Thursday, October 27, 2011

Skydiving Duck: AFF 5 part two

I returned to the drop zone to retry level five (AFF).  As I waited for my instructor, I looked up and saw the plane fly over.   It was tiny- I could have eclipsed it with my little finger held at arm's length.   Little dots- the jumpers- dropped out like clockwork.  It looked like an early video game. 

I was smiling as I boarded the plane, but Fear snuck on after me.

He spent the next fifteen minutes hollering about the door.  I think he doesn't like it.
Getting myself to back out of said door is about as easy as getting a cat into a bath. 

My exit was sloppy, but then I arched correctly.  I couldn't believe I was floating (okay, falling) thousands of feet over the ground, unattached, and able to control my turns.
Freefall makes the "be here now" cliche real.   Body position, the altimeter, and what's happening right now replace everyday worries and nagging thoughts.  Maybe that's part of the appeal?  I'm too new at this to know for sure.

My thoughts after the chute opened:
Yay!  It opened normally..! ...where am I?  Oh... there's the landing area....   Far above me I could see the plane dispensing jumpers.  Below I could see other parachutes.  Cool!  I was in the video game!
Hey Super Mario, my cautious side thought, you're hanging 4000 feet in the air like a *@!! pinata.  Why don't you, ah, check to see if you can flare and steer the parachute before you take in the scenery?

I circled around my holding area until I got to 1000 feet, where I was to start the landing.  The plan is to fly with the wind at 1000 feet, turn 90 degrees (west) at 600 and turn another 90 degrees at 300 so you'll land in the wind.  I had a walkie talkie strapped to my helmet.  Some instructors flew me in with precise instructions.  Others waited until I was near the ground and told me when to flare (slow down the parachute).  I didn't hear anything.
After the 300 foot turn, I noticed I was heading straight for a flag in the middle of the field.
Way to go!  I thought.  The landing area is the size of Rhode Island and you point yourself at a stupid flag.  Now what?  I was too low for any real turns (turning drops you).  Then I figured,

1. If I focus on the flag, I'll hit it for sure.
2. If I focus on the area to the right of the flag, and very subtly pull on the right steering toggle, I'll pass it.

The ground flew closer.  By this time the walkie talkie usually squawked landing instructions.
I didn't hear anything. 
Wow!  I thought. They trust me to do it on my own?!  Okay... I'll just wait till I'm almost down,*  okay, flare to level off...  ... flare all the way...
It worked!  I landed gently (for me).  Just right of the flag.
Later I learned that the walkie talkie wasn't working.  The instructor was trying to tell me stuff, but the walkie talkie wasn't picking up.  So that's how I accidentally landed without assistance.

Here's the video:
*technically this is ten to fifteen feet over the ground, but to me it looks like "almost down" 

Click here to see how level six went.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Skydiving Duck VIII: The Big Spin (AFF Level 5 attempt, take 1)

The trouble started at altitude.  As with the previous jump, I was to leave the plane standing in the doorway, facing the plane, with my upper half  completely outside.   I grabbed the bar over the door,  turned around, backed out and... ...wait.  I was stuck.  Had my parachute somehow hung up on something?  Was I doing something wrong?  I couldn't get completely upright*.  
The instructor signaled me into the plane,  No, I wasn't hung up she said.  The only resistance was the wind, but that shouldn't be enough to stop me.  
Thanks to my bumbling we had to wait several seconds for the plane to turn back into position.
Way to go!  I thought.  You're holding up the whole plane!  I'm sure that's a good way to make friends at the drop zone.
A wave of fear and doubt hit me.  I was screwing up.  Causing trouble!  Being a pain.  Who did I think I was, doing this parachuting stuff? 
Soon it was time to exit again.  I stepped out, looked right, then left, and stepped out.

 It's funny.  My earlier drops from the airplane seemed terrifying and violent.  There was no question that I was falling, and fast!  Now they seemed  more gentle.   Not a cozy nap-time gentle.  More of a Hey!  I'm free falling again.  Time to get to work!
 The dive plan was  simple.  Circle of awareness and controlled 90 degree turns.  It was nothing I couldn't do.  Right? 
At first things  seemed good.  Right ninety degrees, left ninety degrees.  Then things went downhill...

...right ninety degrees, left 180 degrees, right 360 degrees.   I was blowing it! (Later I'd learn that I'd rushed into the turns without checking the instructor's hand signals, and was sabotaging myself with uneven leg positions.  Thus, the spinning.)
Then came pull time.
I arched, reached back and... ...where was that handle?  It was as if a gremlin had pulled it out of my reach.

Don't be silly, I thought.  It's back there somewhere.  Go grab it!  NOW!
But a few seconds into my hunt I started spinning again (in hindsight, I should have returned to an arch and taken a second swipe at it instead of hunting for it like soap in the tub).  I arched to stop the spin, spotted the instructor nearby and-
The parachute yanked me upright like a rag doll.
The instructor pulled for me.
From exit to pull time, I'd made hash out of the freefall.  This was going to be a do-over.  I obviously needed more practice.**
At least  canopy ride and landing went well.

Update: I took level five again and passed it.  

*I was wearing a slightly larger parachute this time around, so maybe I mistook the  wind resistance for being stuck.
**the instructor  suggested I work on keeping my legs even  in the tunnel.  The next day I did ten minutes of tunnel time, focusing on those legs..   I'm getting better.  We'll see how my attempt at level five goes...

Friday, October 14, 2011

SkyDiving duck VII: Arch Nemesis (AFF level four)

Normally skydiving seems interesting and cool, but when I'm in that plane watching people drop out the door, I change my mind.  Suddenly I'm nostalgic for the days when "trying something new" meant sampling Absinthe or making rugelach.
Why was I in this stupid airplane?  How on earth was I going to jump out of it?
Fear pestered me on the way to altitude.

This jump required a new exit.  Instead of crouching in the door between two instructors I'd be hanging out the door with one.  The idea of hanging out the door seemed even scarier than falling from it.  One of my subconscious rules must be "Don't hang from speeding vehicles."
When the time came I forced myself into position and went through the routine I'd practiced over and over:
Check right (instructor), Check left (propeller), kick forward... no wait... it was kick back, then forward.. hey, you're blowing it, dummy!  ...kick, kick, arch!

Another sad, sloppy exit was underway.  
This drives me batty because I know how to arch.  Why can't I do it right away like I'm supposed to?  Arrgh!
Then things got better.  I arched properly, the instructor let me go, and I stayed in place.  
I pulled on time and the chute opened normally.  No twists!

It's funny.  In the relative safety of the plane I feel scared, but when the canopy opens, I feel relieved.  This in spite of the fact that I'm dangling from a kite, thousands of feet in the air, with plenty of opportunities to get mangled*
My landing went smoothly...
...until the "contact with the ground" part.  I flared on command but there wasn't much wind, so it was another PLF roll.  I'm getting good at those rolls.
And that's how I passed level four.
As for level five, well, click here to find out what happened.
*following directions and paying attention minimizes these risks, but I try not to fool myself into thinking "Yay!  The 'chute opened.  Now I'm safe!"

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Skydiving duck VI: AFF 3, Take Two, with a Twist

I was still frightened on the plane ride up.  This disappointed me. Then again, my fear level had dropped a little.  The soul melting terror of my earliest flights had been replaced with a distracting unease.   
Minutes later I was out the door with a whoosh.   You're supposed to arch.   I thought I arched.  I certainly yelled "Aaarrch!"
Alas, the GoPro video (see below) caught my bad form, as did my instructors.
I suppose I could have defended myself with "Gee, I was distracted, falling out of a plane and all."  Instead, I added "Arch right away when you're out the door" to my to do list.

Lucky for me (and the instructors hanging on to me), my form improved.  They let me go.  Would I spin?  Flip over?
Incredibly, I was able to hold still.  Yay!
I kept a sharp eye on my altimeter.  I'd botched my last lesson by not pulling on time.  Nothing was going to distract me.   Not the wind, not the noise, not thoughts, not even a pterodactyl   or flying saucer...
...6500 feet, 6000 feet, 5500 feet, wave off, pull!
I felt the familiar tug of the opening chute.    Ha!  I'd done it!

Then I looked up.  What the ...!?
The lines were twisted like a wrung out  rag.  This wasn't the cute little "X" twist I'd had a few dives earlier.  This was a bad-attitude-"#@!* you!" twist. 
I grabbed the risers and tugged them apart, and kicked out the twists.  The parachute  became much more cooperative.

I kept my eye on the landing area and worked my way towards it.  I almost didn't notice that it was a beautiful day with a gorgeous view- the lake spread out like a flat emerald, the mountains  like piles of brown sugar.   Maybe that's good- one doesn't land safely by sight seeing.
I had radio help for landing.  I currently don't get how the pros know when to start the flare.*
Yes, I get that you're supposed to do it at ten to fifteen feet above ground level.  I get that you should be looking forward instead of down.  Still, as I get lower and see the weeds zipping by, it's tricky to judge.  I look forward to the day when I figure out how to do this on my own.
Well, I passed.   Here's the GoPro video.
See my sorry exit and my recovery (well, the body position could be better but hey, I'm new at this) yourself:

To see what happened on level  four, click here.

*Flare means pulling down on the steering toggles.  When you get to the ten-fifteen feet above ground level, you pull them half way down and hold them.  This levels you off (so you're flying parallel to the ground instead of at an angle.) for a few seconds.  Then the canopy drops and you pull the toggles all the way down, which slows your decent long enough to land you gently.  If you know what you're doing.