Massive post about my new lifestyle: flinging my body out of planes! Pictures included, and head's up: they're big, and there's a lot of them.
My friend Lesa warned me: every time the sky was blue, I'd look up into it, and want to be up there. She was right. (Ooooh, and there were these wonderful, low clouds yesterday. I want to fall through them.)
I came by myself (family to join me later) as I had to go through a training process. They don't just throw you out of the plane here. :D Now, I'm a special snowflake, so I did the VIP route, which gave me a one-on-one session with what's called a Tandem Master. You can go solo your first time, but that seemed a bit much to me. (You're not completely alone, you have an 8 hour class before you go, and two people jump alongside you, holding on to you, and tell you when to pull. Or they pull if you're freaking out.)
I was (fortunately) lined up with Ernie, who is one of the best skydivers in the country, and happens to be based at Skydive Dallas. He's the Safety Leader, too. I was his 13,337th jump in his career. So, the guy is relaxed in the air. I wonder if he even gets a rush anymore... Lol. Any way, they got me suited up and I got to hang out in the pack room while we waited for Ernie to land with another client.
I watched the packers for a few minutes. There are people that work here that do nothing but pack chutes. It was interesting to see the systematic way that it's done to optimize deployment. It's incredibly safe. I mean, let's face it: you're dying until you stop yourself, so it's not "safe" safe, but it's incredibly meticulous. :) Ernie lands, signs off with his client, and then he and I get to brass tacks. He walks me through the whole process: we'll get on the plane like so. We'll strap in to our seats and wait for us to his 1500 feet, then we can take off our seat belts and the plane door opens. (which feels amazing - the plane is HOT. Cold air = ahhhh.) At 7000 feet I'll get sideways on the bench and put my right leg up on the seat, Ernie will scoot close behind me and hook ourselves together. At 9000 feet we'll put on our helmets, and adjust straps. At 13500, the plane will level off, and everyone else with us will go. (More on them in a bit.) We'll scoot along the bench to the front, I put my feet down, bend over at the waist, and grab my shoulders, turning 180 degrees to the right. He'll rock me back and forth, one, two, THREEEEEEE! And then I go into my arch.
There's a padded table in the hangar that he had me climb up on and practice my arch. Apparently I did it very well. (Side note, the "Superman" is an exercise in P90X. Thanks, Tony Horton! Hahaha.) It was really hot in there, so he let me undo my suit and cool off before we got in the harness. The ground crew took a pic of me doing my arch. Heee. I don't know what the hell is going on with my mouth - I was just bug eyed with excitement. Hee.
We also practiced landing: we might have to come in on our butts. This happens a lot with first timers, I'm told. The harness made this hard to do (the harness keeps your legs spread and arched back) but I was able to do it on the table, so he said I'd be able to do it in the air. Time to go!
We're the first in, last out.
The group that went up with us... Man, that's what cinched it for me. I wanna hang with those guys. Two of them were retired 82nd Airborne, first off. Secondly, they were all excited for me (once they heard me say that I'm coming back, this wasn't a one time thing.) They taught me the secret handshake (NO REALLY! I'd tell you, but then I'd have to kill you. Or you'd have to come with me on the plane. *g*) and then they all got quiet when we hit 9000. They all went into peace-out mode, I was told later. Here's the thing about formation flying: they practice on the ground. Again and again and again. The facility had these cool wide skateboards and they would lay on them and practice. They all stood in front of the plane and walked through it again. When everyone got quiet, I watched them and saw lips moving and hands twitching. They were going through the motions one last time. And then Ping! Ping! Ping! All 14 of them piled out one right after the other. Well, in groups of three. I was a little tunnel visioned at this point, focusing on getting to the door.
Our videographer high fived me and stood back while Ernie and I stood hunched at the open door. All of those teeny squares way down there.... I barely registered that as I was looking at three teeny tiny dots moving away really fast. The last of the bigger group.
ONE! [rock] TWO! [rock] THREEEEEEE!
(Justin, the guy taking the video, jumped on Two)
(Ernie is deploying a small balloon-sized chute to create a little drag. This increasing our free fall by a few seconds, but we're still falling at 160 mph. 120 if you're solo)
We did a complete roll and then I went into my arch.
All of those tiny squares! Note: I didn't once get that swooping/rollercoaster sensation. You don't feel like you're falling, you feel like you're flying, or at times, just hanging in mid air. There's no sensation of the ground swooping up at you. Isn't that crazy? That's what I expected. I was pleasantly surprised. So surprised that I kept looking at the ground, waiting for it to jump up at me. Which is why Ernie is waving his hand in my face, wanting me to look at our video guy. :D
I had to pull my eyes away... This is maybe one second from him waving to me looking up.
(In Saturday's picture: notice the little something by my sleeve on the left. That's the plane. Maybe, maybe five seconds have passed at this point. We've already fallen over 1500 feet, too.)
It was really hard to breathe during the free fall. The wind is just howling around your face, and I panicked for a second, then remembered that I could dip my head a bit and deflect the air in order to breathe. That's why I'm looking down in so many pictures. Breathing = good.
Remember how I mentioned that Ernie has done this thousands of times? He has fun with the camera so first timers have something to look at in their videos. Like him sticking out his tongue, lol.
The g-force on my face! Those face masks... Not comfy. But I wouldn't want to not have one. Eventually I'll have my own gear and I'll be flying with shades and a helmet, instead of the Leatherhead football helmet. Heh. And going in shirt sleeves and shorts. Mmm, maybe not shorts. That's a lot of g-force on bare skin, and no one wants to see that. Ha. Oh, side note: as I was waiting for Ernie on the ground, a group of older men were going up in the plane in nothing but shades, helmets, shoes, and tighty-whities. HAHAHA. Also, I didn't really want to see that coming at me. :D
I swear, it doesn't look like the ground has moved at all. We've been in free fall for 50 seconds, from 13,500 ft to about 6000 feet, as of this picture:
Ernie checks his altimeter (I have one at my waist):
Salutes Justin (this is the signal for him to get away so we can deploy):
Justin puts his arms out, reaching for us, which makes him shoot back (legs down makes you go forward)
And we are now under canopy. It feels like you're being pulled up (which, you're not, you're just not being pulled down as much, ha) and I'm not going to lie: the public-use harness isn't comfy. I have deep purple/black bruises on my hip bones from the harness, but my sky-diving buddies assure me that once I get my own gear, that won't be an issue any more. The combination of tandem harness + harness designed for everything from 100 pounds to 210 pounds (the weight limit) is why there was such a jerk.
Justin kept falling - you HAVE to pull by 2000 feet or you really ARE a pancake - to get past us faster. He landed, stowed his gear, then filmed us coming in. Now, the canopy ride is fantastic. Ernie did one small circle to make sure I wasn't going to puke. :D I assured him that I loved the sensation and we just made figure eights for a solid five minutes before it was time to land. Can you believe it? Five minutes! Amazing. Every time we'd turn directions, the wind's lift would pick up the canopy and you felt completely weightless. And you are, briefly. It's what astronauts claim is the only thing that comes close to what it's like in outer space. (Or when they go up to 35,000 feet and the plane dives to recreate that sensation.)
Now, THIS is when you get that ground screaming up at you feeling. Right before you hit. Otherwise, it's so gradual that you're not paying attention, almost. Or rather, you don't feel like the earth is rushing up at you.
PERFECT TWO FOOT LANDING. I thank you. No landing on our butts! You do have to be careful when you hit, because if I hit first, Ernie would have toppled onto me. That would have hurt, esp. since the canopy wouldn't trail properly, so we'd get yanked along the ground, on my face. Whew.
I WANNA GO AGAIN! And I am. :D They gave me a bottle of "champagne" (lol, it was Cooks. Um... I guess I was expecting something a leetle more high tone for the price I paid...) a certificate, and hugs all around. I got unhooked, hugged Ernie, was carted back to the hangar, and marched in to sign up for #2. (After hugging my kids and husband, I mean to say. Hee.)
Ernie and I went back into the hangar to sign his log book and to create my student workbook for all of my future jumps. <3 He asked me to sign his person log and give him any criticisms, etc. I think I just scribbled a series of hearts and WHOOOOOO!s all over the page, lol.
Things that amazed me: the lack of fear I had. I don't know it it's because I'm dumb, they're so good, or it's because I belong up there, but I never ONCE felt afraid. The higher the plane went, the more calm I got. How is that possible?? The more I talked to others the more relaxed about the whole thing I became. I was so happy in free fall, just looking around. No panic, no racing heart beat... No spinning in my gut, either. Just peaceful. I relaxed more and more as it went on, too.
Later that day, though, I was all smiles. And felt a little sad, too. I wanted to get right back up in the blue.... For the past 48 hours I keep catching myself staring up into the sky, wanting to get back up there. I need to look at my schedule and make plans for Tandem #2, then from there, it's solo school all the way. WHOOOOOOOOOOOooooo! (Me falling) Hee.
Yeah. I'm hooked. [ETA] I forgot to mention what those pink puffs on my sleeves and legs are: those are for forming formations with other divers. They swoop to you, and grab hold so you can make stars, circles, etc. A bunch of the people that went up with me on the plane were in the World's Record for largest formation in a jump - 400 people! Awesome. [You can see them practicing their moves on the ground.] And once you're certified, you can go whenever, where ever. It's about $25 bucks a jump at that point. You're just paying for the gas and pilot's time. They folks with me did something like 7 jumps that day. !!!