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Charlie Hatton
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Howdy, friendly reading person!
I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
If you're a science and/or silliness fan, give it a gander! See you soon!


#36. I’ve been skydiving. Twice!

You should go. Trust me on this one. I’m scared of heights, and I went. At least, I was scared of heights. Once you’ve stared down at the world at three thousand feet from a moving plane, though, your perspective changes just a tad. Looking down from an extension ladder or riding one of those glass elevators just doesn’t seem so bad, anymore. Funny how having the shit scared out of you can give you a whole new perspective.

My wife went too, though only once, if I remember correctly. I think she would have gone again, though — don’t believe that it scarred her for life or anything. I think she came the second time, after I told her how goddamned cool it was. She’s a trooper. (And now, she’s a paratrooper! Yay! Fun with words!)

So, anyway, just so you don’t think that we took the wussy way out, I’ll give you a short description of our jump experience. These were not tandem jumps, with an experienced instructor riding on your ass all the way down. No. Neither were these simple ‘boot your ass out the door’ jobs, where you get a chute pack and a shove and you really don’t have to do anything. No, our experience was a bit more harrowing than all of that, so I think it deserves a mention.

For both jumps, I had to go through a training class, where I learned (and later, re-learned) all about the equipment, and the proper form, and the emergency procedures. (The latter of which were very simple: 1. Deploy chute. 2. In case of failure, deploy backup chute. 3. In case of backup failure, bend over and kiss your ass goodbye. 4. Optionally, wail and shriek like a horror movie bimbo as you plummet to a painless, but rather messy, death.) The class took about two hours or so, and then they fitted us for jumpsuits, helmets, boots, and chute packs. Then a bit more waiting until it was my group’s turn, and they herded us into the plane.

I don’t know whether any of you have been skydiving before. Maybe when you think of it, you imagine an aircraft from an old war movie, or maybe you younger folks picture the planes that they use to transport the X Games sky surfers. Well, neither of those quite matches what we got. Our plane was an old, beat-up Cessna, with most of the equipment removed. The pilot and an instructor took the two seats up front, while three of us sat on our knees in the back for the bumpy ride up to diving altitude. It wasn’t ‘comfy’, we couldn’t stand straight up, and we couldn’t hear a damned thing for all the engine noise. (Did I mention how frickin’ cool it was?)

Okay, so when it got to be my turn, I shimmied into position by the door and did what they’d taught us in class, which was this: First, I stood up, as best I could, and grabbed onto each side of the gaping-open door. I got my first glimpse of the ground at this point, which drove my jackhammer-pounding heart down past my stomach. Near my pancreas somewhere, I think. Or possibly near my bladder, because all that thumping made me have to pee.

Anyway, as I was taught, I then took my right foot, and stepped — yes, stepped — onto the small patch of linoleum pasted on top of the wheel of the plane. I grabbed onto the wing — again, as I was told to do — and lurched my left foot out as well. I was now standing on the wheel of the plane, behind the right wing, and reaching over the wing to grip the front edge. Seems bad enough, doesn’t it? Scared yet? Don’t worry, it gets worse.

So, the procedure at that point involved a bit of courage. Yeah, the shit so far was easy, at least by comparison. The next step was to scootch my hands outward along the wing, away from the plane. If you have even a reasonably accurate picture of the setup here, then you can’t help but wonder how the hell one would be able to remain standing on the wheel at this point. Well, one wouldn’t. And neither did I. But that’s okay, because I wasn’t supposed to. I was supposed to, and did, let my feet lift off the ‘ground’, such as it was, and flutter like a paper streamer from the plane while I hand-scooted halfway to the end of the wing. That was the hard part. (But oh so cool. You have no idea.)

After that, it was all downhill. (Heh. Little chute humor for you there.) Once at the ‘launching spot’, I just looked up (which helps to arch your back properly), let go, and I was off. We beginners were doing ‘static line’ jumps, which meant that my ripcord was attached to the plane. I had maybe a second of freefall, whooshing away from the Cessna, and then the cord yanked me upright, and my chute out. I got to practice turning and spinning and maneuvering all the way down, and made a stumbly, though painless, landing. Both times, in fact. Maybe the third time’s a charm in that department.

All in all, skydiving’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever done, and I’d love to try it again. I had dreams at the time of going back until I could graduate to ‘real’ jumps, higher and higher up. And then without the static line, and finally with a certificate that would let me jump anywhere that offered the service. But I was a poor graduate student at the time, as was my wife, so we had little time and less money to pursue an extreme sport such as this. Still, we had a blast when we went. You should try it, really. Afraid of heights? This’ll cure what ails you. You say you’re not afraid of heights? Not afraid, hmm? You will be, young Jedi. You. Will. Be.

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