Pretty in Pink
By Sequoia Schmidt
Flying does not come naturally to me. Believe it or not, flying does come naturally to a few people, I’m just not one of them.
Failing level 2 of my AFF (Accelerated Free Fall Program) was an important lesson for me on my journey of “learning to fly.” Since I failed the second level, I had to spend more time training in the tunnel and preparing myself mentally for each jump. Rather than carelessly throwing my body out of the plane, as I did in jump 2; I was re-directed to focus and visualize specifically about each skydive, before I exited the plane. Continual repetitions of “presenting myself to the wind” were required instead of simply jumping out of the aircraft.
It has been two weeks since my last jump, so I want to ensure that my mind remembers free fall. Two minutes of tunnel time acts as a refresher for my upcoming double “jump.”
Level 4 of the Accelerated Free Fall Program is the first time that we will be truly “solo.” Our instructor will not be holding onto us throughout this flight. We will be free flying.
Even the idea that I shall be truly alone in the sky, is chilling however, Fear is becoming my friend. Fear can teach me and alert me to make sure I’m properly prepared. All other elements of this jump are the same as our previous ones. We line up in the door way. We have one main instructor to our right that we check in with.
Once I have the affirmative head nod from my instructor, I look toward the wingtip of the plane, then “Out … In … Arch” and away I go.
The intensity of the wind pressing against my cheeks for the chipmunk effect. My arm reaches around for the practice touch, as my instructor comes in front of me, wearing a smile that reassures me. I have a few nanoseconds where parts of my body and mind almost relax.
“AFF (the program) is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get” my instructor Steve tells me as I amble back to the skydive school facilities after touching down safely.
I passed my Level 4 with no issues!
See my Level 4 flight here.
Dan is the general manager of the Skydive Perris facility and the author of a book about human flight entitled Above All Else. I had the opportunity to chat with him a few jumps ago. He imparted some sound advice. “Try and do more than one jump a day,” he advised me. “It really helps to have back to back jumps. It helps your body and your mind.”
Today I am able to follow Dan’s solid advice. Today’s agenda at Skydive Perris consists of a “double jump.”
Before we are able to get on the manifest for the next flight, we review the jump with our instructor and go over the Level 5 requirements. Rather than simply solo flying, we must demonstrate a “control of flight.” We do this by completing two 180 degree turns and a forward motion flight.
This jump will also have a modified exit pattern to allow us to start becoming comfortable with alternative exits from the plane. Notice in the video of this jump (see below) that I was full pretty in pink for this jump … nails and everything!
As the plane approaches 12,500 feet, I slide my goggles on tightly, followed by my helmet. My instructor Steve and I step to the edge of the plane. My right hand reaches up to grab the thin metal bar that runs along the top inside edge of the ceiling. I peer down and point out the drop zone to Steve. My body swings to the outside of the plane as my left hand simultaneously grabs the interior bar.
With both hands firmly griped on this interior bar, my body is now hanging outside the plane. I turn my body into the wind. This twist feels familiar and my hips are now in alignment with the wing of the aircraft.
Looking over my right shoulder I get an “okay” nod from Steve. Similar to the previous exits, I must indicate my exit through motion. For this exit, my indication will be through leg movements. My left outside leg swings out, back in and both arms release as I “present myself to the wind.” I’m not quite sure what happen in the moment right after I released and the moment right before my body realized that I forgot to arch but I could definitely feel a drop in my stomach that forced my auto-reaction to kick into perfect arch form. My heart rate begins to mellow out. My body levels out in free fall flight mode.
I perform a practice touch and check my altitude. 11,000 feet. Steve is straight out in front of me now. He signals for me to begin my turns. Like a bird uses its wing, my 90 degree bend elbow presses against the pressure of the air in flight allowing my body to turn. Once I reach approximately 180 degrees, my counter arm presses down to level my body out and allow me to stop turning.
I check my altitude again then begin to counter.
Coming in eye contact with Steve, he is now approximately ten feet from me and signals for me to begin forward motion. I do so with ease allowing my small body movements to control my speed and direction during my flight. Human flight.
Tunnel time, mental drills and six solo jumps later, I’m finally starting to get a little more comfortable with my free fall.
After completing a full 360 degree turn, I lock on at 6,000 feet, wave off at 5,500 and then reach back and pull my chute.
Level 5 means no coms (communications). There is no radio in my ear, no instructor to guide my landing pattern and no one telling me when to initiate my flare (breaks for landing). This will be a “self directed” solo flight and landing.
All the steps we reviewed run smoothly, but coming into the landing my depth perception is compromised. I say compromised by inexperience because I had previously relied so much on the coms and let my instructor tell me when to flare. It’s my fault for not paying enough attention on my previous five landings to be able to know when is the appropriate hight to pull my toggles all the way down. I flare my brakes all the way down, far too early, causing an inevitable face plant.
Another Lesson Learned. With a slightly gritty grin, and dust misting off my pink suit, my jumps for the day are complete. Level 5 is a success.
See my Level 5 jump here.
Although flying does not come naturally to me, I am naturally drawn to flying. There is no feeling in the world like the sensation of human flight. I feel the positive energy of flying expanding into my daily life. Challenging myself mentally to focus on my flight and relax while in a free fall is starting to impact my ability to focus while grounded (literally). Even as I sit on this plane right now, my laptop in hand, writing this article, other passengers around me ready for their coming adventure, I look out the window and watch the beautiful city of San Francisco far below me. The natural puffery of the clouds resting eye level and the sky beaconing me to come…