Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Would Today Be the Day I Got My "A?"

 Would today be the day I did the grad jump and get my "A" license?
Fellow students had theirs.  What was taking me so long?

There were signs I'd need more work.  Recent coach jumps (more than required) showed my stability and docking needed work.  To help things along, I'd spent ten more minutes in the wind tunnel, where I was stable.
"Is this your grad dive?" my DZ friends asked.
"It is if I pass it!" I said.
 But would I pass?
As I waited for my instructor, something spooky glided across the landing area.  A dust devil! 
Uh oh.  I knew they were bad news.  Whirling thugs who snuck up on folks and slammed them into the ground.    If these are on the loose, I thought, I'm not jumping.
Minutes later, student jumps went on hold thanks to unpredictable winds.
A mock up, hanging three ring release gizmo stood nearby.   I was surprised nobody was using it.  With my instructor's permission, I played with it..  Pull the red handle, pull out the lines- clink!  Reassemble,  repeat.
The winds calmed down.  I was  cleared to go!
I repeated the dive plan in my head as the plane gained altitude:  Exit with the instructor, dock, follow the instructor up or down, dock two more times, break off by 6000, track away, pull by 4500.  This was doable.
We left the plane. 
I found myself on my back.  I flipped myself  in place.  Time to dock, I thought.  Then I flipped over again.  What was going on!?  I was fine in  the tunnel.  Why was I getting more unstable in the sky?
I knew better than to get upset.  I got stable, docked...
... let go, followed the instructor "up"... dang, she was rather far.  Was I backsliding again?  I tracked to her for a second dock.  I followed her down, tried to dock, and missed.  One more try... no wait, what's the altimeter say?

 The needle had passed 6000.  Break away!  Track away!
 I turned, tracked and almost flipped over again right before I pulled.   The canopy popped out.
Ah well, I thought.  I didn't get the three docks in  but at least I got two of them.  Maybe next time I'll pass.
My landing was soft and could have been a standup, but guess who tripped?  Then a gust inflated the canopy and dragged me across the landing area like a sack of potatoes*
My instructor  would have passed me with only two docks, but my late break off and pull had  pushed me into DoOverville.  (She didn't use the term "DoOverville").
 Fair enough.  As much as I wanted the "A", I wanted to earn it properly.  If I needed a few more attempts to master the routines, then that's how it went.
Then I saw it: 
My instructor played back the video she'd taken of me with the helmet cam.  I couldn't believe how sloppy my form was.  I looked like I was doing a Jerry Lewis routine.
What was going on?  After all these skydives and so much tunnel time, why was my stability getting worse?   My inner critic tried to throw a hissy fit, but I couldn't 't take him seriously.
Okay, I thought, I need to keep an eye on that altimeter.  I need more practice.  I need to be more stable.
 But how do I get more stable?
 I knew from earlier dives and the tunnel that I was capable of being stable.  What was going wrong in the sky?

* I might have prevented the whole ride if I'd pulled one of the steering toggles down to begin with.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Skydiving Duck: Far to Go

 I was supposed to do a student solo, but the clouds came in.  Weather hold.
Then the sky got bluer, and my flight was back on.  I was the first one to the loading area... 
 ... but it was still  too cloudy for students. We had to wait.
(It didn't bother me too much.  I liked the idea that they were interested in our safety.)

Eventually the weather cleared enough for us students to join the pros.  It was still cold, and I was glad I had several layers of clothes under the jumpsuit.

The plane took off.  Then it was my turn to leave.  When I peeked out the door, I noticed the drop zone was slightly  further away than usual, but thought, well, the green light's on, people jumped before me, people are waiting to jump after me, so out I go!
It was cold.  My clothes kept my body warm, but my face nearly froze off.
Then came pull time.

 After the controllability check, I noticed I was still somewhat south of the drop zone.   I headed toward it.  Would I make it back? 
3000 feet above ground level:
I was closer, but keeping an eye for alternate landing areas...
2000 feet:
Almost there, almost there...
1200 feet:
Okay, I was over the drop zone now, but still a bit south of the student landing area.  Since I was facing the wind, I wanted to keep going straight.  That way I'd land at the far end of the student landing area-
-but a few jumps earlier I'd gotten in trouble for not doing the landing pattern properly.  I did not want to be the dummy that did that again.   
Gotta do the landing pattern, I thought.
1000 feet:
Okay, turn for the downwind, okay, wait for 600 feet before crosswind- dang, I was getting kinda close to the "real" landing area for people with more experience.  By the crosswind leg I was over it.  Okay, I was looking out for other jumpers, but still...
Uh oh,  I thought. I'll bet I hear a few words about this escapade.  I hope they don't kick me off the D.Z..
I turned for the final approach and landed standing up.  I 'd have been proud if I wasn't so close to the wrong landing area.
Sure enough, the latter was (politely) pointed out to me.  When I explained how I ended up that way I was told in this case I would have been better off following my original plan (skipping the pattern and continuing straight to the far end of the student area, as there was less traffic), or perhaps going crosswind and downwind a bit higher than usual to keep me from straying where I wasn't supposed to be.  Made sense to me. 
Nevertheless, my inner critic was steamed...
....but I wasn't.  I'd learned one more thing not to do, and had managed to learn it without getting hurt or trashing the place.  That was good!