This article follows a previous article of an AFF journal submitted by John McDarby. We hope sharing this series of articles detailing the experience of his journey may be able to provide some insight into those looking to do their AFF course, while also entertaining those who have been through the process.
AFF4 – Saturday 13th June
Well, that was quite the weekend of ups and downs.
Failed AFF4 on Saturday (they don’t call it failing as its all learning each time) so repeated it on Sunday and got through, just about!
Saturday was an odd one - my first proper experience of loss of altitude awareness - total loss.
I'm down to one instructor now instead of two - we had a perfect exit but then entered into a spin (not a crazy one) which the instructor corrected - as it happened, I was oblivious to it - how? I don’t know, because it looked quite hectic on the video afterwards. My log book entry from the instructor states “John was a little over whelmed on this one”
That is the understatement of the year, I feel.
So by the time we were all steady and my instructor came around to the front, we'd lost most of the freefall time - but I didn’t cop it – the dive plan was, once we were steady, he’d come round the front and we’d kick off from there – but by the time we were stable and set, it was too late – for some reason, I seemed to have had that point as my trigger to start work, rather than watching the alti all the way.
So, I checked my alti now and we were at 5500ft - deployment height - I nearly had a heart attack - normally I’d have seen 9, 8, 7 etc on the way and I’d be well aware that 6 was coming, lock in, 5500ft deploy - this was the first time I missed ALL of that - I deployed just after 5500ft and had a super canopy down - I cursed for the first minute or two after deployment as I knew I’d failed, utterly - I didn’t do one single task for the jump - it was referred to afterwards as a "brain fart" where the brain just shuts down with the overload of tasks to do - there was never any danger as such as I copped it on time and everything was fine - but my instructor said he was giving me another two seconds before he dumped me out himself if I hadn’t done so.
On the ground as I gathered up my canopy and walked over to my instructor, the two of us just started laughing "Johnny, what the hell just happened there - what were you doing?"
I had no idea - I just phased out – I can't fathom it - but I was told it happens to everyone at some stage, it’s just a case of when - it’s one of the reasons students have to deploy so high - it gives that margin for precisely what just happened - we deploy at 5500ft whereas experienced divers deploy at 3000ft or so - that gives them another 12 seconds of freefall - so there was never a danger on my jump - it was just a case of "Johnny, get your head in gear"
There was the opportunity to go again later and rectify it but I really wanted to sit down with a beer and think about what had happened and why.
I needed to analyse it and make sure it didn’t happen again.
One of the things I came up with was that my previous "jump" was the tunnel - and that was two minutes at a time - perhaps my brain thought I had that amount of time rather than 45 seconds – I’m not sure - it doesn’t explain the total freeze and lack of one single task being completed, however.
So I went back the next day to jump again - I couldn’t let that go until next weekend as it would have gotten bigger in my head all week.
Wonderful jump - loved it and passed it...
AFF4 Repeat – Sunday 14th June
I got a different instructor whom I'd never met before - a really nice chap who trains the army jumpers - I told him what had happened and that I didn’t care in the slightest if I passed today or not - all I wanted was to jump and "get back on the horse" and be totally in the zone with my alti – that’s all I wanted.
He was good with that but at the same time "let’s plan on passing the jump and doing everything we're supposed to do, right"
So we dived it on the ground, all was good, climbed, perfect exit, a little longer than I would have hoped to get stable but we got there.Then he let go and came around the front, face to face and off we went with our tasks - just a couple of 90 degree turns.
I have never seen me check my alti so many times! He said I was fixated with it and that I need to find the middle ground between Saturday and Sundays jumps - but boy did I know what height I was at the entire jump.
I thought I’d failed it to be honest as I didn’t do a 100% right turn but he told me in the debrief that I was good to pass as once I was stable, I was rock solid and the turns were perfect - but I didn’t think so once I'd deployed - but honestly, I didn’t care - I had a super canopy down - couple of spirals again and got myself into the landing pattern real nice - came down a bit fast but not heavy - skidded onto my butt as usual - I can live with that!
I met up with the usual lads back in the hanger and had about 15mins before debrief - got a cuppa and moaned about how I'd failed it yet again - but that I was just happy to have jumped after the fiasco of the day before - then I was called for debrief and he said it up front immediately that I'd passed - I nearly fainted - and then he proceeded to go through the video and explain why - and he was right I feel, he could have failed me too but it would probably have been a bit mean - either way, I do the same jump again for AFF5 but this time with full 360 degree turns – I’m fine with that.
My goal for today was just to jump again and be altitude aware - I got that AND I passed, so it was a double bonus and I’m delighted with it.
I was very comfortable going up in the plane - no willies at all - and I was sitting on the floor again as we were first out - it’s a different position and takes getting used to - when the door opens, you're kneeling right beside it looking down 13,000ft - you truly have to block it out.
And as you're first out and the plane is making its pass, you can't hang around as the people behind you also need to get out close to the DZ.
So there really is no hanging about - door opens, assume the position, exit - it all takes about 5-8 seconds - You cannot question it - just do it.
Which is good too, as it doesn’t leave time for the brain to start thinking “why am I doing this?"
I'm now really starting to enjoy the canopy - both rides this weekend were great fun - I think my brain said "feck it, you've failed both jumps, just enjoy the ride down" which I really did - nothing too exciting but a couple of spirals and really working out the landing with the wind directions etc.
What a view when the door opens eh?
You can see my red runners right beside the door - I had a quick peek down but then looked away - it doesn’t help looking down at that – he he.
You can see the number of times I’m checking my altimeter - like a watch on my left hand.
I was all over it this time.
And you can see, once I got stable, I was very stable - it was just getting there.
And then I put in a decent left turn - I had time to turn back but I just locked in on the alti and left it at that.
Loved under the canopy again this time - a real mellow buzz - so much more relaxed than I have been.
I actually look quite relaxed during the freefall there too.
Part 5 will be published shortly, keep an eye out on the dropzone.com homepage to follow John's journey through AFF