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The Journey of an AFF Student - Part 1

By adminon - Read 6053 times

Over the course of the next few weeks we will be sharing the journal of John McDarby, who documented his experience as an AFF student. This journal should allow for new students to get an idea of what to experience during their first steps into the sport.

Accelerated freefall (AFF) is a method of skydiving training. This method of skydiving training is called "accelerated" because the progression is the fastest way to experience solo freefall, normally from 10,000 to 15,000 feet "Above Ground Level" (AGL).

“As far back as I can remember, I've always wanted to be a gangster. ...” Ray Liotta

Goodfellas, I always loved that movie. I guess it’s kind of like living that gangster life for 2hrs which is so utterly foreign to anything most of us would know.

Skydiving is something I’d always wanted to try, ever since a young age.
I remember seeing a clip of people in a wind tunnel when I was about 12 or 13 and thinking “I’ve just got to have a go at that”
But the usual trials and tribulations of day to day living, seemed to perpetually push it out.

During my twenties, I actually went as far as getting the sponsor forms to do a charity tandem. But that’s as far as it got. It was placed on the back burner for another twenty years.

One fateful day, a surprise email from my cousins wife arrived. “Can you come up with an idea for you and him to do something different for his 40th” was the request.

Race car driving? White water rafting? Paintball? All the usual silly ideas we both bounced off each other.

Then, the light bulb went “ping”

We booked in for us both to do a tandem – he was as yet, unaware. The day came and the colour drained from his face when informed of the plan for the next few hours. That’s actually on video somewhere and is quite comical. For me, I’d had a month or two in order to come to terms with it.
As it turned out, the rain came and the gig was off – honestly, I think we were both equally relieved and disappointed.

We re-booked and again, it was rained off. I decided at that point, if it was rained off a third time, then that was it for me. It was a proper sign that skydiving was not something I was destined to take part in.

But not this time. This time Thunderbirds were go.

The day came and we hit the DZ. We signed our lives away, we jumped and we loved it.

It was a surreal experience and one that I will never forget. No matter how many jumps I ever make through the rest of my skydiving career, I will never forget that first time sitting on the edge, feet dangling.

On video, my tandem master asks prior to the jump:

“Will you do this again or is this a one off, tick the box?”

To which I reply categorically “one time, one time only”

Yes, let’s see how that worked out...

I must apologise for the soundtrack. Prior to the jump, whilst at the DZ, we had to select 3 songs from a list of thousands that were to be added to our video afterwards. I was much too preoccupied to choose them so the task was given to my niece of 12 years. “This will be hilarious” was the giggling consensus. And I was informed in no uncertain terms, that I was not to see the track listing until the final product.
Which was later aired on the big screen in the hanger to much laughter.

I’m a living joke...

But...the deal made with my niece was that if she decided to choose the songs, then she would have to do a tandem when she turns 18.

Aoife, the clock is ticking!

So that was it. I walked away from a wonderful tandem experience and was determined that if nothing else, I had to complete “at least” one more jump. I couldn’t go through life and not try it again

Knowing me and how I think, it made sense to sign up for AFF rather than another tandem.
“I’ll do the ground school and one jump, then reassess” I told myself.

Multiple emails back and forward to the IPC Irish Parachute Club, had me booked into school for the second Saturday in April – about 7 weeks after the tandem.

I was hyper and couldn’t wait for the day to come.

As it approached, the bravado began to wear off and nobody was happier than me that we did not get to jump that day due to weather. We would have to wait for the following Saturday.
This was something that stuck with me until AFF6. I would never have been upset not getting any of the first 4 AFF jumps on the day. It was a genuine fight with myself to gear up and just do it. But afterwards, it was always such a buzz.
At times, I even thought “I wish I could just fast forward the jump bit and get to the après-jump buzz” and go home.
Unfortunately, you have to load and exit to get that.

Now, I’m really happy and excited during the hour or so prior to kicking off. But that took a few jumps to get there.

During the next week, I read the SIM twice. I looked at everything there was to see on YouTube. I even had my first skydive dream!
Figuring that jumping from a plane, this time unattached to someone who knew what they were doing, I thought it best to know as much as I could.

I did the AFF1 dive flow, over and over again in my head during the drive to and from work. I ran over my emergency procedures again and again. In fact, I still have the laminated cards with the bullet points, sitting on the dash of the car so that I see them every single day. I practice my EPs daily – numerous times.

Rinse and repeat….always repeat.

I went through my notes from class – why was I the only person taking notes? I’d never paid as much attention in all my school and college years combined. I asked more questions in that classroom than everyone else put together. This stuff was important and I wanted to know it down here rather than not know it up there.

And then the day came…

Part 2 will be published shortly, keep an eye out on the dropzone.com homepage to follow John's journey through AFF

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