Monday, September 19, 2022

Free Falling (From A Plane)

 So there I was, falling from 10,000 feet....

This makes for either 1)  The worst writing prompt ever ; 2) An actual emergency; or 3) A skydiving event this weekend.

Thankfully, it was the third.

The genesis of this lies in my current employer's spot rewards program.  They have contracted with a company to give employees "experiences", from something as simple as a beer tasting or art lesson to something as complex as a helicopter ride.  One receives them at certain work anniversaries - I received one last year as part of my X work anniversary, which after careful deliberation was the two hour massage - and for certain noteworthy recognitions.  In my case, I got another one.  I had thought about skydiving the first time, but a massage to kick off the Christmas vacation sounded too good to be true.  When the second reward arrived, it was as if the universe was saying "Go do it".

Okay Universe, you win.

This was the second attempt that I had made - our first attempt two weeks ago was canceled by inclement weather after we reached about 7,000 feet.  To that extent I was already prepared as I had been through the pre-flight training and even going up before.

The jump team consisted of three:  myself, M - my tandem jumper (he described himself as an ex-army paratrooper with a degree in Computer Engineering that realized he would rather make a living jumping -, and C, who was acting as our camera person (yes, I paid for the pictures and the video. Who knows if I am going to do this again).  We pack into a small Cesna after the pre-flight video and up we go. C is next to pilot facing backwards, M sits across from her with his back the tail, and I my back is planted against the pilot's seat.

Prior to two weeks ago, it had been years since I had been up in a small plane.  One forgets the noise and the fact that a small plane moves around a lot more than a jetliner.  We climb up over the checkboard pattern of fields and small homes.  Once or twice the video goes on and I wave and give thumbs up, otherwise I am watching us go up and up and up over about 15 minutes. We start to not only go through the clouds, but top over them.

Probably two minutes prior to the jump I kneel before M and he attaches the harness - four connections points I remember, any one of which can hold 5,000 lbs.  I lean back against him.  He gets closer and, yelling, reminds me that we are completely attached and he is completely in control and has me and just to enjoy the ride.  I have a minute or so to digest this, then C moves to the door under the wing, pops it up and open, and then crawls out on the step above the wheel, grabbing the strut.

We move to the door, with me firmly planting my feet on the step above the wheel to prevent my feet from blowing away.  I feel M get in position behind me.  Am I ready, comes the call.

This was the only moment I projected I would have fear:  sitting on the edge of the plane, 10,000 feet up with nothing below me.  I give the thumbs up.  I feel M rocking behind me. One, two...

And we are out.

We are suddenly hurtling through the air as we the plane simply slips by us - or more correctly, we slip by it.  We do a complete flip over and suddenly I am upside down, looking up at the plane's fuselage as it passes over, then flipped back over facing the ground.   I can hear M shouting through his helmet, bellowing celebratory hoots.  I go to shout as well; not only is the sound ripped away before it can come out but my mouth becomes instantly drier than if I was sleeping with two plugged nostrils all night.  I am in the initial jump position:  Head back, legs curled under like a banana, both hands gripping my harness pretty tightly

The drogue chute - that little parachute you often see - deploys; we are now falling at the relatively "steady" speed of 120 mph/193 kmh.  C is now besides us and extends her arms; belatedly I realize she setting up for a fist bump.  I return it with the awkwardness of any 50+ year old, trying to be cool and failing miserably.  She falls away as we continue to drop down, ploughing through clouds like a knife.  M prompts me to release my harness and get my arms out; another round of pictures with me giving thumbs up and "Shout At The Devil" hands.  

We are only about 45 seconds into the jump.

There is a moment where suddenly I feel myself falling with M.  The main chute has deployed; with a start I am pulled back in.

The rush of noise has suddenly disappeared; we are floating above the mosaic we saw going up. To the North and East I can see small squalls of in the distance.  The silence is  complete, except for the vague blowing of air and the whistling of the folds of the parachute.  The weather, hot and humid below, is pleasantly cool.

M controls our descent with two handles, one on the left and one on the right.  Do I like roller coasters, he asks.  When I respond in the affirmative, he pulls down hard on the right handle - suddenly we are corkscrewing wildly down to put the speed of a roller coaster  to shame. I scream my lungs out, laughing all the way.

He passes the handles to me.  Now I am in control of the descent.  I am much less of a hurry; I slightly turn to one side and then to the other for the view.  The silence continues to amaze me.  I comment to M that I understand how this could be addictive.  He just laughs.

At some point he asks to take back control to land us.  I give the handles back; as he continues to guide us down, I just stick my arms out wide and float above the landscape.

Our landing is almost un-noteworthy:  I pull my legs up and out straight in from of me as M flares the parachute; we sit down on our butts and slide about two feet.   We are less than 10 feet from where we boarded.

Like that, it is over.

There is another round of pictures and quick video and then, apologizing, C and M run off as they have a line of customers eager to have their own experiences. I stroll back a little more slowly and disengage from my harness.  Almost like that, the experience over - beyond the wait, the experience was perhaps 20 minutes in total, and 15 of that was climbing into the sky.

I am asked, on the video and afterwards, would I do it again.  I answer yes - I am sure most people do - but I think I mean it this time.  It is not because of the adrenaline rush - which is palpable, and which I feel again even as I write this.  It is not for bragging rights - but those are real as well.  

It is for the simple reason that, knowing that I would have that moment of fear, I went ahead and jumped anyway.

There is a philosophy of thought that states that one reason we grow old and fearful is not just because our bodies find they can no longer do certain things.  It is that we reach the point that we no longer put ourselves in the position to challenge ourselves, to  put ourselves in uncomfortable situations and make ourselves adapt to the circumstances.  It does not have to be dangerous of course - and while skydiving is likely not for everyone, at no time did I feel that I was ever in any danger - but it does have to make us stretch.  To the extent that skydiving, or any other activity makes me confront a fear or discomfort, I will do it.

Growing old, as they say, is given.  Growing up to fit into that skin of growing old is completely optional.  Sometimes it is just as simple as putting your feet onto the step and rolling out.


  1. Nylon122:48 AM

    Jumping voluntarily out of a functioning airplane is one way of stretching yourself TB, congrats on the experience and the solid tale today.......... :)

    1. Thank you Nylon12. It went from a "hmm, that is interesting" to "hmm, I think that is something I can do - why not?" And at this point, really why not?

  2. Anonymous3:07 AM

    It sounds like you had a great time. I don't think I could do it unless I was under duress (plane damaged and about to crash). I am afraid of heights and even snorkeling over a deep saltwater pool in crystal clear water gave me the willys, lol.

    Your description of what your jump was like was great - thank you for allowing me to share it vicariously.

    1. Oddly enough, 6 to 8 foot ladders are far more disconcerting to me than jumping out of a plane was. Mostly, it has to do with stability of the surface (and to be fair, the plane was stable).

      Many years ago when we visited the Queen Mary in Long Beach, part of the tour was a catwalk across some kind of deep pool in the ship. With a figure in a diving suit at the bottom. The only I could get across was to look directly ahead and not down, so I completely get the deep pool.

      Glad you enjoyed it and hopefully conveyed the experience enough that you were almost "there".

  3. You did something I hope to never voluntarily do. But I just hate not having my feet on the ground in general. I'll challenge myself in other ways.

    1. Ed, for me it is not so much have my feet on the ground as the stability of what I am standing on (as noted above, ladders are never comfortable). That said, I cannot imagine having to do this under "real emergency" circumstances. I am sure the risk goes up exponentially.

  4. Anonymous7:57 AM

    So wonderfully descriptive. Feels like I went along!

    1. Fantastic! So glad I conveyed it appropriately. In a lot of ways, it was a unique experience in my life.

  5. Great post, TB. It is something I will never do. Just like skin diving. I am claustrophobic. Not seriously ( well maybe, never tested it), but enough that I would not be able to function, even with the air tank.

    You all be safe and God bless.

    1. Linda, interestingly this has been a point of discussion here. Of the five of us, two of us have now done it (turns out Nighean Gheal did it last month and forget to tell us until she posted something on social media last week). Nighean Bhan wants do it upon graduation from college. The Ravishing Mrs. TB and Nighean Dhonn have no interest. Not sure that mirrors the population.

      I am a bit claustrophobic as well - not to the point it impedes me, but I prefer open space to closed in.

  6. As others have said, great post, enjoyed the trip, and so not for me.

    I would also worry about the extra charge for deep cleaning of the sky diving suit.

    1. Thanks John. Reflecting back, the almost overall absence of real fear is interesting to me, although I have no idea where that came from. Really. I am one of the most fearful people I know.

  7. Anonymous7:50 PM

    Good narration as always.
    My youngest son was scared of heights and uncomfortable in jetliners. Afraid to help me on the roof hanging Christmas lights. Out of HS he joined the Army and went airborne with the 82nd AA.

    I think the airborne bit was just his way of ensuring he got out of his fears. Nearly 10 years out now and a doting father of three small children. Yes he’s fearless now….

  8. Anonymous7:51 PM

    Franknbean forgot to add. Hey there TB
    I’m still following

    1. Hey FNB! Thanks, and sounds like your son definitely confronted his fears directly.


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