True stories from ‘Norky’ who comes from Scapegoat Hill, a small, isolated farming village, high on the Pennines in West Yorkshire. You can catch up on his ramblings so far via his author page.
I think I’m correct in assuming that most people have a bucket list, something that they want to do, or achieve before they kick the bucket. From a very early age, one of mine was a parachute jump and in 1989 I had the opportunity.
My mate Allen had been a skydiver for quite some time from the Grange-over-Sands airfield. He told me that they did training for first timers from his club. The word got around within my family and friends that this was happening, and some wanted in on the excitement. My daughter Rachel, little brother Nick and his wife Jennie, the colonel from the W.A.R.T.S and I were to be our team of jumpers. We were accompanied by family members clutching insurance policies.
Training for our bucket-list parachute jump
The training was in two parts: theory, then practical. For the theory part, we were in a classroom and told all the things that can go wrong and what to do about it if it did. I was sure that much of this was designed to frighten us off, but apparently they had to go through all of this or they’d run the risk of losing their licence.
We were to be flying at 2,500 feet and using the static line system, whereby our ripcords were tethered to the Brittan Norman Islander aircraft, so all we should have to do is jump out and the parachute should open automatically.
We were told that immediately after we exit the aircraft we should shout, “one thousand, two thousand, three thousand, check canopy”. This is to ensure that the canopy has actually had time to open before we panic and pull the emergency shoot on our stomach. Even if we did panic, both shoots would probably still open, but as the canopies would be pushing against each other they’d not work to their best efficiency and we would land a second quicker than if one parachute opened.
Photos to inspire and terrify us
We were also shown photographs of what a canopy looks like from underneath, as well as photos of things that can go wrong. The instructor showed us a photo of some clouds, and just for a laugh, he said that this is what the canopy looks like if it doesn’t come out of its bag. Oh how we laughed.
He also showed us a photo of a roman candle. This is when a line gets flicked over the centre of the canopy and it then collapses in on itself and instead of a parachute we have a spear. If this happened, we would hit the ground a second quicker than if it didn’t open at all.
Some bright spark (not me), then asked, “How long do we have before we hit the ground?” The instructor said “thirteen seconds without a parachute”. It slowly dawned on us all that we were to count three seconds before we looked at the canopy at all, and then if something did go wrong we’d have potentially only nine seconds to decide whether to deploy the reserve shoot, nine seconds! That’s less time than sex, and about the same time as it takes to get into a car and fasten the seat belt. Oh how we stopped laughing then.
Practical training for the jump
The practical training took place in the hanger. We were placed in teams of six, and each team practised jumping off platforms and were shown how to land. Then we were placed in our seating positions within a mock-up fuselage; there were no seats, just a hardboard floor for us to easily shuffle to our next jumping position.
As I was number one, I was sat next to the opening, the door having been removed. When it was time to jump, we had to shuffle with our legs out of the opening facing forward as best as we could, and when the instructor shouted “GO” we pushed out and took up the classic sky-diving position and began to shout the three second count.
All went well, nobody felt unable to carry on, and we were lucky that the weather conditions meant that we could do the jump immediately. Anything more than a five-knot wind and we would have had to go back another day, none of us relished that idea.
Jumping to target
The photo at the top is us waiting our turn for the aircraft. We were told not to wander about and to fold our arms over our reserve parachute. This was to minimise the chance of equipment failure and accidental interference.
We took up our positions in the aircraft and off we went. The one thing I immediately noticed when I took up position, was how close the engine and landing gear were, neither of these being necessary in the mock-up. It looked like I would be jumping into one or the other; and jumping into a spinning propeller is not to be recommended.
This photo shows me exiting the aircraft immediately on the “GO” command, then starting my “one thousand” malarkey. I managed “two thousand” then “BLOODY HELL”.I don’t remember if it was the excitement or the jolt of the canopy opening, but I definitely didn’t manage the “three thousand, check canopy”. All then went silent, except for an occasional flap of the parachute. The view was magnificent, over Morecombe Bay and the Irish Sea towards the Isle of Man, and inland over the Lake District.
The thing I didn’t recognise was our landing target.
During the photo training we were shown what to look for on the ground, so we could aim in that direction. The slit in the canopy is designed so that it can be turned into the wind. With no wind, these parachute will travel at approximately five knots, which is an ideal landing speed for a novice. I couldn’t recognise a thing on the ground, but thankfully the ground crew used loudspeakers to instruct us which way to turn, and we used toggles in the lines to do so. Even then, we all landed two or three hundred yards from the aiming mark.
From a different perspective …
We were all given scores during the debrief. My score was “ace”, but the bravest by far was my little brother, Nick. He doesn’t like height or flying, so I can only assume he did it to support his big bruv.
Nick was last person to jump. When it was his turn, he began to slowly – too slowly – shuffle towards the opening. At this point, the instructor intervened and gave him a “helping” hand, grabbing the nearest part of Nick’s body and throwing him out the aircraft.
We all landed safely and were buzzing with excitement as we gathered our equipment and made our way back to the hanger. All except Nick, who was just happy to be on the ground. Given how scared he was, he was far braver than I was – so if I got an “ace” Nick deserved a “double ace”!
Our Brittan Norman Islander G-AXHE was written off following a crash just three years after our jump day. I believe no one was badly hurt.