For a long time jumping out of an airplane was nothing but an unfortunate necessity of war. But last year some 25,000 “ordinary” Americans took up sky-diving as a sport. Sound crazy? Maybe. But they’re sane people who are doing it, and LDS youth are no exception.
How does it feel? The usual reply: “It’s out of sight.” Bob Brooksby, from Concord, California, has this to say: “The first time I jumped I was scared stiff. The second jump is fun. You say to yourself: ‘I did it once and I can do it again,’ and you do it. But it’s the third jump that gets to you. You realize what you’re doing, but you can’t believe you’re doing it.”
However, by the third jump you are at least aware of what’s going on. Even before the first jump, a student learns—
1. How to exit the plane with a good body position—back arched, arms and legs outstretched.
2. How to distinguish between a good canopy and a malfunctioning one.
3. How to deploy the reserve parachute if necessary.
4. How to fly the parachute. It has a forward speed of 3 to 7 mph, depending on the type used.
5. How to land without being hurt.
6. How to use the altimeter mounted on the reserve chute attached to the jumper’s chest. It tells the jumper his altitude at all times.
Then there’s the hop and pop. On a trainee’s first five jumps his parachute is opened by a static line—a 15-foot cord of strong nylon webbing attached to the plane—but, if the student has progressed favorably and acquired the necessary confidence, his sixth jump is a “hop and pop,” or “jump and pull,” one in which he is allowed to open his own parachute for the first time as soon as he exits the aircraft.
One jumper recalls his first hop and pop. “You say to yourself ‘This is it. You’re on your own this time.’ I was afraid I wouldn’t find the ripcord.”
“What was your feeling?”
“One of imminent doom. I said to myself ‘This could ruin the whole day.’”
Then after that sixth jump, true sky-diving begins. Now a trainee is allowed five seconds of free-fall before he pulls his ripcord. After practicing a five-second delay three times, he progresses to a ten-second delay for three jumps, then 15 seconds and 20 seconds; he continues jumping with progressively longer free-falls until finally he can free-fall for a full minute or longer, depending on what altitude his airplane will take him to. On a 60-second free-fall the sky diver falls at 120 mph for two miles of vertical travel. Altering his body contour he can control his direction and rate of descent. “You actually fly like a bird.”
At the height of 3,000 feet, the jumper pulls the ripcord and floats slowly at about four to ten mph under a billowing canopy to a bull’s-eye disc below.
“It’s fantastic,” says Michele Reese, a young jumper from Cut Bank, Montana. “You get up there in the sky and look down on the world, and you feel marvelous.”
Michele has participated in competition jumps. Last year she placed in the novice division of the Memorial Day meet in Salt Lake City. Jumpers are judged on timing, free-fall techniques, and landing accuracy.
One of the most exciting activities of skilled jumpers is “relative work.” While free falling, any number of jumpers maneuver together and join hands in a circle to form a free-falling star. For demonstration jumps at fairs and football games, jumpers attach colored smoke grenades to their boots so that they can be seen more easily by spectators on the ground.
For water jumps, sky divers head for yellow rafts in lakes or reservoirs and handle their parachutes with special techniques as they deal with wind and water.
All drop zones and airplanes must be reviewed and approved by the Federal Aviation Administration. Safety is a foremost consideration.
Every jumper keeps a logbook, recording the place, date, plane, wind conditions, accuracy, and general success of each jump. The jumper’s log is an official record, each jump signed by an experienced jumper holding a license from the United States Parachute Association. Andy Baggs, president of Brigham Young University’s Sport Parachute Club, has made over 350 jumps. Comments in his logbook read: “Stable,” “smooth,” “landing accurate.”
Karol Pipher, from Milford, Utah, has jumped more than 50 times. “Your logbook helps you remember how you felt,” says Karol. “Once I wrote: ‘Today I did a three point landing: feet, seat, and head. It hurt.’”
On a later jump, after more intensive instruction by the trainer, she wrote, “I finally did everything just like Bill said, and it felt good.”
What kind of people even consider this sport? Parachuting is considered a safe sport: reserve parachutes are professionally packed, newly tested equipment allows for better control, and training programs are effective. Trying it out at BYU are people like Mrs. Marvel Crookston, mother of 16 children. She took up the sport with her tenth child, Mary. Some of the younger ones are in line to try as soon as they reach the minimum age of 16.
Experienced jumpers comment: “Jumping looks simple, but it’s a highly technical sport that is always challenging. It gives you confidence and satisfaction.”
“For 6,000 years man has looked up at the birds and wanted to fly,” concludes Arnold Logie, the BYU club’s faculty adviser and an avid parachutist with almost 100 jumps to his credit. “Now thanks to modern technology, he can fly. As a kid I liked to jump out of haystacks. Now, instead of a one-second free-fall of about 15 feet, I can bomb out of a plane at 10,500 feet and for three-quarters of a minute spread my arms and fly, pursue another jumper across the sky, loop, turn, or whatever. At about 3,000 feet I open my canopy and ride it down. The parachute is important. Without it, you could do a long free-fall, but you couldn’t do it again. This would be tragic—jumping is too much fun.”