That’s My Boy

As you all know I’ve things slide for a few months so I’m going to try and catch up.this spring number one son’s skydiving career really took off. (sorry) He came out to the drop zone almost every day and quickly built up a reputation as a good skydiver and better yet a great kid to hang out with. After getting his A license his next challenge was to get his coach rating. A coach rating allows you to just mp with and teach students that have been cleared to jump solo by the free fall instructors but do not yet have their license. The problem was Connor needed 100 jumps to be eligible to take the rating course and by the time the annual course started he only had…well, let’s just say less. That’s where being the drop zone owner came in handy. I was sure that the boy would make a fantastic coach so I pulled the evaluator aside and told him to give my son the rating or I’d fire him. OK, I didn’t quite do that but I did get him in the course early and he rocked it. Connor spent the rest of the summer teaching students and jumping for fun. Well, it was mostly fun, except for his first malfunction.

It happened while I was on the same airplane taking a tandem student for his first jump. The free fall was over and the two of us were flying the parachute back to the landing area. I happened to look down and saw an all yellow reserve canopy so I knew someone had had a malfunction. I located the rest of the skydivers and came up on son short so I was pretty sure that it had been Connor who’d had the cutaway. I pointed the emergency canopy to my student and told him what it was. He was dually impressed, even more so when I told him that the jumper with the malfunction was my son. What had happened was when Connor opened his parachute it developed line twists, that’s what we call it when the lines get all twisted up, hence the name. Unable to kick himself out of the twists and spiraling towards the ground Connor had no choice but to pull his cut away handle and pull his reserve. Now Connor is a fast learner and has been around skydiving his whole life o he knew how hard it is to find a parachute after you cut it away, particularly if it landed in the corn, where his brand new canopy was heading, so he did what any heads up skydiver would do, he followed it down and landed in the corn next to it. At least that was his plan.

There are a few mistakes a skydiver can make when cutting away from a malfunction.

  1. Panic: or should I say. PANIC!!!!!

    You should be opening your main parachute by at least 2500 feet( if you have a “D” or “Master” license) this should give you at least 10 seconds to deal with anything unusual or problematic. That is plenty of time to cutaway your malfunctioning main and open your reserver canopy with plenty of extra feet to spare. Remember any extra altitude below an open reserve is just wasted!

    Connor was open under his spinning main canopy by 3000 feet. He tried to fix it for a few seconds (with a few choice words thrown in for good measure) before pulling his handles, just like I taught him.

  2. Pulling your reserve handle before cutting away the malfunctioning main:

    If you do this you dump your reserve into the malfunction which is what we call BAD. Connor didn’t do this incredibly stupid thing so he got to move on to…

  3. Dropping your handles:

    When you pull the cutaway and reserve handles they come completely free, and if you drop them gravity takes over and they have a tendency to go down. This can be a problem when you are still a few thousand feet in the air because they are impossible to find and cost about $175 or more. Each. I’m sorry to report that Connor dropped his reserve handle, but seeing I dropped my reserve handle on my first cutaway I’ll give him some slack. (still disappointed though)

  4. Not following or at least keeping an eye on your gear:

    When you cutaway a malfunctioning parachute it also goes down and seeing it can cost up to $3000 you really want to keep track of where it lands. Ideally if you can you land next to it so as to avoid many hours searching the corn but failing that you should at least have an idea of where to look. Connor’s only cost $500 but he did a good job and circled it under his reserve planning to land right next to it, just like to pro’s do. But he screwed it up, which leads to the next thing you can do wrong when cutting away from a malfunction.

  5. Landing next to your gear but screwing it up:

    Ideally you land next to your gear, gather it up, walk out to the road and wait for a ride. But that’s hard to do if you screw up the landing and hurt yourself. Landing next to your gear is a pretty bad ass thing to do. But if your skills at landing in some random location on the spur of the moment don’t match your balls things can get painful. Luckily all that Connor did was to get a little slow and stall his reserve canopy just before landing. Oh wait, that was the stupid part. The lucky part was that he did it over thick tall corn. Which leads me to the last mistake you can do when cutting away from a malfunction.

  6. Screwing up on video:

    Now I’ll admit that the boy did a pretty good job on his first major malfunction. Hey, He jumped out of a plane at 14,000 feet, did a shit hot skydive, had a spinning malfunction, dealt with it, landed next to his gear, and walked out to the road with it with a smile on his face. Unfortunately we still get to critique his landing.


Pushing It

Some men are not truly happy unless they are constantly risking it all, going bigger, sacrificing safety for adventure and adrenalin. Pushing it.  Now even though I happen to fall into this category I never graduated to the level of Dean Potter. Dean is one of those guys who had to go that extra step of doing crazy stuff without safety gear or backups. As you can see in the video he likes to do  stuff like free climb without ropes, walk slack lines, (tight ropes) without a net or safety line and wingsuit in the mountains where none have dared to fly before.  Of course you might say “But Kerry, you do dumb stuff all the time! You jump out of airplanes hundreds of times a year, you like to scud run at treetop level, and you fly single engine planes over the ocean for God’s sake!” While all that might be true I do try to always have a backup or way out when I do dumb stuff. When I jump I have a reserve chute, when I scud run I do it in a plane that I can fly IFR in if the clouds get too low, and when I ferry fly over the ocean I have a tiny rubber raft to climb into if I go down. OK, that last one is kind of stupid. Unfortunately if you push it long enough without a backup sooner or later you run out of luck and all the skill in the world can’t overcome bad luck. Last week Dean Potter ran out of luck, or to put it more correctly he pushed it once too far. Dean and a friend jumped off a 7,500 foot cliff in Yosemite in an attempt to fly their wingsuits into the valley below. But to do this they had to make it through a tricky narrow notch in the rock to make it to the open air below and beyond. Unfortunately they came up just a little short and didn’t make it. Sometimes that’s what happens when you push it.        

More Oops

Oh my God this makes me sick.  Two Twin Otters were damaged last week in Florida when one of the planes spun around on the ramp and hit the other.  The rumor is that the pilot of the offending Otter missed seeing that the circuit breaker for the hydraulic system had been pulled for maintenance the night before.  In the Twin Otter if you don’t have hydraulics you don’t have steering and possibly no brakes.  I haven’t heard for sure what happened but my guess is that the pilot started the right engine first and when she took it out of feather it just spun right into the second one which was unfortunately also running at the time.  Now if it had been me, and thank God it wasn’t, I hope I would’ve been quick enough to pull the engine back into feather and if that didn’t stop it pull it all the way into beta or reverse thrust. Either way it must have happened very quickly and I can’t imagine the horrible sound it made when those two engines ate each other.  I’m good friends with the owner and feel sorry for him because it sounds like they won’t be fixed in time for the skydiving season this spring. What a bummer. I can totally see how this can happen though.  Flying skydiving aircraft is a unique job. Most of the planes have some of the original equipment removed either to save weight or because it’s not necessary for hauling skydivers in VFR conditions .  This often results in circuit breakers that are pulled so that the unneeded, broken, or missing item doesn’t draw any power.  The usual procedure is to put a collar or zip tie around the pulled circuit breaker so the pilot knows that the circuit breaker is out intentionally and doesn’t accidentally push it back in.  But that makes it all the more important to check the circuit breaker panel very carefully, otherwise, well, you see what happens.  Jump pilots do a whole lot of takeoffs and landings in the same plane day after day and that can lead to complacency which can really bite a pilot if he’s not careful. Ask me how I know.

More Oops

Pilots are dumb.  OK, they are also highly trained, sort of, professionals who can do some amazing things and provide a valuable service to mankind.  They are also little boys with very expensive toys that they sometimes abuse for their own personal amusement.  When you hear of pilots goofing off and buzzing things and people you usually think of military pilots. But the Air Force has really cracked down on that kind of tomfoolery and if you really want to stop flying that hot jet just buzz the tower one more time Maverick.  So where does a pilot with superior skills go to show the rest of us just how good he really is?  The skydiving world that’s where.  Just hop in a jump plane and show us your stuff.  And when you’re dropping meat bombs there is the added challenge of buzzing the jumpers who you just dropped.  I love doing a hard wingover  as soon as the last jumper leaves and waving to them as we both head down.  But I always make sure to give them plenty of space and when I’m the target I like an even bigger buffer because I don’t want to end up on YouTube.

Arnaud 025That’s more like it.

What’s your angle?

Here’s a short video from my skydiving school showing us doing some angle flying jumps.  Angle flying is where we form up on a leader who is flying a fairly steep angle. We typically reach speeds of out 200 mph and really move across the sky.  It’s a lot more difficult than it looks because at those speeds even the smallest movement of an arm or leg has a huge effect.  It can be very dangerous, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun!  I’m in this video here and there and the final landing scene is a good shot of my  school.  Enjoy.

Gravity Check, New Personal Record/Human Sonic Boom

This is my busy time of year.  In late August early September I average 50 to 7o jumps a week and fly the Grand Caravan whenever my pilot needs a break.  Skydiving that much will keep a guy in shape but makes the evening soak in the hot tub more of a necessity than a luxury. Last Saturday was one of our busiest days of the summer and I was jumping non-stop when my manager asked my to come into the tandem training room for a minute.  She pointed to a rather large young man sitting in the back row and told me that he wanted to make a tandem skydive.  She said that he’d told her that he was quite a bit heavier than our normal 260 lb. weight limit, even more than the 289 lb. man I’d taken on a jump last month.  One look at his hopeful face and I just couldn’t say no, a nasty habit of mine that will be the death of me yet.  My manager suggested we put him on the scale before I make any promises.  When he stood up I realized that this was indeed a BIG boy and the scale confirmed it. 309 lbs!  Hmmm, 309 lbs, oh what the hell.  “sure I’ll still take you”

  Putting the harness on him wasn’t a simple feat but I made it fit and off we went.  Getting to the door of the Caravan with a 309 lb passenger strapped to your chest and a 56 lb. tandem parachute on your back was a challenge but I somehow made it and flopped out for the 13,000 foot plunge.  Boy oh boy was that freefall FAST!  Normal freefall speed is about 125 mph. and we were doing at least 165 mph. My cameraman had his wings tucked in and was arching for all he was worth to stay with us but to his credit he managed somehow.  When I pulled the ripcord the opening was, shall we say, brisk.  My entire staff came out to watch the landing and I thankfully disappointed them by coming in fast but without the huge crash they were hoping for.  It was gratifying to be able to make this young man’s day but I think next time I’ll put him on the scale before opening my big mouth.