Skydiving, a.k.a. "White Knuckle Flying"

This past Saturday was an interesting day for me. In celebration of my 20th birthday (I’m 1F until Tuesday), I decided to give myself the gift of leaping from an airplane. This was something that I had always wanted to do, at least once, before I croaked. Therefore, I made an appointment to take the Accelerated Free Fall course from the Atlanta Skydiving Center in Cedartown, GA.

Google Maps link showing the airport and the Atlanta Skydiving Center. You can see the small orange cross which marks the target area.

I and two other gentleman participated in the first step of the AFF program, conveniently known as AFF1. This involved basic knowledge of skydiving, the rig, proper positioning, procedures, and emergency procedures. All in all, the classroom aspect of the course took about 4 hours, and then we were ready to make our first jump.

I received my flight load assignment (#10) and my instructor (Katie) took me through the procedures one last time for exiting the aircraft and going through the skydive (She’s very admanant on remembering to take deep breaths). Then we walked up and climbed aboard the aircraft that would deliver me to my Date With Destiny.

Without checking my logbook I can’t say for certain which aircraft we went to altitude in, but I’m sure that it had onboard stomach-butterfly-generation equipment. Said butterflies were merrily churning away as the plane zoomed up to altitude.

Aside: I’ve never been in an aircraft before that wasn’t a commercial jetliner or a Cessna. This one beat the pants off them all for willingness to get UP in the sky, NOW!! Quite a ride it was.

As we approached the jump altitude of 14,000 ft, my jumpmaster and mistress (JM), Danny and Katie, made sure I was checked out with what I was going to be doing exiting the aircraft. I’m sure part of the reason they do this is to make sure you are still breathing and that you remember what you spent all that time on the ground learning. Danny had fun making ribald jokes at my, and everyone elses, expense. Lesson’s learned: Don’t wear your goggles until you’re almost ready to go; they fog up.

At 10,500 ft. AGL , a team of four skydivers went tumbling out the door and the plane churned the rest of the way to 14,000. Two more people, one skydiver, one video person, made their jump, then it was my turn.

I must say, once I was up and moving, I was fine. Of course, it was quite a rush to get my feet positioned against the edge of the door and stick my entire body into the airstream coming off the prow of the aircraft (the door was to port, by the way), with the hull sandwiched between my hands. I faced forward in the correct arched position, checked in with my main JM, checked out with my reserve JM, then I stepped out into the wild blue yonder (correctly arched of course).

The rush of falling from the plane was awesome! I took a few seconds to make sure I was correctly positioned, performed the HARM check (heading, altitude, reserve JM, main JM) and did my three practice touches on my pilot chute handle. Well, I should say that I *tried* do do the three practice touches. It’s a lot more difficult to find the handle with 105 knots of airspeed rushing past you, pushing your hand around. My main JM (Danny) helped me find the handle for those three touches.

After that, it was relax, breathe, extend my legs a bit, and enjoy the ride. I found myself keeping a close eye on the altimeter; I suppose I was being paranoid, but I didn’t feel like screwing up the skydive by forgetting to do my pull at 6,000 ft. At 6,000 ft, I did my wave-off, and pulled the pilot chute (without assistance from Danny) and waited for what seemed a long time before THWUMP! my canopy deployed.

(I realized once I was halfway down under canopy that I’d forgotten to count to three and then look over my shoulder to make sure the canopy was deploying correctly. Whoops.)

The first thing I said to myself after pulling the chute was, “oof,” as the canopy inflated, then, “Holy crap,” as I realized I’d just fallen 9,000 feet. Wow. I reached up, pulled the steering loops out of their holders, and played around with flying the canopy. I wasn’t quite as daredevilsh as I could have been; I never went swooping directly at the ground. Instead, I concentrated on turning left, turning right, practicing a flare, and generally setting myself up to land.

Once I was nearing 1,500 ft. (keep an eye on your altimeter!), Danny started talking me in over the radio. Solid comments like, “You’re too high, burn off some altitude,” to “left-left-left-left-LEFT-LEFT-LEFT!” With him coaching, I steered through my downwind leg, my base leg, and he got me onto a perfect approach path. As I slipped down to the landing area, I jumped the gun a bit, not waiting for Danny’s command to flare, and ended up doing a swoop-drop-swoop-thud, “oof” into a stand-up landing. I was momentarily psyched by my good landing, then the chute tried to drag me off of my feet. I got it down and gathered up and walked back into the hangar. My jump was all done.

Thoughts on the jump:
1) The reason I did this the way I did (AFF vs. having a Tandem) was because I figured that if I were to make only one jump in my life, I wanted to pull my own chute and I wanted to fly my canopy in. However, if I knew then now what I know now, I would have gone with the Tandem. I could have concentrated much more on the feelings of freefall, without worrying about the procedures that I needed to undertake. Sitting here, I cannot consciously remember the exact feeling of leaving the aircraft. I remember stepping away, then I remember being in the freefall arch, but it’s a bit fuzzy between those two moments. Maybe I closed my eyes? So, I should have done a Tandem.

2) It was freaking spectacular! I think I’ve decided to keep going and do it again, which means I’ll be doing at least 6 more jumps to get my USPA “A” certification, which would enable me to show up at a drop zone, hitch a ride to altitude, and jump solo.

3) The Atlanta Skydiving Center puts together a cool video for sale. I anticipate that I’ll have one done on my first solo dive. I recommend them.

Jenn commented last night that she doesn’t know anyone who only jumped once. Well, I’d hate to disappoint her.

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