What is parachuting like?
June 7, 2004 4:06 AM   Subscribe

On my last birthday, my girlfriend presented me a parachute jump which will take place on friday. Who has done this so far, what are your experiences?
posted by tcp to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (20 answers total)
On my last birthday

There's an optimist. Don't let someone else pack your 'chute.

Sounds like an exciting Friday, anyway. I haven't done a jump yet, but I hope to someday. I did get a hot-air balloon ride one year for Christmas, but we went up instead of down.
posted by emelenjr at 4:23 AM on June 7, 2004

I have. What's your biggest concern? Is it fear? If so, I can tell you that the biggest moment of fear was when we all boarded the small plane to go up - I guess I knew at that point there was no turning back.

We had spent the morning at a class studying the way to free fall, how to direct your parachute, how to use your emergency chute etc. In our first jump, we didnt get to pull the ripcord. Rather, the ripcord is strapped to the plane when you jump and so is pulled automatically.

But, soon after boarding the plane, the fear disappeared and was replaced with this acute sense of concentration. My mind was completely focused on what needed to be done and what we had been taught that morning (perhaps this is what a gymnast or other athlete feels before a big performance) The jump itself happened so quickly it was a blur.

The best part was after the chute opens and you are just gently floating. It's incredible really. The ground is so far beneath you and there is nothing else around you. It was so serene.
posted by vacapinta at 4:25 AM on June 7, 2004

Response by poster: I've been gliding for five years so the ascent should be no problem - in fact, I always had to wear a parachute but luckily never had to use it.

I'm just excited, very excited - I won't jump alone but in company (maximum guest weight: 170 lbs, that's tight...)

A friend of mine said he became addictive after the first jump, he joined the paratroopers afterwards.
posted by tcp at 5:07 AM on June 7, 2004

I've done it! A few years back a bunch of my girlfriends and I went to Skydive Chicago together to celebrate our college graduation. Unfortunately I'd been out drinking all the previous night - it *was* the last day of classes, after all - so I was never really quite clearheaded enough to be afraid. (Not drunk, just a little hung over.) We were doing tandem jumping, where you're strapped to a professional jumper. The training class was short and before I knew it we were in the plane. I don't remember being scared at all. I sorta had this vision, based mostly on Mountain Dew commercials, that we'd just push off from the plane and gently sort of fly away. In reality, we plummeted. My stomach jumped into my throat. We had a full minute of free fall and all I kept thinking was, "Don't puke on your jumpmaster. Don't puke on your jumpmaster." To be honest, I didn't like the free fall that much. The wind was screaming in my ears and my eyes were watering despite the goggles. And it's really cold up there. Eventually I noticed that my jumpmaster was whacking me in the head to get my attention and remind me to perform my "chores" - checking my altimeter, practicing pulling the ripcord, etc. When we hit the magic number, I yanked it. The immediate sensation was PAIN. The parachute pulls you up quick, and most of the harness runs through your crotch. Be prepared for some serious chafing. Other than that, the parachute descent was definitely the best part of the experience. It lasted for ages and I was able to help gently steer us toward the landing ground. We finally touched down and I immediately collapsed in a heap.

So yeah, it was a good experience. The folks at Skydive Chicago were really nice and professional and everything was completely safe. (Well, as safe as any such activity can be.) A disabled friend was even able to do the tandem jump. In retrospect I almost can't believe I did it. I think I'd be too afraid to do it now. My "oh my God, I'm about to become a grownup so I must do something OUTRAGEOUS" period is thankfully long over.
posted by web-goddess at 5:51 AM on June 7, 2004

Actually, wait. I just remembered that there actually was one really scary bit: signing the disclaimer before you jump. It's a bit unnerving to read through the legalese and realize that you're basically signing away any right to *ever* sue them. Even if you die through some instance of gross, preventable negligence on their part, your relatives are still denied any compensation.
posted by web-goddess at 5:53 AM on June 7, 2004

i've done it. absolutely terrifying until you jump out of the plane.

then it is the most amazing experience.

I have never been so charged without the use of illegal drugs
posted by Frasermoo at 6:08 AM on June 7, 2004

I did a static-line jump last summer. It's interesting to see how different people react when it's time to actually leap out of a plane. The first guy to jump from our plane was hanging from the wingstrut, but couldn't bring himself to let go for the first thirty seconds or so. He just hung there with this petrified look in his eyes. After that, nobody else in the plane wanted to look so "scared stupid" and everyone had great jumps.

The adrenaline rush is something else, though you won't really feel it until you land. Once you're safe on the ground though you'll be totally wired from it. If you pay attention to what they tell you to do in the lesson, it's fairly easy to have a perfect jump and flawless landing. I received perfect marks my first time.
posted by BirdD0g at 7:03 AM on June 7, 2004

I did a tandem jump as well (fortunately, there wasn't a weight max, 170? Cripes.). Anyways, the only scary part for me was riding up in a really old Cessna that puttered and gasped a bit. Plus, the ride up will take about 10 times as long as you think it should.

Other than that, no problems here though. It's really loud until the chute opens, and then, as vacapinta said, it gets really really quiet. Quite a cool experience.

Plus, the guy that I was strapped to was really cool. He apparently had skydived with a naked "Miss Nude Texas" as a publicity stunt and made all kinds of jokes about that. Plus, the first thing he said to me once the chute opened and it got quiet was "man, I timed that perfectly with the peaking of the shrooms I choked down an hour ago!". Have fun, man.
posted by Ufez Jones at 7:22 AM on June 7, 2004

I've been at it since 1998 with about 650 jumps now. Home base is Sky Knights in East Troy, WI, but I've spent time at drop zones in IL, TX, FL, MO, WA, CA.

I've never done a tandem -- I went with Accelerated FreeFall instruction where you have jumpmasters in the air with you but you are responsible for every step yourself. The first couple of jumps were hard to remember due to acute sensory overload. I think tandems are a bit less susceptible to this since you don't have to pay so much attention to details.

Most people don't feel a plummeting, dropping, stomach-heaving sensation as you might on a roller coaster. Each part of your body is falling at the same rate. It feels more like floating on a cushion of air, and unless there are clouds nearby you might not have a sense of falling at all -- just lots of wind in your face. The kind of stomach sensations web-goddess describes are usually due to anxiety and a heavy breakfast on top of too much liquid courage the night before.

Student and tandem harnesses have to be highly adjustable to fit many people, so they'll never be a custom fit. You might get a little chafed. But typically, the parachute deployment is not a violent jerking event, just a vigorous deceleration.

Also, the waiver might be a little freaky but they are basically the same across the board throughout the business. web-goddess is right, they are very thorough -- but it's the only way we can operate.

Also, whatever you do, GET VIDEO.

PSA: You can find listings and links to your own local drop zones at USPA.org. Google searches these days result in a lot of listings for 3rd-party "gift certificate" resellers who speak vaguely about "having drop zones all across the country." Don't encourage these margin-sucking middlemen. You'll get a better deal working directly with a DZ, and more of your fee will go directly towards maintenance of safe gear and aircraft.
posted by Tubes at 7:24 AM on June 7, 2004

If they use square chutes, the experience is like that of having wings of your own. If you want to fly to the left, you turn. Mastery of flight takes about 4 seconds. Then it's all fun.
posted by websavvy at 7:41 AM on June 7, 2004

I've tried it and found the hardest part was stepping out of the plane. I'm not sure what propelled my body forward because my head was saying, "What are you nuts? Don't do it." It's was such a surreal experience.

I'm glad I did it and, as mentioned above, the adrenaline rush is really quite amazing.
posted by btwillig at 7:54 AM on June 7, 2004

Oh, remember to look up to see if your chute has opened. This is important.
posted by btwillig at 7:57 AM on June 7, 2004

my chute failed to open. i landed head first in a muddy field and didn't stop until i hit bedrock.
posted by quonsar at 8:08 AM on June 7, 2004

I wouldn't go to Skydive Chicago - it has one of the highest accident/death rates in the country for drop zones.

I did two static line jumps - the first one was incredible, but I felt like I missed a lot of it from the pure shock of it all. I would recommend trying to take it all in the best you can.

The hardest part for me was actually leaving the plane. The way we did it, we had to crawl out on the wing strut before letting go - on the first pass, the door was open and I was looking down the entire time until the instructor told me it was time to get out. I couldn't do it. We made a second pass, and that time, the instructor held the door closed except for a tiny crack for him to look through, and I didn't look. When he opened the door, I just went, without looking down. Just grabbed the strut and went for it. Don't psyche yourself out! I imagine it's harder to chicken out if you're strapped to someone.

Also - don't let your instructor bully you into doing anything you don't want to do. I had a nice guy who let me take my time, but there were many others there with a pretty jaded, tough attitude. Jumper beware.
posted by agregoli at 11:19 AM on June 7, 2004

it has one of the highest accident/death rates in the country for drop zones

Well, that's a bit like saying you'd never go to the Skip Barber Driving School if it was held at a track with several racing fatilities in its history. The people having accidents are running on a completely different level.

Skydive Chicago has had several deaths of experienced, envelope-pushing jumpers in recent years. It's a major destination for people looking to learn from the most extreme players in the sport. They know they jack up the risk by flying tiny high-speed canopies, performing ground-hugging swooping landings, etc.

At the same time, their student program is very complete and thorough, and some gear and training innovations pioneered at Skydive Chicago have since become widely adopted. Grads are some of the best-prepared and most safety-conscious jumpers around.
posted by Tubes at 12:48 PM on June 7, 2004

That may be, but I'll never jump there. Skydive Chicago's fatalities do seem to be mostly because of complex jumps, but I don't like the reputation.

This is a cool resource -


(But you might not want to read it before you go!)
posted by agregoli at 2:01 PM on June 7, 2004

Response by poster: Once again, I'm amazed by ask.mefi's performance. I really enjoyed your descriptions!
posted by tcp at 2:20 PM on June 7, 2004

I've tried it and found the hardest part was stepping out of the plane. I'm not sure what propelled my body forward because my head was saying, "What are you nuts? Don't do it." It's was such a surreal experience.

My first (and so far only) jump was about 30 years ago. It was actually my first plane ride, so for a little while I got to boast that I had taken off in a plane, but never landed in one. The plane used for the jump was a de Haviland Dragon Rapide (aka Dominie), a wonderful old biplane. You jumped from the lower wing which was great as you had something firm to stand on and nice strut to hold onto. The problem from a novice jumper's point of view was that you had to get onto that damn wing, a process which involved leaning out of the door (where the second window from the rear is in the linked picture), grabbing the strut and then swinging your body out across the yawning void so you could stand on the wing to get into the appropriate jumping position. That first reach and step was hard as there was no way to avoid looking down; the actual jump was easy as you were looking straight ahead and didn't really need to do anything more than assume the star position and be blown off the wing.

It was a static line jump, and just as well that everything went normally because I think I ended up with my eyes closed for the brief moments until the chute opened. After that the serene sensation of floating was wonderful until the ground rushed up all too soon.

I enjoyed it, but I've never been moved to repeat the experience.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 5:07 PM on June 7, 2004

Quinbus - there's now an easier way to exit a biplane.
posted by Tubes at 9:42 PM on June 7, 2004

My first and only jump was in 1974. We jumped far too low (2000 feet) and so it was all over far too fast.

I was first out, and I was hesitant. Simple reason: no one alerted me to the sensation of placing a leg out into an 80 mph wind. Felt like I was hitting something solid. Once out, I KNEW I was doing something wrong, but not what. The jumpmaster gave me the go, so I went.

Alas and alack, I forgot to turn around before landing, so hit too hard and hurt my back (at least I rolled properly). My hesitation had made me well short of the target. That and the lowness of the jump are why I think I screwed up.
posted by Goofyy at 5:00 AM on June 8, 2004

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