My second "first jump" story

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I recently found this scribe, re-read it and smiled.

I originally wrote this for blue skies magazine, but since they seem to be history, I'm posting it here.


Maybe you will too?


A Tale of Two First Jump Courses

Even though I’m an old guy who is all too rapidly approaching the opportunity to join the S.O.S. club, I’m happy to say that this level of “maturity” allowed me to do my initial first jump course during an interesting time of student gear transition.

I made my initial first jump @ Skydive Perris in May of 81 while I was a Marine. When I tell people this, they naturally assume that I made military jumps. Actually I started jumping as a way to get away from my fellow jarheads at the El Toro air base. For some reason I didn’t really click as a military guy and was considered to have an attitude problem. What better reason to go to the DZ and meet new friends who might be a tad more accepting of me?

The classroom part of the FJC occurred in the barracks. A former marine had a tidy business teaching the FJC class to military people. He would come to the base, teach the classroom part, get paid, then see who would show up at the DZ for in-harness training <no refunds for no-shows J>. Gear at the time was an interesting mix of “conventional” and piggyback. While we were on the static line we jumped T10s on our back and some other round thing on our belly. Once we were cleared for freefall we had the opportunity to upgrade to piggyback gear. You haven’t enjoyed a “modern gear upgrade” until you’ve had the chance to jump with both a 32 foot round main and 28 foot round reserve packed into the Kelvinator on your back.

A few memorable events of the student training progression include;

1.     Climbing out onto the strut of the 182 on my first jump and telling the pilot 10 right, (why did he and the jumpmaster just laugh at me and wag the wing?)  

2.     Backing up to the tailgate door’s abyss of a Skyvan while trying to see the floor under my belly mount reserve. I clearly remember being afraid of falling out before I was ready.

3.     Sitting in the shade on the sidewalk while waiting our turn to climb into the DC-3 and sweating from fear and anxiety.

4.     Sitting in the shade on the sidewalk while waiting our turn to climb into the DC-3 and watching a student dangling from the door of the DAC at 2,800 feet. He was twisting in the prop blast with his rig locked closed and firmly attached to the airframe via the static line. The jump master ended up clipping into the line, slid down to the mostly unconscious student, cut the line and initiated reserve deployment. A young Norman Kent got a glorious sequence of photo’s while sticking his head, (and camera), out the port fuselage door.

5.     Losing a bit of altitude awareness on my graduation jump and initiating main deployment ~ 1800 feet. I was certain that I had failed, but the jumpmaster came over, slapped me on the back and told me, “congrat’s, you’re a skydiver”.


Fast forward a bunch of years. I’d daydreamed about going to a DZ sometime where no one knew me and pretending that I was a newb while taking a FJC. But to more accurately recreate my FJC experience, it had to be a static line FJC. Those were pretty much non-existent in So Cal after the early 90’s so that dream just simmered. One day I was in Portland OR on business and the vendor I was auditing chatted me up about jumping. He was stoked about taking a FJC. I did a bit of research and found a local DZ that allowed static line FJC progression. YES!

Jim and I called Skydive Wilburs* (name changed) and made an appointment for the next day. I gave Jim my abbreviated version of the FJC; arch on exit and keep your feet and knees together on landing. What more can you really do as a S/L fist jump student? We found out what else you can do during the 4 ½ classroom portion of the FJC; gear familiarization, airplane boarding, exit technique, good canopy recognition, reserve procedures, flying the pattern, blah blah blah. The instructor did quite a good job and obviously had concern for the students and passion the sport. Two thumbs up. I had no trouble staying engaged in the instruction and had a good time treading the line of appearing apprehensive / engaged / knowing too much during Q&A. During one of the breaks Jim and I walked around the DZ and were chatting about how it seemed they had no clue I was an imposter. We walked into a packing / beer drinking area that had several posters on the wall, including some from the old Django Canopy Company. That put a big smile on my face since my CReW team were flying the canopies in the posters. The people at Wilbur’s were looking at me nearly every day and didn’t know it.

They geared us up, (dual square piggyback rigs), a final run through of reserve procedures and walked us to the plane, a Beaver. Yuck, my only previous experience with a Beaver was at the 85 CReW Nationals in Muskogee. That pilot flew barefoot and smoked on the way to altitude. Climbing to 6.5 in a Beaver full of large CReW dogs takes a long time. The Beaver pilot at Skydive Wilbur’s didn’t smoke and wore shoes. That combined with only having 4 people in the plane made the ride to 9.5 pretty sweet while watching the beautiful Oregon countryside.

Exit altitude, jump run, I remind Jim to arch and keep knees and feet together while the door swings open. He climbs out on the strut and seems to have a good exit. The jumpmaster pulls in the S/L and gives the command, “climb out on the strut”. I climb onto the strut while smiling at her and saying, “jumping borrowed gear is black death”. She gives me a WTF look and watches my exit.

The jump, canopy flight and landing were uneventful as they say in Parachutist. The reception I got upon landing was not. Wilbur, the DZO was pissed. He was sure I was there from the FAA or USPA or CIA or someone just to bust his operation. It took a bit of ‘splaining about how this was my finally realized dream before he cooled off and warmed to the idea. We even shared a few beverages and he invited me back to jump his ParaCommander. The jumpmaster wanted nothing to do with me even after explanations.

My friend Jim? Well he forgot a critical part of my FJC instruction, badly tweaked his ankle and never made another jump.

I had a great time reliving my FJC and would encourage you to do what it takes to make your dreams come true.

Blue Skies, Black Death.

Craig Fenstermaker





Edited by kleggo
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