I was living in a two-man room in the barracks at the time with another sergeant. One day he came into the room and said, “Hey Roberts, you want to jump out of an airplane?” I replied, “Sure. Why not?” After my shift was over we went to the local skydiving club and joined. That was in 1973.
At the time almost everyone was jumping with Army and Air Force surplus parachutes. The ram-air ‘chutes of today were still in the development stage at the time. The big deal of the day was one called a Para Commander; you could steer it pretty well, even though it was a round ‘chute.
One of the guys had what was called a ‘Thunder bow’. Anyway it was shaped like a triangle. It looked really strange at the time but it was one of the first ram air designs.
One day at the drop zone he was doing a 13,500 foot jump and for some reason at around twelve thousand feet he opened the ’chute. If that had been a round ‘chute there is no telling where he would have landed. Everyone was pissed off because the jump plane could not land until he was on the ground, and it takes forever from that altitude to get down.
One night I was on the night shift and was suffering from something I ate earlier in the day. I spent most of my shift in the latrine.
By morning I was so weak I could hardly stand up. As I walked out the door, Emy was waiting with three of my friends. They were saying that they had my ‘chute and we were all going to the air field to jump. Not wanting to ruin anyone’s fun I said, “Sure.”
When we got there, everyone was sitting out by the runway in the sun. It had to be at least ninety degrees out there. We didn’t get a lift until around noon.
By now I felt like I was going to die.
I got in the Twin Beachcraft aircraft, which held about fourteen jumpers. There were no seats to make room for as many jumpers as possible. Everybody did what was called ‘packing’. On takeoff everyone stands up and moves as far to the front as they can without getting in the pilot’s lap.
After takeoff, everyone sits on the floor and waits for the plane to reach jump altitude. By this time I was so sick I just didn’t care about anything but getting on the ground and going home.
Finally, we reached jump altitude and the first stick (group) of jumpers went out. I was the first jumper in the second stick. As I reached the door, and the cool air hit my sweat-soaked body, the jumpmaster yelled, “Go!”
That was a static line jump, which means we were attached to the plane by a nylon strap. When you get to the end of the strap, the other end is attached to the parachute. Military jumpers get into a tight body position when they exit. Skydiving is different, in that when you exit you spread your arms and legs and arch your back, so you are falling face first.
The cool wind felt so good as I sat in the door that I didn’t jump, but just leaned forward and fell face first out of the plane.
I remember letting out a great sigh of relief.
I was so glad to get out of the aircraft I had almost forgotten that I was falling through the air from 3,500 feet.
Several things happened very quickly. My static line started to wrap around my arm, and instinctively I quickly moved my arm in a circular motion. The thought went quickly through my mind that if I didn’t get it off, it would break my arm when it reached the end of its length. I got the static line off just as I felt it stiffen. The next thing I saw was my parachute deploying, but I was watching it open while I was looking down between my feet.
I remember thinking, “How is that possible?”
Just then, as if to answer my question, my body quickly flipped, and I realized I had been falling head first.
After watching the spectacular deployment of my ‘chute, I then slowly drifted down to the airfield, feeling the best I had felt for the last twenty four hours. Instead of a normal PLF (Parachute Landing Fall) I had been so relaxed since I exited the plane that I just kind of crumpled as I hit.
I gathered my ‘chute, put it in the back of Emy’s car, and sat down in the front seat and closed my eyes. I don’t think I opened them all the way back home.
That was the most relaxed I have ever been on a jump and landed the closest to the staging area of anyone on that stick.