The First Jump

I’ve been posting about social technology but wanted to change gears and detail my first skydive experience.  I went to Skydive New England in Maine, and did the Advanced Free Fall (AFF) course.

The class lasted around 7 hours or so, and covered the basics of body position, hand signals, how a parachute works, safety procedures, emergency procedures, exiting the aircraft, steering your canopy, and landing.

I got suited up in a jumpsuit, helmet with radio, goggles, and my student rig.  Once the plane takes off the ground gets far away pretty fast.  But I kept telling myself that more altitude was really a good thing, better to be up higher where you have a few more seconds to fix a malfunction or cut away your main parachute and pull your reserve than down lower.

For me the most disconcerting aspect probably wasn’t even the height, but the noise.  The drone of the plane and when you get in the door the blast of wind.  It was definite sensory overload.  With two instructors on either side we jumped and after a couple of seconds I started to go through the ‘dive flow’ of maneuvers I was to practice, which included the extremely important practice pulls on the main parachute.  While flinging yourself out of an airplane is pretty easy, its a different ball game when you are trying to do that and stay in the most stable body position possible and go through your various maneuvers.  The instructors were constantly correcting my leg and arm positions as I checked my altitude and bearing.

At 6000 ft. it was pull time for me, so I waved the instructors off and pulled.  A couple of seconds later I was jerked to an upright position and saw my canopy fully inflate with the ‘slider’ coming down keeping the lines separated.  I remember thinking, good canopy – ok, and was floating there for a few seconds.  I then remembered I need to fly this thing to the ground and grabbed the toggles to steer and break with.  After controllability checks making sure I could steer I checked my location and realized I was drifting with the wind too far down the landing zone.  I turned into the wind and hovered there for what seemed a long time; since I was directly in the wind I was descending very slowly.  I did a few turns until the instructor on the radio told me to begin making my approach to the landing zone.

I began to see why flying the canopy can be just as hazardous as the chute malfunctioning.  If you got caught up in the wind or made turns to close to the ground it could be a bad day.  If you drifted too much downwind you may get blown off course and end up in a tree or elsewhere.  But that didn’t end up being a problem.  Approach was guided by instructors on the radio and the last few feet before you touch down are tricky unless someone is helping you.  If you ‘flare’ with your breaks too early you’ll drop down because you are always higher than it looks when you are coming in.  But the direction was perfect for a soft standup landing.

I realized I was concentrating so much on the various parts in freefall and then under canopy I probably didn’t enjoy it as much as I should have, because it was amazing.

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