Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Time I Jumped From a Perfectly Good Airplane

I love that title. Replace the “I” with “Ross” or “Joey” and it could very well be an episode of Friends.

Last week my son said "I mean, I might want to do it...but it's still crazy!" and it made me think about the time I went skydiving.

Skydiving is a perfectly fine activity for many insane human beings. You have to a certain type of crazy, though. Your average garden-variety lunatic would not be able to graduate the training. The cunning Hannibal Lector type of smart-crazy is called for.

The training consists of a half-day’s activities. We jumped off a 5-foot platform to simulate landing (landing with a chute, of course…they don’t prepare you for the other eventuality). They suspended us from the ceiling of a barn by a tangled mass of lines so you feel like a fish that just gulped down twelve fishing worms. (The goal in the latter exercise is to learn to bicycle kick to spin around and untangle the lines).

There is a lot of emphasis on locating the ripcord to your reserve parachute and pulling it. ‘Cause if you don’t, you die.

You learn that toggles are handles above your head, and they are used to steer. Pulling down on a toggle collapses the back part of the parachute and you turn in that direction. Pulling down on both toggles makes you fall faster, because it effectively collapses half of your chute. The instructor said it’s a lot like being on a rollercoaster. I love rollercoasters.

The plane I jumped from was a single-engine Cessna. Its wings extended from the top of the fuselage (NOTE: I love that word, fuselage. I finally got to use it. Sweet.) Thin struts extended from the tips of the wings, connecting to the fuselage (twice!) at its bottom. These struts will be important later on, when I get to the step: GET ALL THE WAY OUT AND HANG.

The Cessna was very small inside. There was one seat, and the pilot sat in it. He never even called dibs. He was a selfish man, obviously. I sat on the floor beside him facing the rear of the plane with my legs extended. The JumpMaster sat on top of my legs. Two other jumpers were crammed into the back cavity of the plane, stuffing it like a Thanksgiving turkey (NOTE: Happy Thanksgiving!).

The JumpMaster had gone to high school with the other two guys in the back, so instead of taking us to 3,500 feet he had the pilot take us to 4,000 feet.

Training and flight = $80
Insurance = $30
Bonus altitude = Priceless.

The wind shook the small plane as it circled back toward the airport. The JumpMaster clipped a cord onto the small pilot chute in my backpack and then he clipped the other end to the pilot’s seat. When I jumped, the cord – called a static line – would pull the pilot chute from my pack, which in turn would pull my main chute. Barring accidents. In which case, I would pull the reserve (or die).

The JumpMaster opened the door. The hinges were at the top, so the bottom opened outward and clipped to the wing above us.

The wind rushed inside and the noise from the engine flooded the plane. Look at my eyes¸the JumpMaster gestured. He didn’t want me to look down at the ground and freak out. He studied the ground below us, and he said:

PUT YOUR FEET OUT AND STOP

I knew how to do this. We trained on it for an hour. There was a little step above the plane’s wheel. I turned to the doorway and put one foot outside the plane. The wind ripped at the leg of my jumpsuit. I scooted forward – just a little bit – and I found the step with my toes. I brought my other foot out and planted both feet firmly on the step. I never broke eye contact with the JumpMaster. He rewarded me by saying:

GET ALL THE WAY OUT AND HANG

I went hand over hand along the thin strut under the wing. My body flapped like a flag in the wind. When I got to the tip of the wing I looked back at the JumpMaster. He gave me a thumb’s up. I looked up at a red dot on the wing above me and let go.

One one-thousand.
Make sure I am in perfect form, legs apart, arms open and head back.

Two one-thousand.
Wow, the plane is really far away already. It’s like a toy…

Three one-thousand.
It’s like a postage stamp…

Four one-thousand.
There’s my chute. Wow, it’s way up above me. It’s almost like a postage stamp, too.

Five one-thousand.
There are the toggles. Grab right one, grab left one. Give each a tug. The chute is fully inflated. I’m...safe?

Where’s the plane?

At this point my body went into what is called “sensory overload.” Basically, your brain freaks out from the change in external stimuli. It’s very weird, being surrounded by nothing for at least 4,000 feet in any direction. At first I felt like I was going up. The wind swirled around me. For a second I was sure that if I saw the plane I would try to climb back in it, and wished for it to appear.

I looked down. My feet dangled below me, dancing on almost a mile of air. The farmland below looked like graph paper.

I calmed down and started to experiment with my toggles, turning in each direction. Then I tried the trick where you pull down on both toggles so you fall faster. I pulled them way down below my waist.

My stomach leaped up my throat and smacked me on the bottom of my chin. I let the toggles up, fast. No more of that silliness.

The ride to the ground took about five minutes. It would have been 30 seconds without a chute. A one-way radio in my ear started telling me where to turn, guiding me down to the circular landing area. It was a perfect landing, I hit with one foot with less impact than walking down the steps on my front porch. Right in the middle of the runway.

I hurried out of the way of the waiting Cessna and ran over to the ground crew, who helped me get out of my rig and jumpsuit. A surge of adrenaline coursed through me, starting a natural high that would last for a week. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done. That night I acted out the story for friends, family, and several strangers.

Someday I’ll do it again. And when I do, I’m going to 12,000 feet so I can free-fall for a minute. I’m just like my son. It may be crazy, but I still want to do it!

26 comments:

Bane of Anubis said...

I did a tandem jump about a dozen years ago -- which was great b/c I only had to do an hour's worth of instruction. A wonderful experience, but one I doubt I'll ever repeat.

Frau said...

I did that once in my younger years to woooo my husband and it worked! But it's a once in a life time thing for me.

Matthew Delman said...

I totally want to go skydiving one of these days. My wife has both refused to accompany me, and says that I'm crazy for wanting to do so.

What can I say? I love me some adrenaline.

Rick Daley said...

Last time I brought up skydiving to my wife she said something along the lines of "no way in hell" because I have kids now. I may have missed my window. But I still want to do it. I'd be happy with a tandem jump.

WeaselMomma said...

That sounds like great fun. I may be just the right kind of crazy to try it someday.

Rick Daley said...

WeaselMomma- Do it once, remember it forever.

Sharon said...

Love it! I'd tandem jump with you but you would be happy with the pee!
Bradley did a tandem last year-has a video of it--loved it and I'm sure he'll do it again given the opportunity!
Maybe Max will want to that after he masters football!

Phillipia said...

I think i will just live vicariously on this one:)

Annie Louden said...

Wow, I felt nervous just reading this.
When I was little I thought skydiving was something I'd like to try one day. I don't feel that way anymore.

Great story!

L. T. Host said...

And you lived!!

I think I'll just re-read your story whenever I get the inkling to do this myself, which will be like, never.

Davin Malasarn said...

Ha ha, great post, Rick! This is hilariously written. When I was younger I really wanted to skydive, but that desire has since passed.

beth said...

OMG, sooooo jealous. I want to jump from a plane, too!!!

Stacy McKitrick said...

Sounds fun! I love roller coasters, too. When I was a teenager, I wanted to sky dive. My mom told me if I ever did it, not to tell her!

I think now I'd be afraid of steering it wrong and landing miles away! Still, I'll have to keep this in mind when my husband asks me "What do you want for your birthday?"

Rick Daley said...

Sharon- Wetsuits are for scuba, I'll pass!

Phillipia and LT- You're putting pressure on me to go for that free-fall, you know.

Annie- Thanks, it's cool to know I tugged at your senses!

Davin- You'll have a mid-life crisis, and I bet it will involve a rekindled desire to fly unassisted.

Beth- It's something you will never forget. Go for it!

Stacy- I had a radio and someone told me when to turn to guide me in. There's not much concern for getting lost. And if you go tandem, you're harnessed to an experienced jumper. Keep asking...

Alex said...

Noooooo way. Bungee jumping was enough for me.

Anita said...

This is my favorite post from you so far. Loved it.

We live VERY close to the United States Air Force Academy and the cadets jump all the time (my husband actually used to fly that plane and he could tell you some stories). Sometimes I take my kids right up to where the cadets land and we just sit there and watch them and watch them. Great entertainment (not all of them land as well as you did).

Donna Hole said...

Bill Engvall's voice comes to mind: "Are you stupid? Here's your sign."

Obviously, you survived the experience, with a great memory to risk another "stupid" joke.

Yeah, Dad, we see where your kids get it!

But then, what's life if you never push the envelope. Courage to try something new is in short supply these days.

I rode the mechanical bull several years ago. The guys collecting the money and producig the legal waiver tried to convince me that because the 10 year old who just got off rode it at 5 I should do at least 3. No deal. I was getting on the thing (I haven't even rode a Farris Wheel in like, 15 years). They did talk me into 2, but only with one more glass of wine.

I rode the sucker, didn't get bucked, and slid off on perfectly steady feet at the end. People who laugh at me for riding at such a low range have never gotten on at even a one.

But, at least I never really left the ground. I'm proud of you Rick for going through with the jump; and wanting the try the experience again.

Not that you've inspired me to follow - fall - in your footsteps. I'm ok with just basking in the essence of your story.

Thanks.

...............dhole

Rick Daley said...

Thanks Anita!

Rick Daley said...

Donna,

Just because your limits have a different range than another person's doesn't mean you can't push them just the same. Glad to hear you took the ride. I don't know who coined this, but I like it:

"It's better to regret the things you have done, than to regret the things you haven't done."

Crimey said...

I've always wanted to tandem jump, but never could get enough of my friends together to make the trip to the closest site. Of course, that's just my excuse for not going.

Steph Damore said...

*palms sweating* thanks!

jbchicoine said...

You are truly nuts!
I'm so very, very sorry, to do this to you…

Weronika Janczuk said...

You must indeed be crazy. I would never, ever, ever be able to do it. Ever.

Congrats on the Honest Scrap award from Bridget, Rick, and keep it up.

Rachel Cotterill said...

Great descriptions - and definitely, a good kind of crazy! :)

$80 sounds very cheap, but I'm wondering what the insurance was for. If it goes wrong, you're dead... right?

Rachel Cotterill said...

P.S. I would just LOVE to do this some day.

Rick Daley said...

I can't remember the details of the insurance, but most policies are void if you get injured doing something extreme, like skydiving. It probably covers the cost of the mop and bucket they'll use to clean you up, and a zip-lock baggie for your remains.

One week before this adventure I was playing poker with some friends, and a friend-of-a-friend asked if any of us wanted to go skydiving. I had just gotten paid, was in my mid-twenties and single, and could think of nothing better to spend my hard-earned money on so I jumped at the chance. Pun not intended, but accepted in retrospect.