Skydiving: February 24, 2002: AFF Level 1

After the two tandem jumps, I was hooked! It was only a matter of time (as it turned out, 3 weeks) until I would start taking lessons and go ALONE! The day was finally chosen - Saturday, February 23. I made the reservation for Matt and I for "AFF Level-1" class.

The 7-hour class was highly informative, and I really learned a lot about the equipment, hand signals, and most imporantly, emergency procedures... including how to recognize a bad canopy opening from a good one!

Then something horrible happened... the winds picked up to about 23 miles per hour... and FAA regulations state that students cannot jump if the surface winds are more than 14 miles per hour... So after a couple of hours of waiting around the DZ ("Drop Zone"), we finally made a reservation for Sunday morning, and left a little dissapointed...

So... Sunday morning finally came after a long nervous night of watching my old videos.... Matt was the first to fly, and I was on the 2nd flight.. Once again I chose to buy the video and photographs from my jump... something I highly recommend everyone to do while they're learning skydiving! When my turn came to suit up, I started getting nervous again -- sure, I had jumped out of a perfectly good plane before... so I was looking forward to the pure exhileration of a freefall followed by a perfectly quiet joyride under the canopy... but this was the first time I was gonna be on my own and responsible for pulling my own chute! There would be two Jump Masters flying with me, but still.... I was responsible for my own safety, and that's a frightening thought when you know you're going to be hurtling towards the ground at 120 miles per hour!

Well, my jump masters were both great, and I had nothing to worry about after all... the entire jump had been drilled into my head the previous day at ground school and again this morning.... Then AGAIN during the plane ride up to 14,200 feet............

I had an altimeter strapped to my wrist... Throughout the flight up, I kept looking at it, making sure it worked! At 5,500 feet my JM told me to look out the window.. "Do you know how high up you are? Do you see how the ground looks like? What are you going to do the NEXT TIME you see the ground like that?" My answer: "Pull the rip-cord!". That was a good answer!

At 12,000 feet, he asked me to put on my goggles and helmet.. and I realized that the helmet strap was too short! This was my FIRST lesson from this jump: "CHECK ALL GEAR BEFORE ENTERING THE PLANE!!!" 12,000 feet up is not a good time to find out such things! Oh well, Keith (my JM) somehow managed to tie the helmet's chinstraps together, and they were a little uncomfortable but at least the helmet was on!

At somewhere around 13,500 feet, I heard a shout from the back of the plane... "DOOR!"... I felt that familiar gust of wind, and Keith tapped my shoulder... "ARE YOU READY TO SKYDIVE?" ... "HELL YEAHHHH!" ... "Ok... put your right leg over the bench, get in the aisle... remember, I step out before you do!" ... My thoughts at this point: "This is it....."

My second JM (Garrett) stepped out first, holding on to the plane. Then Keith stepped out, holding on to the plane on the other side of the door... my job was to step backwards out the door and stand on the small platform that extends out... arching my body inside the door, my hands tucked under the door.... Well, I dont know how it happened, but my hands ended up outside the plane, touching the plane's body above the door...

So there I was, standing OUTSIDE a moving aircraft, 14,200 feet above the ground... and that's when I realized I forgot to wear gloves and my hands were COLD! (mistake #2)

"To hell with it" I thought... "Let's get on with it!" ... I was supposed to look to my left to Garrett, mouth the words "Check in?", to which he would mouth "Okay"... Then I look to the right to Keith... say "Check out?" .. Then he would say "Okay"... Then I had to signal the exit (we all had to leave together)... The way to exit was to signal a "Ready, Set, Go!"... to get up on my toes ("ready"), bend down on my knees ("set"), and fall backwards away from the plane ("GO!").

I got the "Ready" and "Set" parts correct... and there I was, bending down on my knees half-way, unable to leave the plane (mistake #3).... I dont know WHAT I was thinking at that point!!!! Fortunately for me, both of my instructors actually WENT on the "GO!", and Keith had his hand on my hip, so he dragged me down with him!!!

The freefall had finally started!!! I remembered the golden rule: ARCH! Arching my body and counting down "Arch 1000, Arch 2000, Arch 3000, Arch 4000" automatically made my body become parallel to the ground... After that, all I had to do was keep checking the altimeter strapped to my wrist, do 3 "practice-touches" of the ripcord, enjoy the ride, and PULL ON TIME! (5,500 feet).

Well, I may have made a few mistakes until now, but I did NOT forget to pull the ripcord on time... At 6,000 feet I waved off my photographer and signalled a "5-5" to my jump masters indicating I'm about to pull the ripcord... And unlike the tandem jumps, this time I was READY for the jerk upwards as the chute opened, so I did not feel it as much. What I did feel was being yanked out and pulled away from both JM's hands as they continued freefalling while my chute opened.

Everything went deafly quiet.... I looked up at the canopy, saw that everything was great... and broke the silence by yelling at the top of my voice, "YEEEEHAAAWWWW!!! WOOOHOOOO!" (That's a skydiver's cry of freedom!) I dont really remember which one I said first -- "yeehaawww" or "wooohooo" -- but I do know I shouted them both! I released the brakes and did a quick controllability check of the canopy -- turn right, turn left, full flare... followed by full speed ahead (that was a fun swing!) Everything was great, and I was enjoying the gorgeous view!

I turned a few times, thrilled that I was actually flying the canopy on my own, when suddenly I realized "I haven't looked at my altimeter yet!" I took a quick peek, and to my surprise, I was already at 3000 feet!!! Since pulling the ripchord, I had completely lost track of my altitude (mistake #4 -- often the most dangerous one)... Well, the skydive was nearing its end, and I had to find my way back to the Drop Zone... The "enjoying the view" part was over! Soon after, I could hear Keith on the radio, telling me to "turn right... right...right.... left...left...left..." and basically talking me down all the way to the ground.

About 20 feet above the ground (that's my estimate), I started to flare... and heard on the radio.. "NOT YET! not yet... Keep your hands up... not yet... not yet... NOW!!!!! FLARE FLARE FLARE!"

The landing was "not quite perfect" -- As I flared I happened to pull down on one toggle lower than the other, and as a result my canopy turned towards the right just before touchdown... this made my body go to the right, and I landed on my side, falling to the ground. Still, it was a gentle landing... no bruises, no broken bones, no dead body! So from that perspective, it was a great landing!

And finally, my skydive was over, and I remember thinking "I want to go again!", but all that was left for me to do was picking up my parachute and carrying it about 200 feet or so back to the hangar...

So... (getting into student mode here) looking back on my flight, what have I learned? First of all, I should always check if I brought everything with me to the plane... Forgetting the parachute is no big deal because then all that will happen is that I'll die having the best time of my life (what better way is there to go?)... What I don't want to forget are other things like GLOVES to keep my hands warm... having a good helmet with a comfortable chin-strap... And of course, a parachute would be nice too.
Lesson 2: LEAVE THE PLANE at the "Go!" of "Ready, set, go!"
Lesson 3: Leg position during freefall -- needs to be better.
Lesson 4: Better altitude awareness after canopy opening
Lesson 5: Flare on time, and do it evenly so I dont fall onto the ground!

And of course, the most important lesson of all:
Have fun during the whole flight!!! (That's something that comes naturally!)

I'll sign off all the boring yakking up there with a quote:
"Only skydivers know why the birds sing!" -- Anonymous

AFF Level 2 Jump Description and pictures