In order to cross off another thing off my Impossible List, I went skydiving today. I’m not too big on large men strapped to my back with our pelvic regions in close proximity, so I chose to go the Accelerated Free Fall (AFF) route. Start Skydiving in Middletown, OH, the number 1 dropzone in the world, offers the First Jump Course for people who want to learn the basics of skydiving and may want to pursue a license in the future.
I arrrived in Middletown around 8 in the morning and went through the course which walked us through all the details of skydiving. My instructor was a former Army Ranger with about 1000 jumps under his belt, and he walked us through the flight, the fall, the canopy deployment, landing, everything. He didn’t make it a chore either, keeping us all interested and enthused with his sense of humor and anecdotes that never disappointed.
After six hours of practicing the body movements, learning the components of a parachute, and relentlessly chanting the Emergency Procedures, we were ready to jump. However, the winds kept blowing above the recommended limit, and delayed for a long time. We saw loads of people who had licenses jump one, two, three, even four times. However, it wasn’t our time yet. I passed the day drinking lots of water, watching other people land from the sky, and generally being nervous.
The winds finally died down around 8pm and we were clear to jump. Another instructor outfitted me with my gear and triple checked everything. We planned our flight and landing pattern, and were ready to go. During our training, when we were practicing the Emergency procedures, our instructor had said something that stuck with me. Commenting on the malfunction where both the main and the reserve canopy open and get tangled, he said,
You literally have the rest of your life to figure this out.
For some reason, that popped into my head as I followed my instructor to the plane. We began the slow climb to 13,500 feet in the small prop plane. On the way up, my instructor kept asking me questions and had me replay the whole dive flow and landing pattern in my head multiple times. Then the green light went on inside the cabin, and someone slid open the door. There, three feet in front of me was the gaping hole that led out into the abyss. In AFF, two instructors jump with you, one on each side. As soon as one of my instructors went to stand on a small ledge OUTSIDE the plane while holding on to, I positioned myself in the doorway. My other instructor had a grip on me from inside and urged me to stand up in the door. The air rushed my face and body at 120mph.
I checked in with both my instructors and off we went towards the ground. I was expecting my stomach to drop, but since our forward momentum just gradually transferred to downward momentum, I felt nothing. I don’t remember thinking of anything at all. I felt no fear, I was not nervous, and I didn’t particularly look down. I couldn’t hear or smell anything in particular. I focused on my altimeter and completing my practice touches to the deployment handle. Once at 6000 feet, I pulled the chute and watched in awe as both my instructors dropped away from me at 120mph (They deployed their chutes at 3000 feet!)
Once I determined that my canopy was there, square, and steerable, I settled down to enjoy the view. One of the perks of waiting so long was that we had jumped on the last flight of the day. So, as I turned my chute around 360 degrees, there in front of me in all it’s glory was an absolutely beautiful sunset from 5000 feet. I was enchanted a little too much, because the winds ended up carrying me off course and I had to fly a corrective pattern back to the landing zone. I played around with my canopy, twirling this way and that, until it was time to start the landing procedures.
With my instructor guiding me over a radio, I flared to a landing about 4 feet too high, and dropped to the ground for the last bit. A truck came around and picked us up. After debriefing with my instructor, I received my First Jump Course Certificate and was encouraged to come back and pursue my license, which I definitely intend on doing this summer. I’m going to be living 15 minutes away from the place, might as well use that to my advantage.