Saturday, January 7, 2012

For Auld Lang Syne or In Defense of Static Line Training

Valerie, Dylan and I went to the annual New Years Day party at the home of our friends Noel and Dennis. It’s a beautiful farm out in wine country. There’s always great food and live music.

They always have a crowd, and the house is tiny, so we spend a lot of time outside.

We were out there when my friend William Stage told me my buddy Kent was a scuba instructor.

I need to mention that William has a new book of short stories. He recently had a book of old ghost ad paintings he did with his daughter Margaret.

We live in a historical part of St. Louis, and there are a lot of old buildings with faint images of old ads painted on the side. Apparently, the lead paint soaked into the bricks. Margaret and William turned their photos into post cards and had them bound together in a book.

Just before that, he published a semi-autobiographical novel called Fool for Life. Get it, it’s funny as Hell!

Anyway, I asked William if Kent was a PADI or NAUI instructor. He said PADI.

The only reason I even know the difference is because my old girlfriend Lora was NAUI certified.

Lora got me to try a lot of things. She turned me onto Rollerblading. At first, she wouldn’t skate with me. While I was learning, I was too slow. I used to ride my bike along side of her until I was fast enough. She was right up front about everything, never even tried to spare my feelings. I really appreciated it.

It reminds me of when I played racquet ball with my buddy Rib Tip. He was so good he would play hand ball while I played back with a racquet. I used to play racquet ball with Lora too.

Lora followed me around the country when I was obsessed with Sky Diving. On one of these trips, she taught me how to sail. It was only a Hobie Cat, but it was incredible. She taught me how to operate the jib (the front sail).

You have to lean back on the side of the boat to keep it from tipping into the water. I swear we got better than 50 mph riding the wind across that lake. The whole time, the lake itself was about a foot away from my back. It was almost as exhilarating as skydiving.

She almost got me to go scuba diving. I really wanted to, but I just never got around to it.

She told me the NAUI method was more conservative but more thorough. PADI was for the more adventurous. I immediately related that to the difference between AFF (accelerated freefall) skydiving instruction and static line.

I did a little tandem mastering, but for almost ten years I was a static line instructor.

I started jumping at an interesting time in the history of the sport. Square canopies had only recently been introduced. My first rig had a round reserve.

Tandem jumping soon became an option.

You had to sign a waver that you were flying an experimental aircraft to jump tandems. The law was; every jumper had a reserve. With tandems two jumpers have one main and one reserve. They’re totally legal now.

During my time in the sport, canopies got smaller and faster. Jumpers built larger and larger formations. The emphasis moved away from flying a canopy to freefall.

Students didn’t want to spend as much time under canopy. They wanted to go to freefall altitude immediately. AFF training has the student jumping freefall on the first jump. Two jump masters hold on and put the student through training paces. They learn body control faster, but there are advantages to the static line method.

Defending static line training puts me in the old-timer category, but here’s my argument.

Before you get to freefall, if you progress sufficiently, you jump 5 times attached to a static line that automatically deploys your canopy. You concentrate on a stable exit and canopy control. You exit the aircraft at 3000 ft, and you’re acutely aware of the ground below you. When I was trained, we weren’t even given an altimeter, but we knew we exited at 3 grand.

AFF students deploy their canopy at 5000 ft to give them more reaction time in an emergency.

I’ve spent many days at airports that were socked in with cloud cover at 5000 ft. Static line graduates did hop and pops and had accuracy landing contests. A hop and pop is when you deploy your canopy as soon as you exit.

AFF graduates think any jump without freefall is a waste of time. I think they’re missing a lot of fun, not to mention, landings can be a blast too.

I’ve always thought, if you put a static line trained jumper out of a plane at 10,000 ft without an altimeter, they’ll deploy their parachute at 3000 ft and know what altitude they’re at. I think AFF trained jumpers would get nervous and open from 5000 to 7000 ft and still not be sure of their altitude.

The sport is drying up at the moment. Fuel costs have made it more expensive. It’s certainly gotten too expensive for me. I’m trying to focus on music anyway.

I never did get Lora to jump, but I would still like to go scuba diving.

Pics are of Lora at the gates of Graceland when I was jumping in Tennessee ( I scratched some great graffiti on the brick wall), William and Dylan at Dennis’ New Years party, and Dylan learning to shuck an oyster at the same party.

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