This weekend I’m at a small airfield doing some static line jumps, i.e. proper parachuting. A cable attached to the plane does the important work of pulling your ‘chute out, but after that you’re on your own. The main bits of training cover what happens in the first five seconds after jumping, and the last five before you hit the ground; everything in between is common sense.
The training is both interactive and entertaining.
We learn the basics first: what a ram-air system is, getting touchy-feely with an actual parachute. They’re surprisingly complex pieces of engineering: imagine a pack of sausages lying side by side, with holes in the skins allowing meat, sorry, I mean air, to swirl between sections in a controlled way, inflating the canopy part by part. Making sure this part by part goes smoothly is the main point of today.
‘Arching’ is fun. Splaying your arms and legs out and upwards creates a shuttlecock shape, with your hips out front (the instructor calls this ‘shagging a leper’) meaning you’ll fall stably and the ‘chute has a nice measured environment to open in. Getting this part wrong can have consequences I don’t want to think about just yet.
There’s a checklist post-exit from plane. We shout the checklist again and again. Is it big? Is it rectangular? Is it damage-free? Is it a nice colour? (OK, we added the last one as a joke since there are many girls in the training group.)
My practice exits are bit showy. “Stop leaping so much – you’re older than these guys and you think you’ve got something to prove.”
The plane we’ll jump from is one seriously cool chunk of metal: a little Dornier G92, slab-sided, scruffy of interior, and as noisy and smelly as an ancient diesel. But it shoots into the clouds in a way that suggests it knows EXACTLY what it’s doing. (Photo courtesy Alex Lane.) Scruffy frame and scuffed edges it may have, but everything is screwed together tight as a drum. Good workaday technology, just add pilot and stir.
When someone asks you what you this weekend, ‘Jumped out of an aeroplane’ is a pretty cool answer.