Sport > Something Interesting

Something Interesting

By GREG MAFFETT
Published: July 3, 2010

I usually don't talk to anyone at the dropzone, mostly because I don't have anything interesting to say. This week I'd spent most of my downtime reading a sci-fi novel by Janny Wurts and working on a fiction piece of my own. But I had also committed to try to talk to people a little more, so I talked with my packer for about 10 minutes my first day there. We both started jumping at Byron, though he left there before I started.

I gauged this a success. I set out to do something that involved being less autistic and made some progress. This is something I felt I needed to do to survive in the sport.

Another survival skill in skydiving is called tracking. That is where you head off in a compass direction and cover some ground, rather than falling straight down to earth. Its good fun. I won my only skydiving medal in a tracking contest at Byron about 5 years ago. Another contest was coming up and I was thinking of doing it, so practicing tracking was my goal for the week.

I was on my fifth of six tracking dives at Lodi. All of them had been interesting in some way. I’d only had 10 jumps in the past year, so I was a bit rusty. Plus I was tracking in my freefly suit. That is the hardest uniform to track in. You want an RW suit with booties to really sail like an arrow. The baggy freefly suit is more like a jelly donut. I tend to get unstable on my long axis then need to spread my legs for stability and that slows my forward progress. Its all just physics up there, once you get past the first few panic filled experiences.

Which is what my first three malfunctions were. Cutting away the main chute and going to your reserve is never done with the same pulse rate you had when throwing out your pilot chute. It's a practiced process, but still, you are into emergency procedure mode and you need to be sharp, so you do get that little boost that your adrenals were holding back in case regular skydiving turned into something interesting.

So on my fifth jump I landed way far away from everyone else intentionally. I made the long walk back to the hangar and told my packer

“Something interesting happened that jump”.

I described the situation and he immediately said

“That wasn’t a packing malfunction”.

“No, I didn’t say it was, I just said something interesting had happened, but I’d appreciate it if you took a look over the rig to see if something is out of kilter on the rig itself."

What happened up there was this. The right cell of my parachute never opened. I thought it might have been a malfunction called a “line over” where one of the lines that should be below the canopy is above it. But I couldn’t see a line over the top. I pulled hard on the right toggle a few times and that didn’t fix it. If I released both toggles I went into a death spiral. That is something I generally avoid.

So I did a quick flashback to the Apollo 13 film where the pilot there had the O2 bottle explode. He was working the controls and said “I should be able to null this out.” In truth, I could null this out. If I held the right steering toggle near my right ear I flew straight. That was about a foot and a half off kilter. And looking at the canopy I couldn’t see the cause of the malady. But I found I could flare the canopy asymmetrically, I just had to keep the 18 inch separation between my arms. Meaning I would lose 18 inches of flare.

So here was the math. I’d lost 1 cell of canopy. My 168 square foot chute was more like a 152. But that was ok as my other canopy was a 150. I could get this down or I could cut away. I was at 3500 feet, plenty of room to chop and land my reserve.

A lesser man would have cut away. I was that lesser man 5 years ago when I did cut away a problem just like this. But now with a 150 more jumps behind me, I wasn’t so quick on the trigger. I knew it would not be a pretty landing, but I was pretty sure I could land this thing.

I headed for a plowed field off the end of the dropzone. I was able to keep the canopy into the wind, luckily there was about a 5 MPH wind. Ok, that was more than luck, I also had that factored into to the decision to try to land this. I came in ‘hot’ and got about 2/3 of my usual flare. What that meant was that I had to hit the deck running, running at a speed I usually reserve for the final 50 yards of a 5K race. But the freshly plowed field slowed my much like the gravel exit ramps on mountain roads slow down runaway big rigs. I was down safe. I gathered up my rig and headed towards the hanger.

This time with some interesting to talk about.

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