't bad. On the other hand, I had no body fat and was a tall, skinny teenager, at the ripe old age of 16 1/2. I generically checked out the ground below, while many new sensations tried to get my attention. I next clearly remember the dialogue with myself: "It's less than 100 ft!" "NO!" "Yes it IS!" "NO, IT's NOT!" then.... (sound of 1st, immediately followed by 4th point of contact contacting Mother Earth) (sound of strong language appropriate to the situation) My first PLF really sucked. If I'd had a Black Hat around, I'm sure it would have been worth a lot of push ups. I just had Dad and his friends come bolting across the field in the car (not sure who let that happen), to congratulate me. Debrief: Good exit, good arch, didn't count (Deer in headlights mode). To this day, my first 3 seconds of freefall, before the static line took over, are not recallable. I landed in a clear area. Leon had almost kissed the side of one of the hangers. I found out years later the reason my burise on the right cheek occured: You leave a 3D view, go up and then the ground pretty much goes to 2D, then you come back into it and until you get some experience, that transition back to 3D is a tough one. In the meantime, it's not uncommon to see the legs of the student move from feet and knees together, slightly flexed to feet and knees together, but legs more like you are sitting in a chair, as you unconsciously raise them. Being hidden (in those days) below your "belly wart," you don't realize you're doing it, so come time to become a "leg" again, you skip contact points 2 and 3...(see your local Airborne qualified neighbor to get the details). Between weather, aircraft availibility, Jumpmaster access, I did not make another jump on the island of Guam, but the second one was about 6 months later, at Monck's Corner, SC, under the tutlage of Allan Gardner, a former Golden Knight. He and Johnny Throbridge (not real sure of the spelling of his last name) both had gold wings (1000 freefalls) and were two of a very few who had attained that distinction in those days. Anyhow, I've jumped from Guam to Maine, and a few places in between. Put my younger sister out on her first several jumps, was "knob" training upperclassmen at night to skydive, and put a lot of them out the doors of C-182s and C-206s. Looked on in wonder as Johnny brought his new "StratoCloud" to the DZ, complete with labels on each front riser: "200 Jumps Minimum." ParaCommanders were the hot canopy, and then the French made Papillon made some inroads to the maket. My first rig was a C-9, formerly white and dyed burgandy, in a 4 pin container. I did 6 static lines to get to freefall, and will say the two most anxious moments I have ever had in the air were my second jump, and my first 10 second delay. I survived. I have lept from 17,000 ft, with 90 some others in the air, made three night jumps, a water jump, my 1000th jump was with Jerry Bird, the man credited widely for making "relative work" a major part of the sport. My 1000th freefall was a night jump over Eloy, AZ. Been on two tandems to help play a really bad passenger for my buddies who were getting their tandem master ratings. The biggest jump was the VA State record in 97. 87. We held it for 13 seconds on the first jump of the second day of the attempt that October weekend,and it was solid as a rock. No waves or tension...just 87 people collectively working gravity and the air in perfect synchonization. I was in the trailing King Air of the four plane formation, and only had two people following me out. I entered about 5 people from the completion on the other edge and have the video to prove it...watching it with someone who wasn't in it is kinda like the "Where's the Skydiving Waldo" thing. I have met incredible people, gotten to know a man who owns more planes than most air forces of the world (Paul Fayard), suffered one sprained ankle, one sprained wrist, two sprained fingers and 5 malfunctions in 1274 jumps. I don't know how many students, static line and accelerated freefall, that I have shown the sky to, but it's a lot, and only one said "no" when the door opened. Amazingly enough, the other one that almost didn't go was a big, strapping Marine (sorry, dude, but it's the truth!). I've talked to some of the best skydivers and videographers in the world, jumped with the Russian national team, had discussions with a German International Relations Masters student from Georgetown U one one side of me and a Croatian Army officer on the other side of me, while we packed our chutes for another time up. I've done demos at the parade ground at Ft Devons on Armed Forces Day, watched a guy in Tuskeegee, AL, get out at 1000 ft, because the DZ owner told him for a buck (all the guy had left) he could ride up to 1000 (so he did...). I've known BASE jumpers, but never done it. Took road trips through the SE of the country in the summer of 73, looking for a military base that had gas and flight hours allocated on 1 July (the new fiscal year then), and found Benning didn't but Rucker did. Made the news (well, it was sort of filler) when I was allowed to help fill the last three seats on the CH-54, when the SEALS in the area where trying to make a record of a 21 way formation. The local news crew was there and gave me all of about 3 seconds time before the next story after the SEALS story played....I found out, while I sat in a meeting of NAVMASSO people, that I had made the cover of Soundings (the Naval Base Norfolk paper), posing for the camera while hanging by my hands only off the strut of a Cessna 182 about 3500 ft over the Great Dismal Swamp. They put it on the overhead to open the meeting. Been out of a balloon, UH-1D/Hs, CH-46s at Quantico, a CH-54 over Fentress NALF, Cessnas of many flavors, to include a Caravan, Queen and King Air Beechcraft planes, Skyvans, Casas, and a few other flying things. Done a full backwards layout off the tail ramp of a Casa, after letting the rest of the jumpers go, then running from up by the pilots as fast as I could. I've been able to ride up to see the sun, while the ground was in the shadows of the end of the day and make some jumps that could technically have been called night jumps when it was all said and done. I hold no records for quantity, but my personal "best" is 24 jumps in 2 days. All of those were at least from 13000 ft, so I racked up over 30 minutes of freefall. While the sun was up, you pack, jump and maybe take a leak. You can eat before the sun comes up and after it goes down. I can "guess" the inside of a could looks like you're in an amost tranlucent bright white sphere, but then again, it's against FAA rules and the BSRs (Basic Safety Regulations) to jump into/through a cloud, so I might be wrong about that. I was sitting in the lobby of the O Club at Cubi Point when a LTJG walked up to me, and said "Don't you go to the Citadel and jump out of airplanes?" "Yes." I replied, still not knowing who he was. Then he told me he met me the year before at Quantico. Ted was his name and I had showed up and made a few jumps there during summer break. He then told me I should try and get into EOD, because all they did was dive and jump and workout and get paid for it. Ted Strong was his name and last I heard, he was making the big time in investments in Boston. He was a character.... I've left the ground when it was freezing and headed to 12,500 to 13,000 ft in the winter. Without wind chill, you count on losing 3.5 deg per 1000 ft of altitude. You better be dressed for the occassion. Rain hurts, because you are hitting the pointy ends on the way down, and if it's a lot, roll over and go back to Earth until it's time to set up for opening. Of all the rigs I've packed for students (a whole lot of that work), not one has had a malfunction. It's not a death wish thing, for, as the guy in the interview with a psychologist in Parachutist back in '71 said: "If I don't pull, I won't be able to jump again." I second the motion! It's more than likely an MAO-D thing, so you might not understand.... Sound like a great thing to try? USPA's website is here. There is plenty of information there and how to find a local drop zone. My advice...skip the tandem, and go for AFF....Instructors and Jumpmasters need to eat, too... P.S. If you got this far, pop over to Far East Cynic and congratulate him on his one year Blogversary.... Thanks to Skydance.at for the link as skydiving news!

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