Speed is Life

I’m the jumper in blue on the left

I made my first jump in 1986 and back then we thought we had it all figured out. You jump out of the plane, fly on your belly to grab your friends and then see how many formations you can make in the short time you have left before break off. For a short time jumpers sought to increase their freefall time by wearing big floppy jump suits called Balloon suits. The theory was the more drag you have the slower you go. The slower you go the more time you have to play. In practice they didn’t work very well because of the dirty air they produced. They also had a tendency to create very slow openings, which made things a little more exciting than they were looking for.

My first rig was exactly like the brown one on the right. (I’m old)

Fast forward to today, we still fly on our belly’s (sometimes) but my new favorite thing to do is what’s called angle diving. On an angle dive you chase the leader as he rockets through the sky in an almost straight down angle. It’s very challenging because you’re going almost as fast as you can go (250 mhp +) and if you make one tiny error you will be watching your friends from the cheap seats. And one of the coolest things about it is when you breakoff from each other you actually pull a lot of G’s with your body as you pull out from the steep angle and streak across the sky. It’s . . . exhilarating.

Boring

As many of you know, I own and run a skydiving school just east of Minneapolis called Skydive Twin Cities. My wife and I have owned it for 22 years and it is probably one of the most mellow and serene jobs one could imagine. NOT!

Managing a dropzone (DZ) is a crazy way to make a living. From the time I get up in the morning my day is filled with every kind of complicated challenge imaginable. There’s the normal mundane stuff that every small business owner must face. Staffing , accounting, payroll, advertising, normal boring stuff.

Then there’s the life or death decisions that I have to make every day. How’s the weather? Will someone die because the wind picks up and they get blown into the trees? Do I have to fire that jumpmaster because he isn’t good enough to save an out of control student in freefall? Or is a tandem instructor who’s landings are so bad that I’m afraid someone will get hurt? Or did they already hurt somebody on a landing but I’ve been friends with them for 30 years and just can’t bring myself to ground them? Is the plane making a funny noise? Did we run out of toilet paper? Did someone’s dog crap in the landing area? Is that line of powerful thunderstorms going to hit us and should I spend the money to fly the plane to safety or tie it down and take my chances? The list is endless.

There’s not enough room on the internet to cover every decision I’ve made this year so I’ll just give you the high points of the 2020 skydiving season so far.

Looks like and early spring. Call the company we lease the Cessna Grand Caravan jump plane from and tell them to send us the plane early. But they can’t. The plane is getting a new hot section (engine) and won’t be ready for weeks.

I was right. The snow has melted off the runway and we could have been jumping in late March. But it doesn’t matter because the COVID -19 pandemic has shut the world down.

Some of the jump staff haven’t saved enough money to live on and we have to give them advances on their pay. (beer isn’t free you know)

Wisconsin’s lockdown ends unexpectedly but we still don’t have our big 18 passenger turbine jump plane. But our little 4 passenger Cessna 182 is available. Can we start jumping? Can’t social distance by putting 5 people in a small plane. The skydivers don’t care, let’s jump!

The battery on the 182 is bad and we’re forced to jump start the plane almost every time.

The big plane is here! It’s the end of May and we’ve lost 1/3 of our season but we can start jumping. Opening day, the weather is great and the plane is filled with paying customers. We might actually survive the season!

We make it four hours before our first injury of the season. Ambulance on the runway to cart off a tandem passenger with a back injury.

Back to jumping.

Stop jumping. The pilot calls down with a flight control emergency. He has a broken elevator trim wheel and the plane is stuck in a nose down configuration. He lands safely and we discover the shaft on the trim wheel has broken. No one has ever seen that happen before. Back to the small plane. Send most of the jumpers home.

The plane is fixed! (Don’t ask me how)

Another great weather day! The dropzone is filled with jumpers again and things are looking up!

One of the instructors calls in and tells us he’s tested positive for COVID-19. Great, I tell the staff they all have to get tested. The instructor calls back. It turns out that he doesn’t have COVID-19 after all, just his girlfriend.

Last load of the day. Thunderstorms are coming and we have to hurry to get a student one last jump. I go along to make a jump just for kicks. Halfway up the pilot calls me into the cockpit. He has a chip detector warning light on the instrument panel. This warns us that there might be metal in the oil. (very serious) We all jump, leaving the pilot to deal with the potential engine out landing.

The plane is grounded.

How’s your spring going?

Mission Sort Of Accomplished

The day of 300 imperfect jumps is and the results are in. After battling rain, low clouds and turbulent winds Kevin the one armed skydiver called it quits after only 100 jumps. Now only doing 100 jumps when your goal was 300 might seem like a failure but when your goal is raising money and awareness for Parkinson’s Disease 100 jumps did the job because we raised $127,000 and got lots of media attention. And speaking of media attention the event is going to be featured on the Today Show, hopefully tomorrow. Why did Kevin stop jumping at 100 jumps you ask? Because he was getting tired and his landings were going from bad to worse. Making 300 jumps in24 hours is a worthy goal but it’s not worth getting hurt over. Oh, there was another goal that got accomplished during the whole event. I got to fly the PAC 750 and push it to it’s limits. If you’ve never flown a souped up hot rod of an airplane with just two people in it up to 2000 feet and then back down again (which of course you haven’t) then you are missing out. I was making a round trip in about 3 minutes and we even did a few under 3. That’s hauling a**! The flights were filled banking and cranking (it has a stick!) positive and negative G’s and quick pit stops. Pretty much the most fun you can have in plane. Well, close anyway.

And now for your viewing pleasure a video of one of the early loads of the day. I you’re timing the flight and see that it was over 3 minutes it’s because I hadn’t found my groove yet. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Also, the video was taken with one of those cool new 360 degree cameras, so put the cursor on it and move it around.

Here’s the link. 300 perfect jumps jump.

Rain Delay

IMG_0783

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.

IMG_0782I hope this clears it up.

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.

 

“Zero”

zero

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.

 

More Wingsuit Porn

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.