By Senior Airman Lael Huss, 30th Space Wing Public Affairs
/ Published February 25, 2013
LOMPOC, Calif. -- A few weeks ago, the 30th Force Support Squadron's Single Airmen' s Initiative, a program that provides resources that foster a strong culture, mission, and sense of community for single Airmen, mass-emailed all Vandenberg Airmen' s email promoting the opportunity to skydive for free, but seats were going fast. Single Airmen were signing up so fast, in fact, that the available slots lasted a whopping 40 minutes. Thanks to persuasion from one of the sergeants in my office and a push from a good friend, we high-tailed it over to Vandenberg's Outdoor Recreation office only to find a long line of people ready and willing to jump out of a perfectly good plane. Luckily, we got the last two slots for Feb. 16 at 1300.
Saturday, Feb. 16, rolls around and with the jumble of getting my son dressed and to the babysitters, I really didn't have much time to dwell on what was about to happen.
We finally got to the sky diving company and went into the front office where we were ushered into a briefing room, filled out waivers, watched videos on safety, payed for video and pictures, as well as the additional 8,000 feet that we wanted to free fall down. So, there we were, waiting for our turn to throw on the suit and harness. The four of us from Vandenberg played foosball, read magazines and then finally we are able to get into our harnesses. We were assisted by the owner and our tandem jumpers completed our fitting after announcing that they were assigned to us for the "drop."
There we were, harnessed up, our tandem jumpers in tow, on our way to the plane and still it hadn't quite hit me that I'm going to be falling through the sky at 120 mph, 18,000 feet to the earth. We got on the plane, had another, "what you need to do" speech, a nod and an, "I'm excited to be doing this" lie then the plane's engines burst to life and off we went.
It still hadn't hit me that I was going to be exiting the plane out of the same door that I entered with nothing to catch me but air.
It hit me when at 10,000 feet the plane slowed down, climbed and dipped then the door opened. The red light above the door turned green and then the first five people left the plane. I can still see the scenery out my window... the land looked like a patchwork quilt, Vandenberg to our right and the ocean, past the base, further still to the right.
At this point I came to grips with the concept that I am jumping, falling, tripping, or being pushed out of this airplane to free fall for 18,000 feet. What in the world was I so excited about on the ground? "Ok," I tell myself, "I can do this breathe...oh good, they brought the oxygen bags out, now I can really breathe." By this time my internal litany is proceeding nicely, "just breathe, don't freak out, just breathe, you can do this, etc."
All too soon they took my oxygen away, which was my indication that we must be reaching our goal of 18,000 feet. "Oh goody," I thought to myself. "You want me to move...right." We scooted along the bench towards the door that would soon open to wind, noise, cold, with no floor except for the patchworks that you can see so far below. Just like the series of groups before me, the door opened, the red light turned green and the first person disappeared, then the second person and now it's my turn.
Luckily, as I was waiting for my turn to harness-up, I read an article in a magazine about a jumper who photographs people in the air. He said that the first thing that he learned was that you smile; exhale and it'll help you relax. So, I smiled... and screamed as we tipped over the side of the airplane into the wild blue yonder.
I was finally in the air! I tumbled from an airplane side door from 18,000 ft, something I have wanted to do for 14 years. My first impression was that the scenery was gorgeous; the sunlight off the ocean was breathtaking. I've seen images like that from aerial photographers. My second impression was that it's really loud and windy and pretty chilly, my hands were like ice. My third impression was that I couldn't figure out where to keep my legs...head... hands?
After I finished these stages of anxiety, I began to enjoy myself. I situated my legs where they need to be, I pried my hands off of my harness and stretched them out in a 90 degree angle off to the side. "I've got this," I told myself, confidently. "It's not so bad." The tandem instructor rolled his body so we were doing twists in the air. Left twists were fun. The right twists were even better, so much so, I can hardly contain it...I think I screamed again, don't know have to watch the video.
All of a sudden I felt a decisive yank and a sharp tugging sensation upwards. My feet were eye-level and then crashed earthward; luckily, I have a parachute that is holding me up and a distinct pinching sensation in the upper leg region from where the harness straps were digging in. I love this harness; it pained me taking it off.
After the parachute deployed we settled in and glided to earth, at more of a lazy river speed. My tandem jumper, Mark, asked me how I enjoyed the jump and I was still trying to comprehend everything that I had just been through. I could only form the words, "so much fun." After a few seconds that felt like minutes, Mark told me to take the yellow loops that are attached to the parachute because I was going to steer. "Wait," I said, "I'm actually going to steer the parachute?" My internal adventurer was overcome with anxiety, but I gathered all the courage I had left and yanked the hook on the right all the way down. All of a sudden, we were spiraling fast to the right. Then, I yanked the hook on the left all the way down and we were spiraling, seemingly out of control, to the left. It was thrilling, terrifying and an absolute adrenaline rush to be steering us both down to the earth. Thankfully, Mark took the loops back, to my utter relief, and told me that we were going to hit the hula-hoop, whatever that is.
We came in slow to land and my legs were out in front of me and then we skidded to a stop. The hula-hoop was a cut-off hula-hoop stuck in the rock pit we landed in. I took that hoop out with my knees! "Awesome," I told myself. "I'm on the ground. Sweet ground, love the ground, missed the earth never to leave it again by jumping out of such wonderful inventions as airplanes."
All in all skydiving through Vandenberg's Single Airman Initiative was a wonderful experience. I learned a whole lot about myself in just a few short minutes of free-fall and parachute flight. When we were waiting for our turn to skydive, I read a magazine article about a 17 year old that made the decision to skydive full time after her first jump. I guess some people just have it in their blood, I'm definitely able and willing to try new things but I know what I like and in this instance, I like the ground.