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Monday, September 17, 2012

Sky Ninja!

Yesterday, I jumped out of an airplane by myself for the very first time. Years ago, I did two tandem jumps with an experienced skydiver strapped to my back, but this was a completely different experience. This weekend, I went to a four hour course on Friday night and then had 3 more hours of instruction on Sunday morning before exiting the airplane alone and flying my canopy to the ground. I did have some help, however. This first solo jump was what is called an IAD or instructor assisted deployment. My instructor pulled out my pilot shoot before I jumped so it was trailing behind me and pulling out my main canopy as soon as I exited the aircraft. This ensured that the rip cord would be pulled even in all the excitement and adrenaline of my very first solo jump. In addition, another instructor was on radio and started helping me complete my landing pattern as soon as he saw I had control of my canopy. He instructed me to turn left and right and to "flare" or break when it was time. Obviously, I survived the experience since I am writing about it now, but I don't think surviving adequately describes how it felt. When I reached the ground I was smiling and shaking and so happy that I could barely gather up my chute and carry it to the van to return to the airport and debrief my jump.

One of the instructors recorded me exiting the airplane, for which I am so thankful because I can barely remember the seconds after letting go of the plane. To make the exit, I put my feet out on a step over the wheels of the plane. At this point the strength of the wind outside the plane became a little intimidating and I was not sure if I would be able to climb out the rest of the way, but I put my hands on the strut that connects the wing of the small plane to its body and slid my hands out further towards the wing. As my hands slid towards the wing, I stepped off the little step and was hanging from the strut flying with the airplane. My instructor said "go," and I said "should I let go?" He responded "yes" and I asked again, "Should I yet go now?" He said "yes," again, and I took a deep breath and let go. I remembered to keep looking up at the plane and I arched instinctively, but I did not count as I had practiced, "Arch one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand, four one-thousand, check canopy." I was falling, slipping away from the plane and then my canopy opened. As soon as I heard it start opening I watched it unfolding and inflating and took note that it was "there and square." I completed my controllability check by turning left, then right, and then braking. As soon as this was complete, Rudi, my instructor, began talking to me on my radio and giving me commands. At this point, I was so completely ecstatic; I kept looking around with a huge grin on my face telling myself, "this is really my life right now, I am really experiencing this." I looked all around and picked out the Sandias in the distance and found the landing area below. Soon, too soon, it was time to think about my landing. I tried to read the windsocks and determine the proper landing pattern, but Rudi beat me to it and I just followed his instructions. I landed off mark, but safely and softly. Once I was on the ground, I was shaking like a leaf and so happy and proud that I had not backed down and that I was able to allow myself to experience something so special. About 10 minutes later, when I had collected my chute and made it to the van, all I could think about was when I could jump next.

I will do a jump just like this one more time, and then I will jump from double the height with two instructors by my side and perform a true free fall before deploying my parachute. Eventually, hopefully, I will be able to jump completely alone and do fancy tricks like backflips!

Gnasher wishes he could jump, too.