Skydiving 101

by Mark Wynn

Preface

A young jumper proves his worth.


Joey was relatively new to the sport of skydiving. He had about 70 jumps and he had logged most of these in Xenia, Ohio. He seemed to fit right in there, in fact that's what the owner Jim said to him once as they waited on the plane. Nothing could've meant more to him.

He had known of James West and "The Legend" for years as he dreamed of one day jumping. "The Legend" was the nickname of Skydive Greene County. A drop zone in western Ohio that was so legendary that it was the only drop zone in the US not affiliated with the United States Parachute Association, the governing body for skydivers in the US. "The Legend" predated the USPA by years and Jim always said, "Those rules are what I help develop, the USPA should pay me for affiliation." And the USPA knew it and that's why they never tried to shut him down.

Joey considered the nickname to really be more about the owner Jim. Jim never talked about his age but he was a test jumper in the military in the '50's. It was common knowledge he had "went in" more than once. Meaning he hit the ground a lot harder than he wanted to.

No question Jim was as tough as old hickory and was also Joey's hero. So that day when Jim casually turned to him and said, " Man, I'm really glad you started coming here. You're going to fit right in. We need to get you 500 jumps so you can be an instructor.", you cant really imagine the pride Joey felt.

There was an old black and white photo in the clubhouse of Jim back in the day. He had the old belly mounted reserve on and was climbing into an old Cessna looking back over his shoulder. Back then Jim wore a bushy black goatee that Joey thought made him look like a beatnik skydiver. Like Alan Ginsberg in a parachute.

There was also another less old photo on the wall of the clubhouse of a young guy in what can only be described as a shrine. That guy, Joey always thought bore a striking resemblance to himself and he wondered if that was the source of Jim's affection for him. But he had no idea and no one ever mentioned the shrine and Joey never asked.

One afternoon he and some guys were "dirt diving" a jump, planing their actual patterns they would perform, "relative work" it is called in skydiving. There was 5 of them including a cameraman. Two of the guys Joey had jumped with all summer. So they were comfortable with his skill level.

Obviously skydiving is a high risk activity and an unskilled jumper could hit you at 70mph+ and ruin your jump, so it was important to know the jumpers you were with. If you didn't then you could rely on the jumpers logbook. But at less than 100 jumps Joey's logbook didn't mean shit to the fourth guy. Who only knew that Joey's ancient jumpsuit was an indication he wasn't really experienced.

On the other hand, this guy Joey didn't know looked very experienced. He noticed the patch on the guys suit that said "World Record 300-way Chicago". That means you got some skills to be invited on a 300-way. 300 jumpers in the air can be a dangerous mess to someone inexperienced. Not to mention, if you fall out of it and go low and cant recover, you have just ruined 299 other peoples jump. Not counting all the fuel and time that goes into getting 300 people to 15,500 feet.

So anyway there they were "dirt diving" a simple 4-way. Not until the guy Joey didn't know addressed him directly did he realize this guy was a "sky-god", which means he's kind of a know-it-all dick. Mr. Sky-god was the organizer of the jump. It was from 10,500 ft and they would just try to turn as many "points", different positions as they could. So they all linked up head to leg to arm and going threw the different positions when Mr. Sky-god said, " ...and if we get this far..." with a look at Joey that only a Sky-god can give...That's when one of the other Jumpers, Alan, a man who had a modest 15,000 jumps spoke up for Joey and said, "Don't worry about this guy! He's good!" Joey was nothing but smiles inside.

The other guy, Norm remained quiet but once as he and Joey left the field one day he turned to Joey with a look of disbelief and said, "How do you do that? I've been jumping since '72 and cant do that!" He looked irritated and all Joey could think to say was, "Damn! That's the year I was born." It didn't help.

The roar of the Twin Otter signaled the end of the "dirt dive" and they all quickly lined up and boarded the plane. The climb to altitude was very fast in the Otter. In the Beech 18 it took forever to get to 10,500 and a lot of the time the pilot hit the green light at 10,000 just so he could turn around and go home. But the Otter was a top of the line turbo prop and it climbed so well you were as likely to jump from 11,500ft.

This plane was a high performance machine capable of all sorts of acrobatics. It could barrel roll and fly upside down all day long. In fact once Joey had a friend tag along in this plane as an observer and after everyone exited, the pilot not knowing the plane wasn't empty, put it into a vertical dive and Joey's friend spewed all over the rear of the plane. Good times.

As the door slid open, the wind and noise and chill blasted into the plane, jump starting everyone's pituitaries. The spotter looked down to pick out the big X in the field as everyone stood. Joey and his 4-way were last out of the plane, which Joey always preferred because it meant the air above you didn't have any human missiles rocketing threw your canopy when you dumped. If that did happen, and it did once in awhile , it could rip your limbs off. So there was one less thing to occupy your mind as you opened your canopy.

Time had come. The sky-god gripped Joeys arm firmly as they quickly shuffled to the door. READY SET and on GO they all shot out of the door and into the prop blast of a hurricane. That was always a huge rush to him. The next thing you noticed, if you're not too distracted by your stomach rising into your throat, was the shifting direction of the wind from the front of the plane to straight up from the ground. On this wind you can dance.

With this wind you can fly your body anyway an airplane can except up. But considering your position in relation to the other jumpers you could fly up. That's when Joey's old baggy suit came in handy. Joey was denser, 30lbs heavier than any other guy his size and he fell like a rock. But that baggy suit countered this and gave him a superior control. Joey knew the one thing Mr. Sky-god couldn't do as well as he was recover lost altitude. Cause no one seemed able to.

When you accidentally fell below the formation 10 ft or so you were out. Fly away was your only option usually. But with Joey's baggy old suit he had brakes! With all four limbs jammed down into the wind like an upside down shuttlecock, he could recover 10 ft in a split second. He had done it before and it always impressed people but they always dogged him about his suit. He never quiet understood why his suit mattered to everyone. Every time he walked out of the hanger he could hear people say things like, "Here comes 1970!" The only other guy with that kind of suit was an octogenarian who wore an old football helmet with flames painted on it and he shit his pants every time the plane's door shut, like one of Pavlov's dogs or something.

Back to the jump tho, it was going as expected, they turned a few points when Joey checked his altimeter. 3500ft was the supposed opening altitude. At 120mph 1000ft goes by really quick so it pays to pay attention. Now at about 4000ft they had just turned a point when joey checked his altimeter again and thought, "We got like two seconds for this last point." And he immediately zipped into position right as the formation broke and flew in different direction to open. As Joey did his "turn and burn" he knew he had just rocked it.

He knew when he dumped that the other three didn't even try to get that last point. He also knew it would all be so obvious when they reviewed the tape that he smoked them. Back on the ground they all walked toward to the hanger congratulating each other on surviving.

The cameraman ran in to get the picture playing and they all gathered around the TV. The cameraman hit play and you heard the familiar blast and READY SET GO! There they were in the sky with an alternating background of earth and sky for the first second or two until everyone leveled out. And there was Joey turning his points with Norm and Alan and Mr. Sky-god. His big baggy suit flapping wildly in the wind. It looked like you should be able to hear it on the tape. But Joey wasn't listening for that he was waiting for that last split second and here it came.

You could clearly see Joey zip around Mr. Sky-god and grab both his legs at the knees while everyone else just sort of floundered there. Right then Mr. Sky-god turned and said, "You didn't check your altimeter did you?" just like a sky-god, and Joey already had his answer ready and he said casually, " Yeah I did, and I saw we had enough time for one more point." You could hear a pin drop as Mr. Sky-god shut his mouth and Joey walked out triumphant.

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