I have been sky diving for 10 years now, so I thought I would share a little diary of the day leading up to, and the Level 1 AFF skydive its self I did back in March 2008 at Skydive Netheravon.
I hope this will provide some excitement for anyone looking to book their Accelerated Freefall Skydive Course, and to give them an idea of what I felt before mine.
Journey to Netheravon (drop zone):
I set off at around 2pm. The car’s oil pressure light came on when I was stuck in traffic just past Portsmouth. After hearing some loud ticking over my stereo I decided to pull over as soon as I could.
I called the recovery guys and waited only 15mins. They turned the engine on, revved it and confirmed straight away that the top end was starved of oil, and that it could be down to my Oil Pump.
After giving me grief about my hand brake not being good enough to drive the car onto the ramp he continued to be rude all the way home, so it was an awkward hour and a half of silence all the way home doing 50mph.
I called a bunch of people asking to borrow a car, I finally borrowed my mother’s as she was in at the time I arrived at her house and didn’t need it.
I swapped everything I needed from the Audi to her Escort as fast as I could then headed straight back out again! This was around 6pm, I went via the chip shop for a hot dog and the Petrol station to put a further £25 of fuel in the Escort.
I arrived at the B&B in Upavon at 8pm, so it had taken me around 1hr and 40mins to get there, which was good. Just as I got shown to my room etc I offered to pay for it there and then, as I would be up and up early in the morning. This was where I was advised that they only accept Cash...for fucks sake. I drove into Pewsey (about 6 miles away along country road) to a Lloyds Cash machine I was told about. I found it and guess what? Yep, fucking out of order wasn’t it. I called the lady at the B&B and told her and she said there was a CO-OP nearby, so I drove for another few minutes and found it and got the cash (no smart phones in those days so no 3G to find ATMs).
I was in bed by 11:30pm, by this time I was so excited and not even the slightest bit nervous. The only thing that I had to be nervous about was I was going to an Army base, I guess as I'd never been to one before.
I woke up at 6:45am and snoozed for 10mins then got breakfast at 7:30am and got to Nethers for just after 8am. It was only a few miles up the road.
I booked in and got told by reception to wait in the Canteen/Bar, so I did, then about 15mins later a chap called KT called my name along with another student called Will. He then took us to the ‘AFF room’, here we filled in some forms and got a briefing of how today was planned out. There was just the two of us on the course. The whole 6 hours of training consisted of numerous breaks, which were actually becoming quite annoying as we didn’t want them, we just wanted to get on with it and learn, and we could see some moody weather coming.
We did various exercises and drills in the Training Room, such as learning the process of exiting a plane with the use of a replica to jump out of. I was asked to put on a rig and pull out the throwaway pilot chute so that we could unpack the parachute. At this stage we were shown what to do once we have landed and how to deal with cross winds that may try and inflate the canopy again. We used other tools and devices to practice our position in freefall, along with some exercises to gain muscle memory, so that we can easily adopt the freefall position once exiting the aircraft.
Later in the day we walked over to the Aircraft Hangar and used the Suspended Harnesses to carry our drills and checks as if we were under canopy. One of the drills wasn’t particularly friendly, it involved being shaken about by KT our instructor, in order for us to be put into panic. He did this and then asked us to carry out our reserve drills, like we would in the event of a malfunction. It was surprisingly difficult to concentrate on doing this when being shaken all over the place. However I managed to carry out the drills.
We then practiced some PLF’s (Parachute Landing Fall), for in case we end up having to land downwind/crosswind, or any reason where we think we may need to use it.
One of the final things we did was strap on harness that had a custom made reserve handle and cutaway pad to it, so that we could practice our reserve drills. We were shown a variety of photos with problems and malfunctions and the instructor would point to them and we would have to react quickly.
Later on we did a written exam, which covered everything we had done that day, including all the bits we had to remember from the PowerPoint presentation we had looked at. We both got 100%...well, it would be worrying if we hadn’t!
After all our training not expecting to be able to jump that day due to 20-25mph winds that had crept in, we got told around 3:30pm to get kitted up. We went to reception and got our Radios, Altimeters and Goggles, then went to the rig store and got our rigs, and then put on our jumpsuits and helmets. We were expecting to wait around an hour, but its best to be ready in case we get moved forward.
At 4:30pm KT confirmed that we would not be jumping today as the wind is very gusty and it was getting dark sooner than expected. This for some reason built up some anxiety. Also a bunch of Static Line students were landing over a mile away due to the strong winds and I think this played a part in us not being able to jump.
We went and got some dinner at the Dog and Gun pub just outside the barracks. After we hit the Nethers Bar! I had around 4 or 5 pints of Guinness (£1.80 a pint!) and a shot of Bacardi 151, which was handed to me by the owner of the bar (same guy is the CCI at South Cerney DZ too)...I didn’t really have a choice in the matter so I drank it and instantly felt sick, and it was at that point I remembered what KT had said to us earlier in training...“If you turn up minging in the morning before you’re jump, I will send you straight back to bed for a few hours!” Needless to say, I decided to head to the bunk house and sleep.
I actually got to the bunks around midnight and found that the bed I had left my sleeping bag on was still my bed (people have a tendency to move your stuff and steal the bed).
For the next hour and a half people were coming in, turning the light on and off and talking. Once this died down, then people started snoring, which again caused people to wake up and start throwing things and shouting. The snoring continued throughout the night. I got around 3 – 4 hours sleep. I woke up around 6am and got out by 7:30am.
I had my rig and gear on and was manifested by 9am. I was starting to get ‘The Fear’ a little bit now, not badly, but it was escalating as it had dragged on for so long. Now it looked like it was going to happen as the weather was amazing...easily the hottest day of the year so far with absolutely no wind!
I was in the AFF room practicing some drills with Will and a couple of other AFF students that were doing their consolidation jumps that day. Vicky came in (another AFF instructor) and told me that I was booked on the aircraft ‘Foxy Lady 2’ in 28mins time!
We quickly ran through some hand signals with her and our reserve drills a few times. I made my way out to the benches and met up with Vicky again and George who would both be taking me on my Level 1 jump. George was going to be on my Primary side, with Vicky on the Secondary (left). We practiced exiting the plane a couple of times on a small aircraft door replica, so they were sure that I was clear what I had to do.
We got asked over the loud speaker to board the minibus, which would drive us to the Hanger and grass runway. We waited here for 5 – 10mins with the other 12 people for the plane to land and taxi in. I was first to board the aircraft and was asked to sit at the back on the floor, with my back against the seat next to the pilot. There are no seats in the rear of the plane, so we made 5 rows of 3. On board with us were 3 of the Red Devils display team.
I was facing the rear of the plane, so was flying backwards. I began to start telling myself I would feel ill because of it, but I knew it wasn’t true, it was just the beer head I had telling me that. There was no turbulence whatsoever, so that was nice, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.
Keeping a close eye on my Altimeter as we gained height, we got to 8,000ft and the door opened, this was so we could let the Red Devils out so they could deploy right away and practice their Canopy Relative Work (CReW). These guys had looked so calm all the way up, laughing and joking a little bit etc. As the door opened there was a rush of cold air that filled the plane. We yawed a little bit as one of the guys asked the pilot to turn slightly, this caught me off guard a bit and made my stomach drop. The plane then cut back on throttle, it felt like we were going to fall out of the sky (pun not intentional) as we lost some height.
After the 3 of them jumped out, Vicky being Jump Master closed the door and we continued to climb to 13,000 ft. At this point George asked me to talk him through the skydive. I explained how the Hotel checks would work and what all my tasks were right up till my canopy opens...this was good as it took my mind off the jump a bit.
I was relatively scared at this point, but only about 40%, the other 60% was like ‘fuck yeah! I’ve waited for this for ages!’
The door opened again, I felt the rush of cold air and watched the jumpers in front of me all exit the plane differently. The guy right in front of me, who was doing one of his AFF console jumps exited the plan and span straight onto his back...this sent a chill down my spine as I saw him scramble.
I was asked by Vicky if I was ready to sky dive, I then did my hotel checks and exited the plane with a huge arch and chin up.
A massive rush of wind hit me combined with noise. We levelled out after the exit and I read my Alti and got a thumbs up from Vicky on my left then I got a tap, she asked me to straighten my legs more with a hand signal. I did this and then got the thumbs up and read my altitude to George on my right who also gave me the straighten legs signal + a thumbs up.
I did my 3 practice pulls a bit aggressively and rushed then checked my heading and alti every 3 seconds until I got to 6200ft, at which point I waved off and reached for my throwaway handle and couldn’t find it! I was reaching all over my back for about 3 or 4 attempts until I got a hand that guided me to it (Cheers George!) I then threw the pilot chute out.
I counted to 4, and after a strong pull on my harness I looked up at my fully inflated canopy. I checked for anything abnormal, once I saw it was ok I ripped down my toggles and relaxed.
At this point my Alti read 4500ft. I travelled along the outside of the DZ border and spent a lot of time on half brakes, which was silly as it took me ages to get down. I had forgotten to do the two pumps on the toggles for 5 seconds, so I did this when I remembered and the canopy slowed right down and then dropped me a few feet.
I then made some small 90 degree turns, followed by someone on my radio asking me to leave the canopy on full drive...whoops.
At 1000ft I made my way downwind and at 400ft I turned into the wind and landed next to the white wind arrow. I had been told in training when to flare (10ft) but I also had some radio assistance too and I landed well. I took a couple of steps after landing and yelled “FUCK YEAH!” I rounded up the lines and packed up the canopy and walked a minute or so to the check-in computer with my ears needing popping.
...best £345 I ever spent.
I went on to complete the course, but it took me almost a year for a couple of reasons:
- I paid for each level as I went, as couldn't afford to pay for the full course up front
- The weather Gods were against me every time I came to do my next level
Then to now:
Once I did get my A licence, I got motivation to smash out as many jumps as I could on my free weekends so I could get my B licence (50 jumps and some exams).
After B licence I lost a bit of motivation, as C licence seem so far away (200 jumps), so I decided to take up CRW (Canopy formations), I was lucky enough to get in with a crowd that were happy to teach me.
I got my CF1 and was part of a team for a little while The CRWsaders, but only took part in training, I never did any events.
At this point I started to miss freefall, I mean CRW was fun, but hopping and popping started to get old and I was itching to get back to terminal velocity!
Since then over the years I went on to formation sky diving, to tracking and then finally landed in my home of Wingsuiting. I cannot get bored of Wingsuiting. Its fun even on your own, and its MEGA fun with other people.
I also try to remain as active as I can with BASE jumping, which does mean travelling overseas a fair amount to chase the nice weather.
Thanks for reading!
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