27 Feb 2011

I'm a Skydiver... update!

Well, I've completed my skydive, and I have the certificate to prove it!

This is the story of my day...
We had to make a horribly early start as the airfield is an hour and a half away from my home and I had to be there at 8 o'clock in the morning... all the more painful as we're used to working through the night so we were getting ready to leave the house at the time we're usually preparing for bed! The friendly staff greeted us on arrival and gave my better half a much needed cup of coffee, then the "jumpers" were given a briefing to tell us what to  expect and what to do. We didn't have a lot of responsibility as we were all tandem skydivers, which means we were strapped to a qualified instructor, but we had to know which bits of the harness we weren't to touch and the position to assume when exiting the aircraft and when landing. After the briefing we had to wait for the weather to smile on us, but the morning mist cleared by about 10 o'clock and the first batch of 8 first-time skydivers went up soon afterwards. The rest of us waited in the comfortable lounge area and hoped the sunshine would last. I was in the third "lift", and after seeing the ear-to-ear grins as the first two groups returned, I was thoroughly looking forward to it. Finally my name was called and I went into the neighbouring building to get kitted up in a jumpsuit (with stout reinforcing on the bum... more of that later!) helmet, gloves, goggles and the all-important harness, then we all walked over to the rather odd-looking airplane. It had large windows along both sides and a huge, perspex, roller-shutter style door, and I thought it looked a bit like an airborne minibus! During the brief flight to get up to the required altitude (15,000 feet, which is almost 3 MILES!) my tandem instructor attached my harness securely to his own and indulged in some gentle teasing about how this particular aircraft was reserved for crazy people only and how accidents usually happen to the first person to exit the plane, which of course, was me! :-) Then it was time to jump. We edged to the wide open door and I knelt on the threshold, with my arms folded out of the way across my chest, and my instructor crouching behind me. The next thing I knew I was being launched out into empty air! The adrenalin rush must have been off the charts! We did a barrel roll, so for an instant I was looking "down" towards the sky and could see the airplane disappearing then, very shortly after we were once again facing the ground, I got a tap on the shoulder to signal that it was time for me to spread my arms out and assume the classic skydiving position. The experience of falling at 120 mph towards the ground is literally indescribable, but apart from the rush and excitement it was pretty cold and very noisy! All too soon, we'd fallen 10,000 feet in around 60 seconds and it was time to pull the parachute release. The deceleration must have been severe, but due to the design of the harness it was not at all uncomfortable. Then we were supported by the parachute, drifting gently down the current of air. I had a go at steering, which took a surprising amount of strength and resulted in spectacular g-forces as we swung round below the canopy. When I'd spent a few minutes playing and admiring the view, I resigned control of the steering cords to my instructor and, despite a brisk cross-wind, he brought us exactly to the target landing space. When we got to treetop height I had to lift up my legs, hold on to the back of my knees and stick my feet out forwards, and we made a perfect and remarkably gentle landing... skidding a couple of feet across the grassy field in the sitting position, hence the reinforcing on the jumpsuits! :-) When I had regained the power of speech and use of my legs, I was released from the coupling straps that had done their job so well in keeping me attached to my instructor (and, more importantly, to the parachute!) and we waited for the rest of the group to arrive on the ground. Once we were all assembled we were given a ride back to the office, handed in our suits, helmets, gloves and goggles, and rejoined the crowds of friends and family... I was slightly shaky about the knees, but I definitely had the tell-tale grin, and a memory that will undoubtedly stay with me for life. Oddly, although the free-falling was the bit I was most looking forward to, I actually enjoyed the gentle parachute decent much more... it was like being a piece of thistledown floating on the breeze! All in all, it was a truly awesome and amazing experience, and I'm immensely grateful that I had the chance to do it.
Equally important as my adventure, is the fact that I raised £440 for a very worthy charity, so I'd like to say a huge thank you to  everyone who handed over their hard-earned cash while examining me closely for signs of mental instability!

And would I do it again?

Hell, yes!

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