Sunday, June 17, 2012

Zizz in free-fall

Bonjour à tous!

Writing from my recently-cleaned room in Huntsville.  Currently waiting for my roommates to get home from a hiking excursion - I wanted to go, but am pretty sore from skydiving.  I'm not sure what caused it, but pretty much my entire torso and neck are sore.  We hypothesize that I was potentially kind of tensed up as I was tumbling in free-fall and may have screwed a couple things up.  That said, ... I went SKYDIVING.

Geared up and ready to dive.  I'm damn excited.
The skydiving trip has been a tradition in the NASA Academy programs for quite a while, and while not everyone has to go, my class of Robos was particular awesome 'cause all of us went.  We were given the choice to go tandem (strapped to another person the entire time) or solo (you pull your own chute and fly your chute on your own, but two instructors hang on to you during free fall).  I was kind of nervous about the whole "jumping out of a perfectly good airplane" thing, as our machine shop guru put it, but eventually decided that I wanted to go solo.  I realized that I wanted to be the one skydiving, not along for the ride... and I figured it might be the only time I ever go skydiving, so I decided to go all out. 

Six of us decided to go solo, so on Friday after work we came back to the dorms, where we had the first 5.5 hours of ground school with our kickass instructor, Omar.  We practiced how to land, the proper body position during free fall, and went through pieces of the dive flow.  On Saturday we arrived at Skydive Alabama at 8 and finished up training by sitting in a harness rig and responding to potential problems (ie, your lines are tangled, your chute fails to deploy, etc etc.)  We then got onto a horizontal trainer (fancy word for a padded table) and went through the entire dive flow sequence.  After that, I got suited up and dived!  This is how my jump went:

My jump buddy, Jason, and I suited up and ready to go =D
13000 ft: standing at the back of the airplane ready to jump.  Check left with my left instructor.  I get an "OKAY."  Check right with my right instructor.  I get another "OKAY."  Take a deep breath, go up on the balls of my feet, back down, and then step out. 

There is a lot of wind in my face and I know I am tumbling because I see the earth and then the sky and then the earth and then the sky.  Training kicks in so I arch with my legs and arms back and I stabilize.  I sort of realize that air looks funny when it's rushing past your face (120 mph at terminal) and then remember there are things I'm supposed to do.

11500 ft: First circle of awareness.  I check my horizon and see that I'm level.  Check the altimeter and realize I'm at 11500 ft.  Check with my left instructor.  I get the "check your arms" hand signal, and I fix my arms 'cause they're too high up.  Check with my right instructor.  I get an okay, so I begin my three practice touches.

Practice touches are for instructors to make sure we remember where the chute deployment handle is.  The sequence is arch-reach-touch each time.  The first two times my right instructor guides my hand to the handle.  The third time I find it on my own without any problems.

8500 ft: Second circle of awareness.  I check the horizon and see that I'm level.  Check the altimeter and it's 8500.  Check the left instructor.  I get "check arms" again, and also "extend legs."  I fix these things and check right.  I get "check arms" again because I let my arms go while I fixed my legs.  I get an okay so I start watching the altimeter.

7500 ft: air sort of looks liquidy and watery and there's a lot of it in my face.
7000 ft: It's kind of interesting that the earth looks the same from free fall as it does from the window of an airplane.
6500 ft: my instructors are tugging on my arms because they're too high again.
6000 ft: LOCK ON.  This means don't take your eyes off that altimeter.

5500 ft: Indicate that I'm about to pull my chute by moving my arms twice.  Waive, waive.  Arch.  Reach.  Throw.

Coming in for landing.  I'm the blue one.
They told us in training that one instructor would let go immediately and the other instructor would hang onto us until we were pulled from his arms.  I wouldn't know, because I felt the deployment immediately.  The loud rush of wind whooshed away and it was silent.  The chute pulled me into a sitting position and I saw the shapes of my instructors dive away below me.  I look up and my chute looks perfect - I don't have to do any adjustments, so I reach for the toggles, release them, and start steering towards my "play zone."

4000 ft: I get to my playzone and just chill out.  I experiment with steering a bit.  I look over at the lakes and the trees and the airfield and everything and realize how much I can see... this is the most awesome feeling.  I've been up in a Cessna/Piper as a passenger before but being suspended in the sky is just amazing.

2500 ft:  This is "decision altitude" - but luckily, I've successfully reached my landing zone and also had no problems with my chute, so my decisions are easy.

2000 ft: I accidentally drift out of my play zone because I've been doing tons of S-turns.  I try to get back to my play zone by 1000 ft (where you're supposed to start the landing pattern..)

1000 ft: I'm above the hangar, which is not where I'm supposed to be.  I hear my instructor over the radio.  He asks me to give him left-90, so I turn.  Now I'm above a bunch of planes.  Then I hear a request for a right-190, which I interpret as right-180, so I am headed back to where I'm supposed be. 

300 ft: I turn right 90 degrees and start coming in for landing.  There are a lot of people below me who jumped out of the plane before I did. 

15 ft: I flare my chute.

See now I'm on the ground.  :P
0 ft: I bend my knees ready for landing and slide into the ground.  I remain lying down for a moment just because I don't want to get up too quickly, but then I sit up, find the toggles and stow them, and pick up my chute.

I kinda want to go up again.

But unfortunately, I need to drop my chute off in the hangar, and I go through a debrief with my instructor.  He tells me that I went unstable when I pulled the chute (which still means I accomplished the first two pull priorities!) and that my arms go too high too often.  And then we fill out my log book.  He goes through a list of things to write in the 'remarks' section: good altitude awareness, remember to keep arms back and thumbs at ear level, etc etc... advance to AFF (accelerated free fall) level 2.

As Omar put it, "walking back like a badass."
So here I am, in my room, thinking about it and I just really want to go again.  I'm tempted beyond belief to go through the whole program and get my solo license, but it's expensive and I don't have the time to do that this summer.  I've always wanted to fly.  I think yesterday I did.

Love you and miss you all <3

1 comment:

  1. this is awesome and you are awesome! so jealous - a bunch of my fellow NRAO-ers and I are hoping to go before the end of the summer.