September 05, 2005

Jumping out of a perfectly good airplane.

I went skydiving last weekend for the first, and possibly last (we'll see), time.

There are a few ways to go:
1) Tandem: This is where an instructor straps you to his crotch and jumps out of the plane with you along for the ride. You don't do much except scream and pull your feet up for the landing.
2) Static line: On the way out the door your chute is clipped to the plane, as soon as you jump your chute is automatically deployed. No one seems to offer this anymore.
3) Accelerated Free Fall: This is where you jump out at ~14,000', free fall for almost a minute to 6,000', pull your own damn chute, and then fly it to the landing site and land it ... all by yourself.

Right, so I did Accelerated Free Fall. You spend the first half of the day being force fed information about skydiving: how to open your chute, how to tell if you have a good canopy, how to identify a bad one, what to do if one of the 13 different things that can go wrong goes wrong, how to fly it, how to find the landing spot, and how to land it. My able-bodied photo model (friend, Stefanie) and our instructor ("Jello") are pictured (1 2) here going through some of the training.

A few problems you can correct in the air. Most problems, however, resolve with you pulling your reserve chute. But before you pull your reserve chute you have to deploy your main chute, decide it's bad enough that you want to cut it away it and go with what's behind door #2, and then cut away the only thing slowing your decent. Once you get rid of your main chute there is no getting it back. Your reserve chute works or it doesn't.

If you decide to panic, or knock yourself out on the exit or something, and don't pull anything then there is an AAD (Automatic Activation Device) that will deploy your reserve chute for you if you're still falling too fast past a certain altitude. Of course, if you're deploying your main chute when the AAD goes off then the two chutes will likely get tangled up and you're back to having no chute again. So there is plenty of room for user error.

After a 6hr ground class, where you're never really sure if you got it all or not, you're tossed on a plane, and kicked out at 14,000'+ with two instructors. It goes something like this: first your brain leaves the building. Not only did you just jump out of a plane but you're hurtling through the sky at 120mph, the wind noise is deafening, and you're on complete sensory overload. Then you have to remember to go through your drills and pull your chute at 6,000'. If you don't pull it by 6,000' then the instructors pull it for you. Once it's pulled the instructors fall away (they're not attached to you, only holding on) and you are on your own.

The deceleration slams you into your straps and then you're floating 5,000' above the ground in a bad climbing harness, not exactly a safe feeling. Check to make sure your canopy deployed properly, make a few controllability checks, find the airport, fly to it, correct for wind, set up your approach, and land.

Simple ... right.

Now try doing it without most of your brain. That's the hard part.

It is just a ton of information to digest. Compared to its more dangerous diving cousin, SCUBA diving, you are overloaded with info and then forced to figure it out yourself. In SCUBA, by contrast, you have weeks of classroom sessions, plenty of time to go home and think about stuff, read up on stuff, get comfortable with it all, then you still have six pool sessions before you go out into open water. Here it's a class on fast forward and then out the door. Nucking Futs.

I can go three more times with two instructors, then three more times with one instructor, in order to get a certificate that would let me dive solo with only ground supervision. After 25 dives total you can get your first license.

I'm not sure I'm going back ... but I'd kinda like to. I need a partner in crime on this, I'm not going to go on my own -- so someone let me know if you want to go. I think my last partner is too smart to do it again.

Posted by rick at 04:35 PM