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My AFF - But it is a long story so....

 


kenthediver  (A License)

Jul 11, 2012, 8:28 AM
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My AFF - But it is a long story so.... Can't Post

The beginning.

About 6 months ago, my son who lived in South Africa, decided he wanted to come and live with me in the UK. He has a plan to get into the armed forces - this is now in progress. In chatting with him before he arrived, I discovered that he wanted to skydive, which I had done nearly 30 years ago and wanted to do again.
So, onto the internet and research, look at DZ’s and clubs in the UK, the facilities, whether there is week long jumping, what factor will the weather play etc. After a lot of time investigating and ummm’ing and ahhh’ing, I eventually decided on the FFU in Spain. Not an easy decision – but once decided, it was always going to be where we went for training. I started to plan the dates for our AFF, spoke a lot with Matt about it, shared the websites and generally started getting excited. I also spent time speaking with Paula, the service manager, who was very patient and answered all my questions. I booked my medical (as I am over 40 I need a medical every 3 years), booked tickets, and started to wait. Matt arrived and then shortly after – we were on our way.
It is one thing to think about skydiving, and a totally different sensation when it is planned, paid for, and happening. The excitement kicks in, the anticipation and – wow.

The journey there.

The Friday arrives, I arrange to leave work early to catch our flight to Madrid, and for Matt to collect me from work to go to the airport. As usual, things don’t go to plan. My meetings over-run, and we end up leaving late for the airport. On top, it was a bank holiday weekend, there was a lot of traffic, and the local authority had started road-works on the M4, which all combined to make us miss our flight. We actually got to the airport at 7 minutes past 5, and the flight gate closed at 5! Cue lots of pleading with the flight clerk at the counter – but boy – they must run some really good resistance courses, as he held firm. Eventually, we agreed that Matt and I would fly to Barcelona and get a connecting flight to Madrid. Not happy but also relieved that we were not just sitting around. We got on the Barcelona flight, and settled back. We had downloaded the BPA AFF course material, the CH1 manual, and used the time on the flight to re-read the material. We arrived in Barcelona, went to get the connecting flight to be told that the next connecting flight would be on Saturday morning, all the hotels were full, and that we would have to sleep in the Airport concourse. Not comfortable, and not at all happy. But part of the experience.

Matt slept like a log – (must be something about being young!) Me, I tossed and turned but could not get comfortable! I would doze for 10 minutes then wake up. Eventually, the morning came about, and we got some breakfast (at about 6:15), and freshen up. We go, wait in line and buy the tickets from Barcelona to Madrid. Have I mentioned Paula’s patience with me? What a saint – she was available – at 6 on the Friday evening, to assist and recommend travelling via Barcelona, and again, when we landed at Barcelona (about 10:40 PM – Friday night – Paula still answered my texts about times and delays – a really good lady!!!)

We eventually land at Madrid about 10:30 and take the train to Arunjuez. There we were met by Anna who took us to the Drop-Zone.

We were here and were about to become skydivers! The sleepless night was forgotten, the adrenaline was running and both Matt and I were seriously pumped and keen to get started.

Ground School

We grabbed a quick bite to eat at the DZ and a drink and got ready to practice. Cue Darren and Anna – both with the patience of saints! We got shown the equipment and kit, the kit checks, and were quizzed on the names and acronyms, until even I could remember what AAD stood for, and all the rest! Then onto the arch! I feel slightly self conscious as we stand ready to start the next part of the training – but realise about 10 seconds later that nobody is even watching – all have been there, done that – and this is part of the journey we are making. Have I mentioned that I am older – sheesh – try arching on the ground and then on a table when you are older and slightly larger and stiffer than your son (oh, and I realise that I am really competitive as I try to out-do Matt on everything!), it hurts. I find that I can arch for about a nano second, then the body “sorta” relaxes – and Daz gives the “thumbs down” and I push my legs and head up – groaning – (Lord surely it is not this difficult in freefall – please!!!) What have I let myself in for! More embarrassingly, Daz gets Anna to demonstrate the arch – not fair – she must be triple jointed or something. How does anyone almost get their feet to touch the back of their head while lying on their belly? Well, Anna does! Practice pulls and throwing the plot chute away, over and over, the thumb kept pointing down, I kept groaning and Daz and Anna kept drilling it. I think that in a previous life, Daz would have made an excellent slave galley master – no sympathy – no let-up – and we got told that if we don’t get it right we are not jumping! But all with a twinkle in his eye! Secretly I think he enjoys seeing an “older” bloke (by all of 5 or 6 years) pushing through the pain and discomfort. Onto the emergency procedures – lots of pictures – repeating the mantra – Is it Square? Yes; Is it big? Yes; Is it controllable? Yes – and if any are No then its Look, locate, Cut Away, Pull Reserve – all almost shouted out! Lots of repetition! And as someone who has taught martial arts in the past, I appreciate the “muscle memory” required to stay alive and so I persevere. Onto the harness, suspended, more pictures, more identifying the canopy state, and all the emergency drills. Landing patterns, decision altitudes, kicking out of line twists – soooo much to take in! Eventually, Daz declares himself happy, and we do a written exam. Written exams for a sport? Man – this requires a lot more than just pitching up and jumping! About 7 in the evening, we eventually get told we are good to start jumping! Phew!

The first jump.
Sunday
You think it would be simple from here on – but nature has a cruel streak about her! Sunday morning – at the DZ at about 9am, get kit, and then we wait. Have I mentioned it hardly ever rains in Madrid. But…you guessed it, we get there and it rains and the wind blows. So we spend the day walking around, reaching behind and throwing imaginary pilot chutes, mentally rehearsing the emergency procedures, play grabbing handles and pulling the cut-away and reserve. Lots and lots. Also, at this point we were introduced to Ryan who would be the main AFF instructor for both Matt and I. he talks us through what we learnt the day before, and then shows us the Aircraft Exit procedures. He also explains what the AFF Level 1 requires, the circle of awareness, dummy pulls, and generally just trying to relax and enjoy the jump! More walking about mentally rehearsing. More gazing at the skies, mutterings about “God not wanting us to jump”, and all the while the anticipation of the jump – dry mouths, sweaty hands, nervous glances at all around me. But everyone seems normal, and relaxed, so…how bad could it be? At about 6 in the evening we decide to return to the hotel and sleep.
Monday
No clouds or rain! This is it. Dressed quickly and I am ready about 2 hours before pickup time. I check on Matt and go for breakfast – which consists of coffee and not much else. Spare clothes? Check, contacts list in the event of….well – who knows? Check, right – rock and roll! Matt and I are collected about 8:45 and get to the DZ about 9am. The winds are starting to blow, and as we are virgins, there is a jump wind limit of 14 knots, so we are grounded. We watch the tandems, watch the more experienced jumpers, watch the packing staff pack chutes, and walk about, asking questions of anyone who has just completed a jump as to what the jump was like, was it eventful, and just generally being a nuisance. I have to state here that the DZ staff and members are absolutely fantastic. I think they know that the nerves are getting us, and the longer we wait, the more we think about the jump and what could work or worse, what could also go wrong. More mental rehearsing, more dummy pulls on an imaginary rig, more mental run-through of emergency procedures, more waiting and more waiting. Monday evening – and no jumps. Back to the hotel. But the outlook for Tuesday is great – low or no wind and clear skies! Or so we are told!
Tuesday
No clouds, no rain and NO WIND!!! Its here. The day we become skydivers! All of a sudden the reality bites. We are about to do something that is inherently dangerous and that all my friends have told me is bonkers! Breakfast – coffee. Lift to the DZ. Silence in the car this morning. Into the kit room, get kit, and Ryan puts Matt on the 3rd lift of the day, and I am shortly after that. We run through the brief again and meet the 2nd AFF instructor that will be on the jump – one of the Spanish instructors! Crazy grins, we get told to relax and lots of smiling! Relax he says! WTF! I am anything but relaxed. Matt goes up and comes down – safely – but what a smile – all he says is WOW!!!!! I have my gear on, and get checked by Ryan. The walk out to the plane. Suddenly I need to pee, but I cannot bale out now, so I control it. In the plane, we are the first load out so we are by the door. The door closes, the plane taxis and we are away and up. 1000 feet and the helmets come off. 6000 feet, Ryan asks what level this is, I answer – wave off and pull. Thumbs up. Really feeling very nervous and just a touch scared. Thinking to myself, am I insane? Much internal bargaining with myself on how I will be a better person if I survive! 9000 feet, run through the jump profile, helmets on, door opens, Ryan into the door, I am on my knees and we are out! How did that happen? I realise that I have pulled my canopy and it is open, big, square and controllable. Much relief and deep breathing. Everything is clear and I can see for miles. The sound of the slider flapping. Controlled turns – extremely gently. I did not want to stress the harness too much. My biggest fear was (and still is) that the harness would fail! Landing pattern, listen to the radio and …….Flare – standing landing – damn – hot dog – relief – ecstasy – I am alive and wow!!!!! What a rush! You don’t need drugs to enjoy life!
The walk back to the hanger to get the chute packed, the swagger to the video room for de-briefing! All of a sudden I am a skydiver. Very inexperienced, very ignorant – but I can skydive! In the debrief, we check – and both Matt and I were stable, we did our Circle Of Awareness, dummy touches and we both deployed as taught. Pass level 1. Now for level 2. I don’t remember very much about the jump at all. I remember having to tell myself to breathe when the door opened. I think my eyes must have been huge! But, I did jump!!
Jump 2
We walk out to the plane – again, the need to pee and again the control! Ryan, the second instructor and myself amongst the other jumpers – its amazing how lonely you can feel in a crowd! Second out the plane this time. Same routine, 1000 feet, helmets off, 2500 feet – decision time, 6000 feet wave off and deploy time, 9000 feet – helmets on, rehearse the jump profile and start the internal bargaining – it is amazing how many times I promised to be a better person. I watch the first load exit and then again I am in the door, we exit and fall. I recall seeing my altimeter this time – not much else but I take it as a positive. Wave off, deploy the chute and yes – I am not going to bounce this time! Its big, square and controllable. I suddenly realize how much I love my packers! Never ever piss them off! Not even as a joke! Buy them lots of beer – at the end of the day! On the ground, debrief and video – and see that I was stable, I did the dummy touches and I did a left and right 90% turn! Fantastic – but I don’t really remember it other than a blur! I still have sensory overload but wow – all of a sudden I realise that this is going to make me very broke. I suddenly see the costs of gear, rig, jumps etc – for myself and yes – I will be driving my cheap car instead of buying another sports car – but hey ho, I don’t care. And if I meet a lady – she will hopefully be into jumping and skiing so probably won’t care about the car either!
Jump 3
No need to urgently pee this time. Into the plane, up to altitude – with the same routine (I have worked out that this is all about getting your mind onto the jump and not thinking to much about the dangers – and I am very grateful to the skill and subtlety of the instructors)! Exit and start to notice my instructors – still not seeing anything beyond about 10 feet, but I am improving. Both instructors release and I do a left and right turn by myself. Ryan re-docks for the deployment and this time I decide to play under canopy. Slightly more daring in the turns, and even trying some half brake turns! Wow! The instructions from Ryan actually work! Too soon I am entering the landing pattern, identifying my route, and realising that even though I get the basics right, flying a canopy is a bit harder than it appears – or at least trying to land within a reasonable distance. About a 400m walk back to the hanger – but I am grinning. Debrief and video. Ryan is pleased with both Matt and I, and we progress to level 4 – jumping with 1 instructor only. Funnily enough, I am more worried about this jump than any of the jumps I have done so far. Only 1 instructor – crap!!!
Wednesday
Jump 4
I slept very well last night – early in bed – I can only assume that the adrenaline overload really exhausted me – but man, It feels good to be jumping. I have decided to limit myself to 3 or max 4 jumps a day – some folks do a lot more – but I feel that this is the most I can do without getting too tired and making silly mistakes. And I really don’t want a mistake while skydiving! Jump at 13K, with Ryan, get stable, and he lets go. Check alti and Ryan, 90 degree turn – check Alti and Ryan, 90 degree turn back, check alti, dummy pull, relax and enjoy the flight. I actually look at the horizon for about 15 seconds, get to about 7K feet, and then all I do is stare at the alti, 6K feet, wave off and pull. It all works. I am really stoked. Heading control – check, turns – check, altitude – check. Still not noticing much while going through the drills, but – such a rush! Every time. Start to play with a short spiral – heart in mouth – and again, I am starting to learn (not just head knowledge but to actually know) that the kit is designed so that it wont fail and that I can start to push it! But I will still only expand my limits a bit at a time. I have no desire to die prematurely! Landing pattern and this time a PLF – I flared a little late – no harm other than to my pride!
Jump 5
Very similar to 4, except the turns are 360’s not 90 degrees. Enjoying the control; and how it takes small controlled movements to move about – no need for effort – relax and let the wind do the work! Sounds simple, but when every nerve tells you that you are being un-natural – well – I hope I never loose the rush of jumping. It feels so good! I have never wanted to do drugs – but am getting to seriously like the adrenaline! It is goooood! Debrief and video are fine – onto level 6.
Jump 6
So we start with more serious stuff now. The plan is to exit, get stable and do a back somersault before doing a short track! WTF! This worries me – Ryan explains the technique, we ground rehearse it, but I am worried. Relax! I have heard that about a quadzillion times – but how? I am freaking skydiving and it is nerve racking! But so exhilarating that I don’t think I will be able to give this up! Into the plane, up and through the routine, into the door and exit. Maybe it was me over-thinking, but it took a few seconds to get stable – and settle. Deep breathe, knees up and pull with my arms and – I am back on my belly! Lots of thumbs up from Ryan, so I suppose that worked – but …. It’s a blur. Slowly into the track position – hold for a second or two and then out into the arch – altitude, relax, look at the horizon, wave and deploy. On the ground, we de-brief, and do a video review. I am amazed at how fast I somersaulted! And straight back onto my belly! This rocks! The relief at completing level 6 is huge. For me, this was a milestone. I had really anticipated making a pigs’ ear of this jump! Sign off, pack up and home to the hotel to sleep.
Thursday
Jump 7 – Jump, forward somersault, and play – turns and track, with Ryan watching and ensuring that I am fine to jump solo. I track a bit, turn a bit and settle down to enjoy the view. Before I know it, it is 6K and I wave off. Reality check there – note to self – Check your Altitude! Not a bad lesson to learn while under supervision. It is amazing how quickly you can fall if you are not careful!
Debrief, and Ryan signs myself and Matt off. We just have to do 10 consolidation jumps, as well as our AFF level 8 Hop ‘n Pop, as well as doing the required exercises for CH1, and we will get our BPA A license.
Consols
I completed 9 of the 10 consols, and also my Level 8 hop ‘n pop. I am returning to FFU to finish my last consol at the end of July (I know – I will have to redo level 7 as a check dive) as the weather in the UK has been atrocious! But an excuse to jump in Spain again. Also planned is my FS1, and starting my CH2 as I work to getting enough jumps for my B license. I have found where I will base myself in England – and have met the CCI. I have visited and reviewed a number of DZ’s and while this one is not the closest, I believe it is where I will best fit in.

I need to thank all the FFU staff, from the folk who run the canteen, the manifest lady, the packers, the safety guy, as well as all the instructors, Tandem masters, video flyers and also the other AFF students, and everyone that I spoke to and who all, without fail, encouraged me and my son. We did buy beers, for all, at the end of the day, and yes, made some friends.
We are planning a HALO jump in the USA for 2013 – once we have enough jumps – and I will visit a few DZ’s while travelling, so who knows, maybe, just maybe we will meet up! Blue Skies and cold beers!


gregpso  (Student)

Jul 13, 2012, 2:05 AM
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good stuff ken keep going !!


overlytall  (A License)

Jul 17, 2012, 2:55 AM
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Great read and story! Can't wait for my story to begin, see you guys next week Tongue


popsjumper  (D 999999999)

Jul 17, 2012, 3:44 AM
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Unbelievably great post and an almost erotic testament for FFU.
SmileSmileSmileLaugh

This should be put up as a 'must read' for every new jumper.

You, my friend, have nailed it on what skydiving is all about. Many, many happy returns to both you and Matt.


(This post was edited by popsjumper on Jul 17, 2012, 3:46 AM)


kenthediver  (A License)

Jul 17, 2012, 4:43 AM
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Thank you very much.


LookUpHigh  (A 65765)

Aug 1, 2012, 11:46 AM
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Reading this made my day!!! Thanks for posting it! I was laughing pretyy hard a few times and it brought back the feelings of jumping as well. l just passed my tandem progression on Sunday and my next jump will be my first AFF with one instructor.


kenthediver  (A License)

Aug 21, 2012, 1:56 AM
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Your welcome. Good luck with the AFF.


kenthediver  (A License)

Aug 21, 2012, 2:01 AM
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As an update - Matt and I returned to FFU for 5 days at the end of July. We timed it to meet with other friends we had met when we were first in Ocana. I did a check jump as it had been more than 30 days since we jumped, completed my last console, and did some fun jumps, including 2 coached jumps as I work towards my FS1. Again, FFU were amazing, I had to redo the EP's as I was a returning student, and get re-briefed on the landing patterns - but would far rather have too much safety than not enough. I have also submitted the paperwork for my BPA A licence. Blue skies to all!


(This post was edited by kenthediver on Aug 21, 2012, 2:03 AM)


BKS60  (C 41583)

Aug 21, 2012, 3:45 PM
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Read your OP awhile back and enjoyed reading it. I just finished my AFF jumps and now am doing solos and coached jumps for my A. You said your planning coming to the US for a halo next year. They do 30K's at the DZ I jump at so maybe we'll see you there!
Safe jumps and blue skies!


kenthediver  (A License)

Aug 22, 2012, 12:31 AM
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Thank you. I hope you are enjoying jumping as much as my son and I do. There are a few places that do 30K jumps, so...if it is your DZ then we will have to share a beer and stories! Enjoy, be safe and Blue Skies


(This post was edited by kenthediver on Aug 22, 2012, 12:31 AM)


kenthediver  (A License)

Jan 28, 2013, 2:20 AM
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As a general update - Matt has returned to SA to work - He passed the aptitude and medical tests but was told he would have to wait for up to 18 months before entry. He was really bored, got in touch with some old colleagues and had some job offers before leaving the UK to return to SA. He is jumping in SA so that is good.
As for me, it has been a really wet summer / autumn / winter, so limited jumps. Very frustrating but - hey ho! Thems the dice that the weather gods rolled! I have bought some new toys - Alti Track, Go Pro 3 - I know - nowhere near ready to jump a camera, but these are all little milestones for me, and it keeps me focused on getting the skills to jump safely.
Next steps, Jump Master and Canopy Handling 2 course, and most important - fun and safe jumps!


shorehambeach  (C License)

Jan 28, 2013, 2:27 AM
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ken - really like the ffu write up ! where do you jump in the uk ?


kenthediver  (A License)

Jan 28, 2013, 2:53 AM
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Hi there - I have mainly jumped in Spain, but have jumped at Dunkeswell, and Netheravon. The Redlands Drop Zone (London Skydive) is about 10 mins from my flat - but I have not jumped there yet - they are mainly a Tandam shop, but also only jump from 10K due to Heathrow restrictions. I am thinking of also visiting Hibaldstow, as one of the instructors that I jumped with in Spain is now doing the "Freefall Foundry". Also, I would like to jump at every DZ in the UK. Just because!


FlyBear

Jan 28, 2013, 3:59 AM
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Great post!!!

Had to smile because it was nearly exactly the same as my experience. I don't know how often I said, that I'd be a better person, neither. Laugh

Your text just makes me want to jump again... waiting for good weather... :( Laugh


shorehambeach  (C License)

Jan 28, 2013, 6:37 AM
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Ken - check out hinton www.skydive.co.uk - great dz north of London - no Heathrow holds and 13 +k ...well worth a visit
Blue skies.


kenthediver  (A License)

Jan 28, 2013, 9:48 AM
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Thanks for that - will do!


kenthediver  (A License)

Jan 28, 2013, 11:05 AM
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Yep - lets hope for really good weekends. Jump time!!!!


BKS60  (C 41583)

Jan 28, 2013, 6:43 PM
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Glad to see your still at it. I was just off AFF when you originally started and now am have everything for my "B" except for water training. I plan on a that and a HALO as soon as spring gets here. Hope you get a chance to make it across the pond and maybe make some jumps with us.


MichaelAnthony

Oct 1, 2013, 8:34 AM
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So freakin awesome man! Super insperational. "Just did it"!
Im really looking forward to the experiance and Im glad there are people out there that feel the same way I do. Tongue

kenthediver wrote:
The beginning.

About 6 months ago, my son who lived in South Africa, decided he wanted to come and live with me in the UK. He has a plan to get into the armed forces - this is now in progress. In chatting with him before he arrived, I discovered that he wanted to skydive, which I had done nearly 30 years ago and wanted to do again.
So, onto the internet and research, look at DZ’s and clubs in the UK, the facilities, whether there is week long jumping, what factor will the weather play etc. After a lot of time investigating and ummm’ing and ahhh’ing, I eventually decided on the FFU in Spain. Not an easy decision – but once decided, it was always going to be where we went for training. I started to plan the dates for our AFF, spoke a lot with Matt about it, shared the websites and generally started getting excited. I also spent time speaking with Paula, the service manager, who was very patient and answered all my questions. I booked my medical (as I am over 40 I need a medical every 3 years), booked tickets, and started to wait. Matt arrived and then shortly after – we were on our way.
It is one thing to think about skydiving, and a totally different sensation when it is planned, paid for, and happening. The excitement kicks in, the anticipation and – wow.

The journey there.

The Friday arrives, I arrange to leave work early to catch our flight to Madrid, and for Matt to collect me from work to go to the airport. As usual, things don’t go to plan. My meetings over-run, and we end up leaving late for the airport. On top, it was a bank holiday weekend, there was a lot of traffic, and the local authority had started road-works on the M4, which all combined to make us miss our flight. We actually got to the airport at 7 minutes past 5, and the flight gate closed at 5! Cue lots of pleading with the flight clerk at the counter – but boy – they must run some really good resistance courses, as he held firm. Eventually, we agreed that Matt and I would fly to Barcelona and get a connecting flight to Madrid. Not happy but also relieved that we were not just sitting around. We got on the Barcelona flight, and settled back. We had downloaded the BPA AFF course material, the CH1 manual, and used the time on the flight to re-read the material. We arrived in Barcelona, went to get the connecting flight to be told that the next connecting flight would be on Saturday morning, all the hotels were full, and that we would have to sleep in the Airport concourse. Not comfortable, and not at all happy. But part of the experience.

Matt slept like a log – (must be something about being young!) Me, I tossed and turned but could not get comfortable! I would doze for 10 minutes then wake up. Eventually, the morning came about, and we got some breakfast (at about 6:15), and freshen up. We go, wait in line and buy the tickets from Barcelona to Madrid. Have I mentioned Paula’s patience with me? What a saint – she was available – at 6 on the Friday evening, to assist and recommend travelling via Barcelona, and again, when we landed at Barcelona (about 10:40 PM – Friday night – Paula still answered my texts about times and delays – a really good lady!!!)

We eventually land at Madrid about 10:30 and take the train to Arunjuez. There we were met by Anna who took us to the Drop-Zone.

We were here and were about to become skydivers! The sleepless night was forgotten, the adrenaline was running and both Matt and I were seriously pumped and keen to get started.

Ground School

We grabbed a quick bite to eat at the DZ and a drink and got ready to practice. Cue Darren and Anna – both with the patience of saints! We got shown the equipment and kit, the kit checks, and were quizzed on the names and acronyms, until even I could remember what AAD stood for, and all the rest! Then onto the arch! I feel slightly self conscious as we stand ready to start the next part of the training – but realise about 10 seconds later that nobody is even watching – all have been there, done that – and this is part of the journey we are making. Have I mentioned that I am older – sheesh – try arching on the ground and then on a table when you are older and slightly larger and stiffer than your son (oh, and I realise that I am really competitive as I try to out-do Matt on everything!), it hurts. I find that I can arch for about a nano second, then the body “sorta” relaxes – and Daz gives the “thumbs down” and I push my legs and head up – groaning – (Lord surely it is not this difficult in freefall – please!!!) What have I let myself in for! More embarrassingly, Daz gets Anna to demonstrate the arch – not fair – she must be triple jointed or something. How does anyone almost get their feet to touch the back of their head while lying on their belly? Well, Anna does! Practice pulls and throwing the plot chute away, over and over, the thumb kept pointing down, I kept groaning and Daz and Anna kept drilling it. I think that in a previous life, Daz would have made an excellent slave galley master – no sympathy – no let-up – and we got told that if we don’t get it right we are not jumping! But all with a twinkle in his eye! Secretly I think he enjoys seeing an “older” bloke (by all of 5 or 6 years) pushing through the pain and discomfort. Onto the emergency procedures – lots of pictures – repeating the mantra – Is it Square? Yes; Is it big? Yes; Is it controllable? Yes – and if any are No then its Look, locate, Cut Away, Pull Reserve – all almost shouted out! Lots of repetition! And as someone who has taught martial arts in the past, I appreciate the “muscle memory” required to stay alive and so I persevere. Onto the harness, suspended, more pictures, more identifying the canopy state, and all the emergency drills. Landing patterns, decision altitudes, kicking out of line twists – soooo much to take in! Eventually, Daz declares himself happy, and we do a written exam. Written exams for a sport? Man – this requires a lot more than just pitching up and jumping! About 7 in the evening, we eventually get told we are good to start jumping! Phew!

The first jump.
Sunday
You think it would be simple from here on – but nature has a cruel streak about her! Sunday morning – at the DZ at about 9am, get kit, and then we wait. Have I mentioned it hardly ever rains in Madrid. But…you guessed it, we get there and it rains and the wind blows. So we spend the day walking around, reaching behind and throwing imaginary pilot chutes, mentally rehearsing the emergency procedures, play grabbing handles and pulling the cut-away and reserve. Lots and lots. Also, at this point we were introduced to Ryan who would be the main AFF instructor for both Matt and I. he talks us through what we learnt the day before, and then shows us the Aircraft Exit procedures. He also explains what the AFF Level 1 requires, the circle of awareness, dummy pulls, and generally just trying to relax and enjoy the jump! More walking about mentally rehearsing. More gazing at the skies, mutterings about “God not wanting us to jump”, and all the while the anticipation of the jump – dry mouths, sweaty hands, nervous glances at all around me. But everyone seems normal, and relaxed, so…how bad could it be? At about 6 in the evening we decide to return to the hotel and sleep.
Monday
No clouds or rain! This is it. Dressed quickly and I am ready about 2 hours before pickup time. I check on Matt and go for breakfast – which consists of coffee and not much else. Spare clothes? Check, contacts list in the event of….well – who knows? Check, right – rock and roll! Matt and I are collected about 8:45 and get to the DZ about 9am. The winds are starting to blow, and as we are virgins, there is a jump wind limit of 14 knots, so we are grounded. We watch the tandems, watch the more experienced jumpers, watch the packing staff pack chutes, and walk about, asking questions of anyone who has just completed a jump as to what the jump was like, was it eventful, and just generally being a nuisance. I have to state here that the DZ staff and members are absolutely fantastic. I think they know that the nerves are getting us, and the longer we wait, the more we think about the jump and what could work or worse, what could also go wrong. More mental rehearsing, more dummy pulls on an imaginary rig, more mental run-through of emergency procedures, more waiting and more waiting. Monday evening – and no jumps. Back to the hotel. But the outlook for Tuesday is great – low or no wind and clear skies! Or so we are told!
Tuesday
No clouds, no rain and NO WIND!!! Its here. The day we become skydivers! All of a sudden the reality bites. We are about to do something that is inherently dangerous and that all my friends have told me is bonkers! Breakfast – coffee. Lift to the DZ. Silence in the car this morning. Into the kit room, get kit, and Ryan puts Matt on the 3rd lift of the day, and I am shortly after that. We run through the brief again and meet the 2nd AFF instructor that will be on the jump – one of the Spanish instructors! Crazy grins, we get told to relax and lots of smiling! Relax he says! WTF! I am anything but relaxed. Matt goes up and comes down – safely – but what a smile – all he says is WOW!!!!! I have my gear on, and get checked by Ryan. The walk out to the plane. Suddenly I need to pee, but I cannot bale out now, so I control it. In the plane, we are the first load out so we are by the door. The door closes, the plane taxis and we are away and up. 1000 feet and the helmets come off. 6000 feet, Ryan asks what level this is, I answer – wave off and pull. Thumbs up. Really feeling very nervous and just a touch scared. Thinking to myself, am I insane? Much internal bargaining with myself on how I will be a better person if I survive! 9000 feet, run through the jump profile, helmets on, door opens, Ryan into the door, I am on my knees and we are out! How did that happen? I realise that I have pulled my canopy and it is open, big, square and controllable. Much relief and deep breathing. Everything is clear and I can see for miles. The sound of the slider flapping. Controlled turns – extremely gently. I did not want to stress the harness too much. My biggest fear was (and still is) that the harness would fail! Landing pattern, listen to the radio and …….Flare – standing landing – damn – hot dog – relief – ecstasy – I am alive and wow!!!!! What a rush! You don’t need drugs to enjoy life!
The walk back to the hanger to get the chute packed, the swagger to the video room for de-briefing! All of a sudden I am a skydiver. Very inexperienced, very ignorant – but I can skydive! In the debrief, we check – and both Matt and I were stable, we did our Circle Of Awareness, dummy touches and we both deployed as taught. Pass level 1. Now for level 2. I don’t remember very much about the jump at all. I remember having to tell myself to breathe when the door opened. I think my eyes must have been huge! But, I did jump!!
Jump 2
We walk out to the plane – again, the need to pee and again the control! Ryan, the second instructor and myself amongst the other jumpers – its amazing how lonely you can feel in a crowd! Second out the plane this time. Same routine, 1000 feet, helmets off, 2500 feet – decision time, 6000 feet wave off and deploy time, 9000 feet – helmets on, rehearse the jump profile and start the internal bargaining – it is amazing how many times I promised to be a better person. I watch the first load exit and then again I am in the door, we exit and fall. I recall seeing my altimeter this time – not much else but I take it as a positive. Wave off, deploy the chute and yes – I am not going to bounce this time! Its big, square and controllable. I suddenly realize how much I love my packers! Never ever piss them off! Not even as a joke! Buy them lots of beer – at the end of the day! On the ground, debrief and video – and see that I was stable, I did the dummy touches and I did a left and right 90% turn! Fantastic – but I don’t really remember it other than a blur! I still have sensory overload but wow – all of a sudden I realise that this is going to make me very broke. I suddenly see the costs of gear, rig, jumps etc – for myself and yes – I will be driving my cheap car instead of buying another sports car – but hey ho, I don’t care. And if I meet a lady – she will hopefully be into jumping and skiing so probably won’t care about the car either!
Jump 3
No need to urgently pee this time. Into the plane, up to altitude – with the same routine (I have worked out that this is all about getting your mind onto the jump and not thinking to much about the dangers – and I am very grateful to the skill and subtlety of the instructors)! Exit and start to notice my instructors – still not seeing anything beyond about 10 feet, but I am improving. Both instructors release and I do a left and right turn by myself. Ryan re-docks for the deployment and this time I decide to play under canopy. Slightly more daring in the turns, and even trying some half brake turns! Wow! The instructions from Ryan actually work! Too soon I am entering the landing pattern, identifying my route, and realising that even though I get the basics right, flying a canopy is a bit harder than it appears – or at least trying to land within a reasonable distance. About a 400m walk back to the hanger – but I am grinning. Debrief and video. Ryan is pleased with both Matt and I, and we progress to level 4 – jumping with 1 instructor only. Funnily enough, I am more worried about this jump than any of the jumps I have done so far. Only 1 instructor – crap!!!
Wednesday
Jump 4
I slept very well last night – early in bed – I can only assume that the adrenaline overload really exhausted me – but man, It feels good to be jumping. I have decided to limit myself to 3 or max 4 jumps a day – some folks do a lot more – but I feel that this is the most I can do without getting too tired and making silly mistakes. And I really don’t want a mistake while skydiving! Jump at 13K, with Ryan, get stable, and he lets go. Check alti and Ryan, 90 degree turn – check Alti and Ryan, 90 degree turn back, check alti, dummy pull, relax and enjoy the flight. I actually look at the horizon for about 15 seconds, get to about 7K feet, and then all I do is stare at the alti, 6K feet, wave off and pull. It all works. I am really stoked. Heading control – check, turns – check, altitude – check. Still not noticing much while going through the drills, but – such a rush! Every time. Start to play with a short spiral – heart in mouth – and again, I am starting to learn (not just head knowledge but to actually know) that the kit is designed so that it wont fail and that I can start to push it! But I will still only expand my limits a bit at a time. I have no desire to die prematurely! Landing pattern and this time a PLF – I flared a little late – no harm other than to my pride!
Jump 5
Very similar to 4, except the turns are 360’s not 90 degrees. Enjoying the control; and how it takes small controlled movements to move about – no need for effort – relax and let the wind do the work! Sounds simple, but when every nerve tells you that you are being un-natural – well – I hope I never loose the rush of jumping. It feels so good! I have never wanted to do drugs – but am getting to seriously like the adrenaline! It is goooood! Debrief and video are fine – onto level 6.
Jump 6
So we start with more serious stuff now. The plan is to exit, get stable and do a back somersault before doing a short track! WTF! This worries me – Ryan explains the technique, we ground rehearse it, but I am worried. Relax! I have heard that about a quadzillion times – but how? I am freaking skydiving and it is nerve racking! But so exhilarating that I don’t think I will be able to give this up! Into the plane, up and through the routine, into the door and exit. Maybe it was me over-thinking, but it took a few seconds to get stable – and settle. Deep breathe, knees up and pull with my arms and – I am back on my belly! Lots of thumbs up from Ryan, so I suppose that worked – but …. It’s a blur. Slowly into the track position – hold for a second or two and then out into the arch – altitude, relax, look at the horizon, wave and deploy. On the ground, we de-brief, and do a video review. I am amazed at how fast I somersaulted! And straight back onto my belly! This rocks! The relief at completing level 6 is huge. For me, this was a milestone. I had really anticipated making a pigs’ ear of this jump! Sign off, pack up and home to the hotel to sleep.
Thursday
Jump 7 – Jump, forward somersault, and play – turns and track, with Ryan watching and ensuring that I am fine to jump solo. I track a bit, turn a bit and settle down to enjoy the view. Before I know it, it is 6K and I wave off. Reality check there – note to self – Check your Altitude! Not a bad lesson to learn while under supervision. It is amazing how quickly you can fall if you are not careful!
Debrief, and Ryan signs myself and Matt off. We just have to do 10 consolidation jumps, as well as our AFF level 8 Hop ‘n Pop, as well as doing the required exercises for CH1, and we will get our BPA A license.
Consols
I completed 9 of the 10 consols, and also my Level 8 hop ‘n pop. I am returning to FFU to finish my last consol at the end of July (I know – I will have to redo level 7 as a check dive) as the weather in the UK has been atrocious! But an excuse to jump in Spain again. Also planned is my FS1, and starting my CH2 as I work to getting enough jumps for my B license. I have found where I will base myself in England – and have met the CCI. I have visited and reviewed a number of DZ’s and while this one is not the closest, I believe it is where I will best fit in.

I need to thank all the FFU staff, from the folk who run the canteen, the manifest lady, the packers, the safety guy, as well as all the instructors, Tandem masters, video flyers and also the other AFF students, and everyone that I spoke to and who all, without fail, encouraged me and my son. We did buy beers, for all, at the end of the day, and yes, made some friends.
We are planning a HALO jump in the USA for 2013 – once we have enough jumps – and I will visit a few DZ’s while travelling, so who knows, maybe, just maybe we will meet up! Blue Skies and cold beers!



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