Yes, you read that right. I transitioned into the AFF program at Raeford Parachute Center with a bang this last weekend and it was an absolute blast.
The weather was looking kind of dicey Friday morning and several other students in the First Jump Class opted to delay until Sunday. Unfortunately, that wasn't an option for me so I made the drive down to Raeford at the crack of dawn. I met Tony, who runs the dropzone, and Roy, who would be my instructor for the day.
Roy and I ran through the basics of the DZ's operation (signing up for student jumps, their AFF progression, signing out rental rigs, etc.) and then dove into the basics. A lot of this was information that I'd covered previously at CSS but Roy was excellent at putting a little more behind each nugget of information and filling it in with details from his own jump s and mishaps. From there we headed over to Paraclete XP for some time in the wind tunnel. After watching a group from JSOC make it look easy I climbed in for my slot. It was definitely a challenge to get and remain stable in the tunnel versus up top but that also forced me to really work on my technique. I felt like I did a pretty poor job in there but Roy and the Paraclete instructor both said I didn't pretty well. Go figure.
The clouds were looking pretty threatening after we got back from the lunch break so I resigned myself to not jumping on Friday. We covered emergency procedures (locate, rip, punch red, punch silver) and how to identify and handle basic canopy malfunctions. The day was rounded up with a couple of practices PFLs.
Since I wasn't jumping I headed back up to Raleigh.
I got back down to Raeford around 9:00 that morning and put my name up on the student board for my A level jump. My instructors Peter (another CSS orphan and all around expert skydiver) and Mike (one of RCP's veteran instructors) ran through the dive flow with me several times. They gave me good marks and even better feedback on my initial exit. I was a little flat and my leg position needed some work. My PHTs were definitely rushed along with the actual pull at 5500'.
This was my first time under canopy by myself and I was really stressing about that. I'd been studying the landing pattern all day but things still look quite different from up high. Controlling my own canopy was an awesome experience and aside from the flapping of my slider it was incredibly peaceful. The contrast from the rush of the wind at 120 MPH just heightened that sensation.
Tony guided me through the landing as I kept a close watch on my altimeter. I did pretty well until the landing. I still need to break some of the tandem landing habits.
The landing pattern for Jumps 1 and 2 View Larger Map
My second (and B-level) jump was with Roy and Chris (Ratboy? Nor sure where that nickname came from). As before we ran through the dive flow and talked about each aspect and in particular how to make a proper turn. My exit and initial arch this time around were better but I was still trailing my legs a little too much.
The turns were interesting. I could have sworn my instructors were helping with the motion but evidently they weren't. According to the logs I had good forward motion, turns, and altitude awareness. Let me tell you, I'm definitely going to be aware of the altitude! At 6000' you have about 30 seconds before you hit the ground if you don't pull chute. Now, if you do you'll spend a lot more time in the sky and I'm pretty sure the landing will be a bit softer.
I flew the same landing pattern as before but I flared way too high (60'!). I ended up doing a PFL but the only thing bruised was my ego. Obviously, my depth perception needs some work.
My final jump of the day was also the last load (number 15!) for the DZ. The sun was creeping low in the sky as we rode up. Sitting in the back of the plane was a new experience. That door was awfully close, especially when we crossed 1000' and unbuckled and opened it up. Wow. I felt the Korissa, another student that was sitting in front of me (and closer to the door) scoot closer to the inside of the plane. Obviously, I wasn't the only person a little unnerved!
The C1 jump is pretty straight-forward: Stay stable. After we left the plane I did a single PHT and two toe taps and then went into my arch. Once I was stable my instructors, Roy and Chris (different Chris) let me go. For about 20 seconds I was on my own in freefall. Awesome!
My last canopy ride down of the day was gorgeous. After some initial disorientation trying to find the DZ I settled into the holding area above the end of the runway and coasted down to 1000'. My landing pattern was a little tight but along the way I practiced my flares and worked to get up and forward in my rig for a proper standup landing. As I came in on my final leg I did my best to concentrate on the horizon to gauge my altitude and made a decent flare. Unfortunately, I didn't realize I was over a ditch and ended up dropping about 10' when I thought I'd be hitting the ground. Oops! My foot took the brunt of things but otherwise I felt great about all of it. According to Peter and Chris I was little wobbly initially so I know I need to work on maintaining my body position during my PHTs and toe taps.
It was a great day and I enjoyed hoisting a beer with the rest of the RPC crew after everyone was down. The ride back home was spent ruminating on my next set of jumps this coming weekend. Too bad we have a maintenance window otherwise I'd be out there Saturday and Sunday! Oh well ...