For my birthday, I went skydiving in California City, up in the high desert of California. There are three ways to do your first jump. The easiest is a tandem jump, where you're physically attached to your instructor in a two-person harness. Most people opt for this type of jump, as it lets you experience freefall, but only requires about two hours of training.
The second way is a static line jump, where you jump from a plane after "hooking up," like they do in the military. Your ripcord is pulled automatically, as you exit the plane. There's no freefall with a static line jump. The third way, which is what I did, is Accelerated Freefall (AFF). AFF is the most expensive and most scary of the three methods, and requires the most training. I'm glad that I did AFF but, if I had it to do over again, I'd probably opt for a tandem jump for my first time out. AFF was a pretty intense experience for a first timer!
I could write volumes about that day, but pictures are more fun!
There's a lot of stuff that they attach to you. You've got two parachutes, a communications radio, an AAD (Automatic Activation Device), an altimeter, and a bunch of straps and buckles. I had worn a ski jacket underneath my jumpsuit, and it was too hot in there. However, once I was a few miles up in the sky, it got cold, so the jacket worked out after all.
Clownin' with the ladies
Linda (my instructor) is on the left in the blue jumpsuit, and Emiko (the jumpmaster) is wearing a T-shirt.
The term "Jumpmaster" indicates that a skydiver has reached an advanced level of proficiency. "Instructor" is yet a higher level. On these types of jumps, the jumpmaster serves as an apprentice, on the way to becoming an instructor.
That yellow strap beneath my left shoulder is the ripcord for the emergency "reserve" parachute.
Here,we're doing a dress rehearsal of the entire jump. Boy- there's a lot to learn and practice!
One of the procedures that you do during an AFF skydive is a "P.R.C.P" (Practice Ripcord Pull). While you're practicing that maneuver on the ground, I guess that makes it a P.P.R.C.P (Practice Practice Ripcord Pull).
During the ride up, in the DC3 airplane, all of the experienced skydivers suddenly yelled, "Blue Sky, Black Death!" That's a skydiver slogan, which I didn't necessarily need to hear on my first jump-- I was nervous enough, as it was!
One last "thumbs up" before the big moment! The photographer is Leigh Web. He's a great guy. His helmet has a video camera and a still camera. He fires off still frames by clicking a cable release with his tongue! Leigh does this kind of work in his spare time. His real job is on the set of HBO's "Tales from the Crypt," where he's the assistant director.
I've just climbed out of the DC3, and I'm hanging onto a bar that's attached to the fuselage. That's the left wing of the plane in the photo. The wind noise was LOUD!! Linda is hanging onto the bar to my left, and Emiko is standing in the doorway. We've rehearsed our synchronized jump from the plane, many times. I look at Emiko and yell, "Check in?" If I get a nod, then I look at Linda and yell, "Check out?" If I get a nod, then I yell, "Out-In-Out" as I swing my leg out once, in once, then out, which is when we all let go.
Stomach still in the plane
These are the initial disorienting moments. At this point, I'm suddenly weightless, and I have no idea which way is up (nor does my stomach). A few seconds later, we get oriented properly, the sensation of weightlessness subsides, and the feeling becomes one of lying on a bed of air (rough and extremely noisy air, that is).
The next time I go skydiving, I'll definitely wear earplugs!
Here I am, waving to the camera. Emiko is on the left in the yellow jumpsuit (at least I think that it's yellow-- I'm colorblind). Linda is on the right in the blue jumpsuit (So that's why they call it a jumpsuit). While skydiving, everyone appears to be grinning. Even if you're terrified, you're still grinning. With the wind hitting your face at 120 MPH, you don't have a lot of say over the expression on your face.
5000 feet-- PULL!
After a one-minute freefall (which seems like an hour), it's time for me to pull my ripcord. It's surprisingly difficult. Since you use both hands to stabilize your position as you fall through the air, moving your hand back to your hip to grab the ripcord causes you to flip over, unless you're careful to reposition your left hand to compensate.
Hang onto that ripcord
I've pulled the ripcord. Many students, in the intensity of the moment, accidentally let go of the ripcord. If they do, they have to pay for the replacement. I'm gripping the ripcord in my right hand with everything I've got. I had so much adrenaline rushing through me that I'm glad that the ripcord handle was solid. Otherwise, I would have crushed it!
As the canopy begins to deploy, Emiko, the jumpmaster, flies away as planned. Linda, the instructor, hangs on until the last possible moment, in case of emergency.
They trained me on all sorts of emergency procedures (there's a lot to learn!)
The moment of truth!
It takes only a couple of seconds for the canopy to deploy, but it felt like a minute. I was hoping with all of my being that the canopy would open without incident. If something goes wrong, you have to make decisions very fast. Luck was with me, though; the canopy deployed properly. Whew!
What a Jolt!
When that canopy kicks in, it's a big relief, but it yanks you really hard. Darn near knocked the wind out of me. In a tandem jump, the instructor holds the student's head prior to pulling the ripcord, to keep the student's head from snapping forward. In an AFF jump, you have to hold your own head up. I didn't succeed very well.
Mile high, and alone
I'm on my own, now. Linda, my instructor, is but a distant memory (a few tens of milliseconds distant).
The G force that you get during the rapid deceleration from 120-mile-per-hour terminal velocity is pretty darn wild! Now I know why they told me to pay careful attention to the position of the crotch straps.
I made it! I got pretty banged up during my landing, but I didn't care- I was as happy as a clam!