Sky-diving is definitely for me! But it wasn’t all ‘plain sailing’.
Janet and I arrived at Netheravon Military Airfield on 11th April and I went straight in for training, which involved watching a DVD of the jump procedure.
On the wall beside the video screen is a sign:
Parachuting is a dangerous activity.
The accident rate for first jumps is 1 in 370.
Great! Just what I needed to know. This was my first jump, and just suppose I am number 371 ?
The instructor pointed out two things. Firstly that most of the injuries occur to student jumpers doing their first solo jumps, and secondly that whilst this might be my first jump, it wasn’t my instructors’ first!
He offered the opinion that I had probably already run greater statistical risks simply driving to the airfield that morning!
Next problem. I have trained to fly gliders solo so know a little about losing control in air turbulence. It seemed to me that there was a danger of ‘getting in a spin’ when jumping out the side of an aeroplane into its turbulence with no visible means of attitude-control.
They had thought of this too. It seems that on leaving the plane the instructor immediately deploys a small parachute called a ‘drogue’ which keeps us falling the right way up, AND slows us from 160 to 140 miles per hour.
Apparently this ‘reduced’ speed is a great help in allowing one’s accompanying free-falling photographer to ‘keep up’, and gives an extra few seconds ‘enjoyment’ of the free-fall before the approaching ground makes it wise to open a parachute!
Then I recalled another comforting fact. I had been offered insurance for my jump at a FIXED PRICE OF £20. There is no way the insurance industry would do that unless there was virtually no risk.
So, reassured, we settled down in the clubhouse to await my flight.
After several hours and many cups of coffee we realised the wind was not going to drop below the 20 mph safe limit, so we went home.
Ready for the flight
Can I really trust my life to a complete stranger in this way? Well, the weather seemed stable so I re-booked and went off to the airfield with the one person I have already entrusted my life to, …. Janet.
We soon met Phil my instructor who was friendly, knowledgeable, experienced and ..….er….. taller and heavier even than me! He assured me the parachute could cope with a combined load of well over 25 stone.
Phil introduced us to our diminutive video camera-man Steve. There was some discussion about whether small Steve would be able to fall as fast as we two ‘biggies’ but he wasn’t using a drogue, so was confident he could.
With 1800 jumps to his name he should know.
Steve had an amazing helmet with a video camera and a large Canon stills camera bolted on top and side. He operated the latter by means of a vacuum pipe in his mouth, and could see the video image on a small head-up monitor in front of one eye!
Imagine operating all this equipment whilst falling at 140 miles per hour, circling around your target, and, importantly trying to remember your altimeter! I was convinced he would never do it, and I had just wasted £99 for shots of sky.
Steve’s only means of control was the position of his arms, assisted by fabric webs attached to the side of his jump-site making him look somewhat like a bat.
Soon we were climbing into the 14 seater plane……..from which all the seats had been removed, so we sat on the floor packed together between each others legs.
Then at 5,000 feet the door was opened and three intrepid solo parachutists smiled, waved a cheery ‘good by’, stepped backwards into oblivion, and were gone.
It was then I realised the enormity of what I had gotten into!
We climbed to 12,000 feet and Phil started issuing friendly but firm instructions. ‘Please do up your helmet’ ‘Put on your goggles’ ‘Wiggle forwards’.
Strapped firmly together, we shuffled on our bums towards the door. I stuck my feet out, tucked them under the plane. Phil pushed me dangerously close to the edge.
Cameraman Steve backed out and hung outside the door to video our exit.
The wind outside an aeroplane is considerable and its difficult to hear anything, but Steve and Phil had played this game before.
With a nod and a shout ‘NOW’ Steve was gone and we followed a split second later.
The exhilaration of falling into space was tremendous. I remember seeing the plane fly away from us over-head as we rolled over in free-fall.
Then came my relief at realising we had stabilised our free-fall the right way up !
Next, to my great surprise, there was Steve a few metres in front of my nose !
I gave a cheery wave for the camera, and then remembered I had written BP on one hand, and T on the other. BPT would not be visible if I didn’t put my hands together, somewhat against the rules as it reduces stability.
At 140 miles an hour in free-fall Phil didn’t seem to be in a position to object, so I risked it.
Steve disappeared, re-appeared and took more shots, disappeared again, and immediately Phil opened the parachute. We slowed dramatically… even though the parachute takes about 1,000 feet to open.
All was quiet, and I had a wonderful view of Wiltshire from 6,000 feet.
At 5,000 feet Phil remarked that at this height he would have deployed the emergency chute if necessary. The ground looked a bit close for this to me!
Being suspended from behind with arms and legs dangling over 5,000 feet of nothing is an extraordinary feeling. Like hovering helplessly in space.
Phil kindly let me help him with a few turns by pulling on the parachute controls, but as the ground approached he asked me to leave go, saying ‘I have control’.
This is a protocol I recognised from my gliding days which ensures one pilot doesn’t receive or relinquish control without the other realising it!
A perfect standing landing after five minutes, and it was all over, except for congratulations, thanks, more photos, carrying a floppy parachute and drogue to the packing shed, and collection of a certificate!
Was it worth it?
Once the adrenaline had subsided (my hands were trembling from exhilaration on landing) I had time to consider.
A sense of achievement? Certainly.
A sense of satisfaction? Well, no actually. Phil and Steve had done all the work.
I had just been the passenger.
What does give me a very great sense of satisfaction is having encouraged eighty wonderful supporters to donate nearly £8,000 (inc gift aid) towards construction of a Centre in Bulgaria to greatly help large numbers of other humans who will never be able even to dream of sky-diving.
THANK YOU !
YOU CAN JUMP FOR FREE !!
If you would like to sky-dive The Bulgarian Partners Trust will reimburse your jump fee provided you raise £1,000 in sponsorship. We will help you do this.
The fee will come from a specially designated fund NOT monies donated for construction of the Centre.
If you are fit, not overly scared of heights or small planes, and want to help the Trust, contact me at any time on my mobile 077395-22075 or email@example.com for more details.
Minimum age is 16 and there is no upper age limit. Seriously, people jump in their 80’s.
If you want to do a sky-dive with some one else, no problem provided you both obtain the sponsorship.
If you wish I will jump with you….I’m looking for an excuse to do another one…
……..its such fun !!!