Just like in baseball, sometimes the weather conditions just aren’t ideal for skydiving. We were supposed to start the 24 hours of skydiving this evening but a strong line of thunderstorms rolled over the dropzone shutting us down cold. We did manage to get one test jump in before the rain hit us and it was a dandy with Kevin the one armed skydiver landing about half a mile off target due to someone screwing up. Thank God it wasn’t me. 🙂 I was however on the ground wondering just what in the heck they were doing. The pilot who was flying the practice run, (I”ll call him Andrew, because that’s his name) was trying out a new flight pattern that he thought would be more efficient but it turns out wasn’t. After picking up Kevin in my truck the three of sat down and went over the fastest way to get to 2000 feet and back down to the ground.
By the way there’s a pretty good chance that the Today Show is coming out to cover the event so if you don’t have one of those job things that prevent you from watching TV in the morning tune in and check it out.
As I briefly mentioned in my last post, a good friend of mine is going to attempt to make 300 skydives in 24 hours to raise money for Parkinson’s Disease. Of course you’re asking yourself “how is that possible?” Well, it’s because he is only going to 2000 feet on each jump, that’s how. Now if leaping from a perfectly good airplane every 3-4 minutes for 24 straight hours (and yes, there is a large part of those hours where the sun is noticeably absent i.e dark or “night” if you will) isn’t impressive enough, Kevin (that’s his name you see) lost the use of his left arm in a snowmobile accident 4 years ago so he will be doing this amazing feat with the use of only one arm! That’s right, 300 skydives, in 24 hours, from 2000 feet, half of them in the dark, with only one arm.
This is his 4th event of this kind and his 2nd after the accident and it is an impressive thing to watch. The high performance takeoff of the lightly loaded PAC 750XL is impressive and the climb to 2000 feet takes only 45 seconds or so. Then Kevin jumps out, deploys his parachute almost immediately and spirals down to the ground where he (hopefully) lands right in front of his crew who help him switch parachutes for a freshly packed one and hop into the same plane he just jumped out of which beat him to the ground and is waiting for him.
You might have picked up on another interesting aspect of this little event. If Kevin is making 300 jumps out of the same plane doesn’t that mean that someone (a pilot perhaps?) have to make 300 takeoffs and landings? Why yes dear reader, it does. And guess who the lucky pilot is that gets to have his rear end glued into the seat for this epic undertaking? That’s right, me. OK, there is another pilot who will be helping me by giving me breaks because let’s face it flying for 24 hours straight would be just a little bit dangerous. I know, I know, Kevin will be jumping for the same amount of time, but if he falls asleep on final the parachute still lands, and no fireball.
The whole thing is going to be a test of endurance and teamwork and we start today at 7:00 pm. I can’t wait.
Here’s a link to the story that the local news did. 300 Imperfect Jumps And of course that’s yours truly in the pilot’s seat.
Some old guy once said “An object at rest tends to sit on his rear end until acted on by guilt, desire or, more precisely, your wife’s desire.”
So there I was, enjoying my last month of vacation,( don’t hate the player, hate the game) when “she who must be obeyed” reminded me that number one son was due home soon from wherever the heck he was and that I’d foolishly promised him that I’d teach him to fly airplanes and stuff. Not even the overstuffed leather recliner I hibernate in could muffle the groan. Like I’ve said Now don’t get me wrong,……………….
The date on that un-finished post was April 8th. Since then I’ve been kind of busy. Now I know I’ve used that lame excuse many times in the past when I’ve let this blog get just a little bit stale but this time it’s justified, really, swear to God.
Now of course I don’t have time this morning to catch you all up on what I’ve been doing in as great detail as I’d like to but I have a busy day of skydiving ahead of me and time is something that I don’t have an abundance of these days.
So here’s the short list of what I’ve been up to these last two months.
Teaching number one son Connor to fly– We were hitting it hard for a few weeks and he was doing good but both our lives have gotten busy and we haven’t flown together for a few weeks. He’s been doing great though.
Bought a new house– Cathy and I lost our collective minds and instead of paying for Connor’s housing while he goes to the University of Wisconsin Stout we decided to buy a rental house to put him in and maybe make a little money while we were at it. Did we buy one of the existing and operating student rental houses that were for sale you ask? Why no, we decided to buy a house that was built in the 1800’s and that has been vacant for the last 30 years. The epic story of how Cathy, Connor and I have brought this great old house back to life would take forever but I’ll get to it someday, really……I promise. I will say the last month has been filled with many many days of renovation that aren’t over yet. I have to meet a plumber, carpenter, and insulation guy this morning before going to work, just as an example. Up to this point we’ve been doing the majority of the work ourselves. That has been the biggest time sucker upper.
Getting my CFI (certified flight instructor) rating- Along with teaching Connor to fly I was working on finally getting my CFI done. I studied and flew and worked with an instructor that I liked and was on the cusp of taking my ride when my instructor stopped answering my calls to set up the next appointment. Turns out that he had a heart attack. He’s not dead but is out of the game for the foreseeable future and that delay has stopped me in my tracks. I do have the name of another instructor but now that I’m in the meat of the skydiving season I really don’t know where I’ll find the time. I’ll have to make time somehow.
Running the skydiving school– Goes without saying that flying and jumping out of perfectly good airplanes full time keeps me kind of busy. (It’s a pretty good job. It does have it’s up’s and down’s though) Ba da boom.
Getting ready for another Parkinson’s Disease event– Next Tuesday will be the 4th time a local jumper will be doing a large number (300) of jumps in 24 hours to raise money for Parkinson’s and I will be one of the two pilots who will do all the flying. We will be using a PAC 750 XL (low wing turbine) and will be making an takeoff and landing every 3 minutes for 24 hours. Should be fun!
Last but not least I’m going to be FLYING AROUND THE WORLD!!!!!!!!!!!!! I leave July 5th. so stay tuned for more details.
That’s all I have time for for now. I’d promise to post more but you’ve all heard that promise before now haven’t you?
A good friend of mine landed a pretty sweet gig a few years ago making him one of the few people in the world that I’m jealous of. His name is Nick Halseth and every summer he gets to travel around the world as the team leader for the Lucas Oil skydiving demonstration team. The team performs for all kinds of events; drag races, rodeos, 4th of July events, casino openings, and the like. But the days that really turn his crank are when they get to perform at airshows.
Being part of the airshow as one of the performers gives him a unique perspective on the in’s and out’s of how airshows are run and how the pilots work with other to put on a great show. It also gives Nick some fantastic opportunitys to practice other passion which is photography. Not only does he have unlimited access to the flight line but over the years he’s done such a fantastic job he’s become the go to guy when pilots want great air to air shots of them doing cool stuff in their cool planes. Of course to get air to air shots means you have to be in a airplane as well so Nick get’s to ride in some pretty sweet aircraft. “Hey Nick, could you go up in that B-25 and sit in the tail gunner’s position and take pictures of the Thunderbirds while they fly in formation with a P-51 Mustang and an F4U Corsair please?”
Here’s one the video’s he put together from last year’s airshow circuit.
You’ve all seen these signs at construction sites and the like and you all know I own a skydiving school, which I’m sure most of you think is really just accident factory. Well i’m here to tell you that nothing could be farther from the truth, except when it isn’t. For the most part, skydiving is a “relatively” safe sport. I could quote statistics on how much safer it is than this or that activity (such as driving, or calling your wife fat) but you wouldn’t listen. As far as most of you are concerned, only two things fall from the sky. Bird sh!t and fools. So I’m not going to bother. But I’ll tell you this, in the skydiving community we take our safety VERY seriously! Every year before we start tossing our flabby bodies from reasonably maintained airplanes we all get together for a safety day where we go over emergency procedures, safety issues and the latest and greatest safety devices that those guys with big brains come up with to keep us from hitting the ground with more speed than is generally considered safe. Our safety day was this Saturday my staff and I thought it was a big success. We had a big turn out and even though I was the main speaker it seemed like everyone actually paid attention. We were looking forward to (hoping for) an accident season.
Well that all ended yesterday, the very first day of jumping, when I heard one of my staff say “Remember to take a cell phone with you! Just like Kerry said yesterday!” My first thought was “What!? The only time I mentioned taking a cell phone with you was when……….someone was hurt. Shit. I ran outside the building and saw people running to a still form in the student landing area surrounded by a parachute. Again…shit. I ran out to help and was relieved to see the jumper laying on his side, conscious and talking. “I think I broke my leg.” With the situation changed from life or death to “Bummer dude, you’re going to miss 8 to 10 weeks of the skydiving season” I started my official accident investigation with the classic “What happened?” Apparently he just made the classic mistake of turning too low in order to face the wind on landing and hit the ground before he completed the turn. He said “I knew I was too low halfway through the turn.” Instead of commenting on his mistake or calling him something unflattering I expressed sympathy and hoped he’d be back soon. Not really the time to call him a moron. I think he was doing that enough for both of us.
P.S. one other note, he is a transplant jumper from another state (so I didn’t train him) and he missed my safety day presentation from the day before, (maybe he should’ve taken the time)
PP.S. Got word today, he’s going to be OK. Had surgery to to fix his broken femur (ouch) but will be back in the sky later this summer. Hopefully a bit smarter because if you’re going to be stupid you’d better be tough.
It’s opening day at Skydive Twin Cities but unfortunately we got snow overnight, ( it’s too cold to jump) and the wind is howling, (so it’s too windy to jump) So instead of posting some sh!t Hot video from our first day of the season I’m posting the latest Sh!t hot wing suiting video from Norway. I especially like when these guys buzz the gondolas on their way down. And you wonder why wingsuit pilots are getting killed in record numbers? OK, maybe you’re not wondering.
What are you going to do? THAT’S the question. In every pilot’s career he’s (BTWI always use”he” when referring to pilots. It’s not that I’m sexest, my daughter is a pilot, it’s just that I that having to write “he or she” ten times a day.) Anyway, in every pilot’s career he’s going to have to make a tough decision every now and again. You know, go, or no go? Most of the time it’s based on the weather, sometimes it’s that something’s wrong with the plane, or maybe you just drank too much the night before and you’re not feeling one hundred percent. (not that that ever happens to pilots for pity’s sake) Now for most non-professional pilots the decision is usually an easy one. If everything isn’t perfect, just say screw it and head to the bar. Easy. But for pilots who heard pieces of junk through the sky in return for little bits of colored paper (money) there are other factors that come into play. “But Kerry, I thought you weren’t supposed to let outside factors influence your decision making process!” you might say. And I might say to you dear reader that if you believe that bull sh*t you’ll believe anything they tell you in flight school. Remember when they told you that pilots make tons of money, lead lives filled with adventure and that chicks dig them? Well, OK,all that true, but when the mechanic tells you that the plane’s supposed to make that noise, that’s bull. Dang, Where was I? Oh yeah, outside pressures to fly when things aren’t just right. Guys who have people counting on them to make that flight happen might just give it a go when the weather is marginal, one of the radios is acting up or they just feel like hell. It’s called professional responsibility. Also known as “pressure” Of course the real trick is to know when the situation or circumstances are such that you head to the bar despite the pressure. And making that decision correctly, my friend, only comes from experience. And like the old saying goes “Good decisions come from experience, and experience comes from bad decisions.”
So, without further ado. A bad decision.
A long long time ago in a country far far away, I was hired to help ferry an Embraer Phenom 100 from Sydney Australia to Las Vegas. The Phenom is a sleek, sort of fast, business jet that is a ton of fun to fly but has one vital flaw. It has short legs. Not landing gear, range. 800-900 miles is about the limit it can go with out stopping to re-fuel. In the jet world that’s not a lot. But you can’t have everything and when you’re ferrying, you don’t get to choose what planes you fly and how they were designed. You just deal with what you’re dealt. The trip was amazing but due to the short range of the Phenom it had a lot of stops and a lot of legs that didn’t leave us with a lot of reserve. The longest was a leg from Petropavlovsk to Anadyr, or from the southern tip of the Kamchatka peninsula to just shy of the Bering Strait. A little over 900 miles, right on the edge of the Phenom’s range.
When we got to Petropavlovsk our handler (another beautiful but grumpy Russian woman)informed us that the weather forecast for Anadyr wasn’t exactly what we’d been hoping for, in fact it was downright gloomy. She told us that the weather was currently 900 feet overcast with 5 miles visibility, not bad. Unfortunately the conditions were supposed to be worse by the time we got there.
“After that?” we asked, “Worse”
And after that? “Even worse.”
The lower ceilings forecast and visibility were right on the edge of what we could do safely. The biggest problem with going was that if the weather system moved in faster than was forecast we could find ourselves in a pickle with nowhere to go because the only other airport way up there on top of the world was west of Anadyr and that’s where the bad weather was coming from. Nope, we said take us to the hotel and we’ll try and recover from our crushing disappointment by drinking smooth Russian Vodka and chatting up the beautiful but grumpy Russian women. We’ll be fine.
That’s when Natasha (seriously, that was her name and she looked and sounded just like Natasha from the Rocky and Bullwinkle show) informed us that at this time of year when those big weather systems roll in from Siberia the Kamchatka can sometimes be shut down for up to a month.
Well, that certainly puts a different spin on things doesn’t it?
The Captain and I were certainly willing to spend a day or even two chilling at a hotel in exotic Russia. But a month is something altogether different. We poured over the forecast some more, mumbling, hemming and hawing, looking at each other with “what do you think?” eyes. All the while knowing that the longer we waited the closer the bad weather was to Anadyr. The captain was unwilling to make the call alone because even though it was his career on the line it both of our asses. Not wanting to spend a month cooling my heels I suggested we launch immediately and see how things looked enroute. If by the time we got to the point of no return the weather still looked good we’d continue, if it looked like it was going down faster than predicted we’d turn around. Simple, safe, aggressive. OK, it wasn’t simple or safe, but one out of three isn’t bad.
We took off and when we arrived at the point of no return called for a weather update for Anadyr. 500 feet, 2 miles visibility. Not great, but not too bad. They told us that the clouds were dropping and the fog was thickening but very fast. Dang, not a slam dunk either way. Once again we gave each other the “what ya wanna do?” look. In the end we decided to push on rationalizing that at the rate the clouds were dropping it should still be above our 200 foot limit by the time we got there, and besides, we had a great plane with a glass cockpit and a state of the art autopilot that could take us right down to the runway if needed. Onward!
We crossed the point of no return optimistic about our chances. So of course twenty minutes later ATC called to inform us that the conditions at the field had dropped to 400 feet and the worsening trend had increased.
20 minutes after that 300 feet.
Things were starting to get a bit gloomy in the cockpit. We’d made our choice and were committed so the was nothing much to say but our silence said it loudly anyway.
200 feet. 1/4 mile vis.
With 30 minutes left to go the sun went down, which in a low approach situation actually makes it easier to find the runway in the fog. Of course if we couldn’t find the runway and ran out of fuel we’d have no chance of surviving an off airport landing. As we approached the airport we had enough fuel for three or maybe four approaches but we agreed that if the first one was looking good we’d continue down past the missed approach altitude even if we couldn’t see the runway environment. Our reasoning was that the conditions were just getting worse as time went on so we might as well make the first one count. On the approach the captain monitored the autopilot and instruments while I called off the altitude and looked outside for the runway lights. 500, 400, 300, 200, 100…LIGHTS! Throttle to idle, touchdown.
Didn’t get killed….again.
Number one son has been home from his seven month stint with Uncle Sam for all of 3 days, so enough lying around the house, time to get back to work learning how to fly. It’s going to take me a little time to finish my CFI rating, especially since my flight lesson tomorrow is going to be rained out, so until I’m, you know, legal and all, I’m going to keep Connor’s informal flight training going. I started teaching Connor to fly when he was three years old and I had to break in a new engine on one of my Cessna 182 jump planes. That first intensive lesson consisted him sitting on my lap and steering for three hours. Actually he only steered for fifteen minutes before falling fast asleep, leaving me to finish the break in session all by myself. Whimp. I mean come on, do your part son, don’t make me do all the work. And to make matters worse the first thing the little dickens did when I set him down on the ramp after we landed was throw up. OK, that part was pretty funny. That was sixteen years ago. Today I needed to move another Cessna 182 jump plane from one airport to another and once again I brought my little buddy along. Only this time he did all the flying. We started off with a real life soft field takeoff from a soggy grass strip, followed by a 60 mile cross country trip where we practiced slow flight, steep turns, radio procedures, (he needs a lot of work there) and cross wind landings. He parked the plane on almost the exact spot he threw up on all those years ago. I think I’ll make a pilot out of him yet.