It’s funny how the memory well can run dry, and then something comes along and primes the pump and there’s one story after another waiting to spill out of you. This one, like yesterday’s, is not my own, but told to me by the man to whom it happened. Another Marine captain, an instructor in the TA-4J training squadron in Meridian, Mississippi. Had a livid scar across his eyebrow, a white line that ran from atop his brow half way to his right ear.
I often wondered how he got it. One day, without prompting, he told me.
It was a night bombing hop out of Cubi Point Naval Air Station, south of Olongapo in the Philipines. He was dash-2 on a dark and drizzling night – a night maybe, where wisdom might have called for discretion as the better part of valor, but that was not our culture in those days. We didn’t scrub for darkness, and we didn’t scrub for weather if there was any way around it. Only non-hacks cancelled. They were Marine attack pilots. They were going flying.[…]
yesterday we had a big event at Skydive Twin Cities with my good friend Kevin Burkart trying to set a world record for the most skydives made in one day by a one armed man. He’s doing this to raise money for Parkinson’s disease because a few years ago his father was diagnosed with this terrible disease and Kevin has made it his mission in life to do whatever he can to help find a cure. This was the third time Kevin has attempted to make a large number of skydives in one day to raise money and awareness for Parkinson’s. The first year we used a Cessna 182 and a 206 to make 100 jumps in one day. Two years later Kevin’s goal was to make 200 jumps using a single engine turbine jump plane called a PAC-750. That plane was screaming fast but very low clouds and fog prevented us from starting until 11:00 in the morning, and even then I was busting clouds and not even close to being legal. Once we got started we were averaging one jump every three minutes and thirty seconds but the late start prevented us from doing more than 150 jumps that day. After that disappointing day Kevin decided to up the anti by going for three hundred jumps in one day. It was an ambitious goal that could be done if the weather cooperated and both Kevin and I could keep up the pace. Unfortunately three months before the attempt Kevin was in a head on snow mobile accident that damaged his spinal cord rendering his left arm completely useless. But Kevin is a determined man and would never let a little thing like the loss of an arm prevent him from achieving his goal. Two months after the accident Kevin approached me and asked if I could help him figure out hoe to skydive and land a parachute with only one arm. It took some doing but I finally figured out that if he hooked the steering toggles together with a carabiner he could steer the parachute with his right arm.
With the technical problems sorted out the only thing standing in Kevin’s way was his endurance. A lot of us were concerned that Kevin couldn’t keep up a three minute jump pace using only one arm but there was only one to find out was to go for it. The morning’s weather was as nice as it could be and at 5:15am I pushed the throttle forward and we were off on jump number one. Things went well at first with our times ranging in the three and a half to four minute range. The PAC-750 is a wonderful plane to fly for this type of event, getting up to 2000 feet in under 45 seconds and back on the ground just as fast. I would beat Kevin to the ground then wait for him to land and have his ground crew take the used parachute off him and strap a new one on. I’d taxi up to him just as he was getting the last strap on, he’s jump in and I’d hit the throttle spinning around and rocketing down the runway. Even with an oxygen mask on for the ride up the exhausts fumes took their toll on Kevin and about three hours into the day he threw up in the plane. The medics were a little concerned but Kevin insisted that he felt better after getting sick and continued going. The pace was fast but having only one arm was taking it’s toll and Kevin started needing a break every twenty jumps or so. In the end Kevin made 151 jumps and set a new world for most jumps in one by a one armed skydiver.
With the sun making a rare appearance last Sunday there was no time for the usual Father’s day activities due to the bodies that needed dumping out of airplanes. This year however was a little because my own Number One Son (NOS) has started working at the drop zone as the aircraft loader, fueler and all around slave. At the end of the day things slowed down enough I was able to reward him with his second tandem skydive where I taught him how to do turns and forward motion in free fall and pull the ripcord. It was a pretty good Father’s Day after all.
After nine days of intense training the 2013 Skydive Twin Cities Accelerated Free Fall Instructors course is DONE! Five out of the six candidates are now qualified to throw innocent students out of perfectly good airplanes and see if they can catch them. The last part of the course was my favorite because that’s when we give the candidates real life training situations complete with made up student personas. The two I used this week were dead country singer John Denver and a rich Saudi prince named Mohammed. We use the personas to challenge the candidate’s ability to train challenging students and not get distracted. As evaluators we have a lot of fun trying to get the candidates to mess up. While Mohammed was a complete jerk who wouldn’t pay attention to instructions or even bend down to pick up his parachute, John Denver was the complete opposite, getting easily distracted offering to sign autographs and pose for pictures when his instructors were trying to give him instructions on the next jump. On the way to altitude I/John even led the plane in a rousing rendition of “Thank God I’m A Country boy” The poor candidates trying to keep me focused were beside themselves. But in the end, all but one managed to pass the course and have been released into the wild to teach falling and stuff. Seeing that I taught four out of the five that passed how to skydive in the first place made me quite proud.
When someone hit the “mute” switch on my XO’s fighter…
A beautiful day in Key West. Florida. I’m part of a three-ship of bogies, fighting against a pair of FA-18s from the east coast training squadron. I’m in a TA-4J, a two-seat version of our subsonic, single engine adversary aircraft. My squadron XO is in the single-seat version, an A-4E. Our flight lead is a good friend in an F-16N – he has a radar, he gets us to the merge.
We’ve had two hacks, and are half way through the third, when I hear a “knock it off, I’m flaming out.” It’s the XO, and already he’s starting to lose altitude as the engine unwinds. It was a single engine aircraft, with the one (the only) engine driving the generator and no battery, so I know he’s already deployed the ram air turbine, or RAT. The RAT is a basically an electricity generating windmill, that deploys from the fuselage cheek into the windstream when a handle in the cockpit is pulled.
I ease power to idle and feather the speedbrakes to maintain position. We’re at around 15,000 feet, descending at about 2000-3000 feet per minute. We’ve got some time before 3000 feet (our minimum controlled ejection altitude in that aircraft) but not lots of time. I start going through the engine failure checklist from memory on the UHF radio to help him out – like me, he has it memorized. Unlike me, he’s about five or six checklist steps away from punching out of what had moments before been a perfectly suitable airplane. It’s going to hurt, physically. Pointed questions will be asked at the mishap review. One tends to get distracted. […]
My good friend and fellow ferry Pete Zaccagnino was flying at Reno today training some rookie jet pilots when they clacked into each other. Pete said that everyone did a fantastic job handling the emergency which resulted in no injuries except to the aircraft.