Safety as a practice; survival is an art

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Some 'obvious' safety imperatives are era dependent. Emotion about safety transcends time.
Consider that there was a time when:
- a stopwatch was considered to be the must-have instrument. You knew the exit altitude. Delays were short. We pulled low; down and dirty where the eye is The altimeter.
- Audible dirt-alerts didn’t exist. Ground rush provided scenic visual dirt alerts. It is hard to ignore the ground at 1,000' . It is damn near impossible to ignore ground rush below about 700’
- Pilot chutes were not used on reserves. Period.
- Some people didn't have-use chest straps.
- Pulling unstable was accepted & "OK"
- Reserves were hand-deployed
- Cutaways were: 1st unheard of; 2nd very difficult; 3rd banned at some DZs
- All accuracy was run downwind
- Pea gravel was seldom seen.
- "Dead Center' was a ~ 3' square at the intersection of the"+" shaped target panels.
- Ground-to-air communication was via these target panels or by M60 Smoke grenades.
- In some places, expert skydivers' pull altitude was 800' (for students it was 1,200').
- As a freshman on the Texas Aggie Parachute team, I thought spotting difficult and hypoxia likely with their mandated 2,500’ opening altitude.
- A common accuracy technique was to hook-turn at about 40' so you'd swing-out towards the target on impact.
- Parachute meets only involved style and accuracy. -- 2-3 night competition accuracy jumps were common.
- FS people (RW) were just fun-jumpers and not serious parachutists to some.
- Sprained ankles were common.
- Some accuracy jumpers took duct-tape and scissors to accuracy competitions and changed their gore-cuts to match the winds on-site.
- The word "Star" and "Formation" weren't invented until about 1964.
- Doing a 3-way from 3600' at an accuracy meet got you nearly grounded and very hollered at.
- Some places, the jumping interfered with drinking for some.
- Turning style with a hangover is un-fun
- Some Style jumpers wore like 20 lbs. of lead in their belly reservves.
- RW (FS) people wore big welders gloves.
- Nearly all jumpers wore Bell helmets, Cochran jump boots, and white painter's coveralls (Sears).
- Few people exited above 7,200' -- ... too expensive and time consuming. A 45 second delay was a big deal.
- The hot-rod aircraft was a Cessna 196.... Very few twins were used
- The biggest formation you could make was a 5-way (aircraft limited).
- For us break-off was < 1000' (Unless somebody was real close)
- The B4 container would reliably open in 250' ( you'd want to sit up some)
- Tracking off at 800’ altitude is silly. You just turn 180 degrees and dump
- Double totals were thought impossible until the PC was introduced.
- Survival was practiced as an art.
- As today, safety was an emotional topic costumed as clear logic
Pat Works nee Madden Travis Works, Jr .B1575, C1798, D1813, Star Crest Solo#1, USPA#189,

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I wondered why there could be so many fatalities back in the day when they were not doing even close to the number of jumps we currently do.

They were learning the things that allow you to make some many jumps today. Did you think all the advancements in safety, equipment and technique just appeared one day?

My idea of a fair fight is clubbing baby seals

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Review of my post by early '60s jump mate Don Deveny, c-1753 "Nasty Old Man"
-- -- Don made these commments/ additions:
. "Well lets see:
- A&M legal pull altitude was 2K. Frequently ignored
- The first addition to style and accuracy was baton passing events judged from the ground via binocs
- Sprained/bent everything was common under home modified 28' Airforce canopies
- Jumping interfered with drinking and drugging.
- CG Wallace D-152 was the only one I knew who put lead behind his reserve. He would sling it to one side for target approaches. It knocked him cold on landing one time.
- Welders gloves were common and killed Bill Nicholson
- The hot rod aircraft was a 195 plus the Howard and Staggerwing Beech. Especially CG' (D152)experimental 195 that had a P&W 450 hung on the front.
- We got away with turn 180 and dump because the forward surge of the home modified Airforce 28' flat canopies was not that great. It got dicier when we got ParaCommanders. Remember when some tried jumping Parasails.
- - - All else be true"
. s/ D. Deveny
Pat Works nee Madden Travis Works, Jr .B1575, C1798, D1813, Star Crest Solo#1, USPA#189,

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Comment from pal Ed Burran, D1856, one of Wallace's Outlaws at our Houston Texas DZ, " You did not mention the presence of guns at the drop zone which was guiet common." Ed...
Pat Works nee Madden Travis Works, Jr .B1575, C1798, D1813, Star Crest Solo#1, USPA#189,

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Yup. My first jump, August 1961. White "Derry slot" surplus 28 footer. For those of you who never heard of Derry slots; they were just that. Slots to turn the canopy. No forward speed. Just a different view.
Dropzone near Air Force SAC headquarters, (Oops, forgot, some of you never heard of that either=Strategic Air Command)-Omaha,NE, where there was a surplus store. Pick up a surplus B-4, 4 pin back rig, complete with 28 foot flat circular for about $30. Took rig to Master rigger in Lincoln NE to add the big D rings on the front lift webs, to hang the belly mount reserve. Most of us just borrowed the belly reserves from the guy who just jumped, because we didn't have one for ourselves. Main canopy modifications? We looked at a picture from somewhere, to get an idea, and we then just cut out the "mod' with a soldering iron. Melted the edges-good for a few jumps before fraying too much. Only after we had a few jumps on our creative "mods", to see if we like the effect, did we send the rig to the rigger to put edge tapes around the holes. By then the edges were frayed, sometimes ripped to the French Fell seam of the panel, so the rigger would have to repair the rips before putting the folded edge tape on. You were considered a sissy if you had egde tapes sewed on right away. Your bravado was kinda measured by the amount of loose fabric edges. The more the better. We thought we were so cool.

Pulled whenver we felt like it. Not actually that low, but ...whenever. Actually, the common practice was to pull very high, until you were "experienced"=about 20 jumps. Then stop watches were introduced. Wore them because they were cool, but we actually didn't even look at them that much. Just wore them because they looked sexy on the ground.

Big old half pound airplane altimeters, about 3 inches in diameter and about 5 inches long-with spinning big hands for the hundreds. Once again, we didn't really refer to them that much, because the hundreds hand spun around so fast, and it was hard to focus on the thousands needle, which was smaller anyway. Once again, wore them because we wanted to look good on the ground. One guy took the face off to break off the hundreds needle. Broke the glass face. Bent the long needle off by bending it back and forth, and jumped it. Of course, on the first jump the other needle got broken off too. Someone got wise and altimeters became available with only one needle for thousands! Wow! What a concept! Then we started to actually look at them.

Of course we switched the ripcord pocket from cross pull to the right side. We all did that by ourselves.
And...of course, detached the hand tacking from the end of the ripcord housing, and re tacked it about 6 or 7 inches higher up the housing, so near pull time, we could slip the ripord out of the pocket and hold on to it, and have the ricpcord handle in our right hand, and still "fly'. It was called a floating ripcord, because it did just that. Floated. (actually it was just loose) so if you stupidly dropped it, it would fly wherever. Probably under your armpit. Wherever it was, it was out of sight, so to get it, you'd have to strip the housing down to get the wildly flinging damn thing, or just give up and pull your belly reserve. For those who didn't retack the housing so well, the housing, along with the flinging handle just flew behind you about 18 inches. It was, of course, then totally out of reach, because it was, by then attatched only at the mounting plate which was in the back of your neck area. Even if you rolled over on your back, it was still flying in front of you, just out of reach, or waving aound so wildly you couldn't get it. If you DID get a hold of the housing, and work your way to grasp the ripcord, (think about it) you still couldn't pull the pins, because no one's arm is long enough. Yes, we heard about jumpers trying to get it and die because they ran out of time. So, someone decided to sew a webbing band around the housing and the FLW on the right side, so the housing wasn't just attached by the hand tacking. After all, we didn't have actual tack cord, we used whatever thead we had. I seem to remember going to a shoe repair shop to get linen cord. That's how the so called "mudflaps" we have on all of our rigs today was invented. One was added to the left side, just for looks.

(And oh yeah, some guy was left handed, so he sewed the pocket on the the left FLW, keeping in mind it was "wrong facing". So, his rig was a left hand pull. That made sense to him anyway. )

Now the function of the covers are more to cosmetically hide the hardware and the sewing there, and be a place for logos and pretty designs.

The good old days weren't so good. People died. And considering how few of us were actually jumping back then (PCA era), and how few jumps per year we made back then a really large percentage just didn't make it.

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Wow! Good-0. Well said.... Memories... Yep, you did what we did at the same times: 1960+. -- It was the standard operating procedure then. SOP. A complete USAF emergency bail-out B4 with canopy was only $25. Deployment bag or sleeve was another $15. I sewed my reserve D-rings to the Outside of my harness by hand. :o My 24' flat reserve w/ belly container cost me $50 bucks (actually, I traded a radio for it). Altimeters were roughly the size of a can of beans and paired with a stopwatch. We never looked at them either. Floating ripcords, well, floated. Yes, we walked the same path in the same foot prints. Neat that Omaha was just as 'evolved' as Houston back in '61- +.

Often your rigger was yourself and your reserve packer was your pencil.

You are indeed a living fossil. Perhaps a relic.
Pat Works nee Madden Travis Works, Jr .B1575, C1798, D1813, Star Crest Solo#1, USPA#189,

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Thanks for the memories, Pat.
In those days, the gear was so mis-matched and cobbled-together that it was truly scarey. To us, at the time, it was state-of-the-art. But everything had to be either custom-made or home made, and there were a thousand ways for something to malfunction. To stay alive, you really had to know the ins and outs of the gear. The average non-rigger jumper back then probably knew more about his stuff than a lot of riggers today.

It seems to me that the ratio of fatality causes back then was about:
90% - Gear Issues
10% - Jumper Error

Now, with almost foolproof gear, microprocessor-controlled AADs and Audible Altitude devices, we have almost the same number of fatalities each year. Only now, the cause ratio has reversed:

10% - Gear Issues
90% - Jumper Error

Now, it is possible to fly a perfectly functioning main into a clearly visible brick wall at 60 mph and die. Booth had it right when he said, "...whenever I make something more foolproof, they just come up with a better fool." (Paraphrased)

Kevin K.
Dude, you are so awesome...
Can I be on your ash jump ?

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Hi depre,

I started in early '64 & that was a great trip down Memory Lane.

I remember everything that you wrote; that is how it was. :P


PS) The most wasted money I ever spent was on one of those stopwatches; never ever turned it on, not once. It just took up space on the panel.

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... those stopwatches; never ever turned it on, not once. It just took up space on the panel.

The Panel was the 'dashboard' on our belly-mounted reserves which housed both a stopwatch and a BIG aircraft-size altimeter oft taken from an actual airplane.
Pat Works nee Madden Travis Works, Jr .B1575, C1798, D1813, Star Crest Solo#1, USPA#189,

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I saw the title of this thread and thought
it was going to be Pat waxing philosophical,
but it turned out to be more reminiscical.

You couldn't do that kind of stuff on today's
gear though, you'd have to run several hundred
feet on every jump just to get open :-) :-)


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> Hey Skratch! You started jumping in the 50's....

Yeah, in a way. From at least the 6th grade, and
possibly earlier, I spent a lot of time in my imagination
going up and jumping out and tumbling through the
air in freefall, and also, in real life, jumping off of things
like barns with homemade parachutes.

And I spent even more time out in space being weightless.

And there was a swimming pool that had an 8, 16 and 24 ft
diving platform, and I would spend all day jumping off of the
24 ft.

So I probably had several days worth of freefall, collected
one second at a time, before I got to jump out of an
actual airplane - a little Piper Cub in 1962.

You're about a year ahead of me.

> did you guys use the USAF equipment then?

It was olive drab B4s with 28 ft flat circulars and 24 ft twill reserves.

The mains had sleeves so we didn't get the killer opening
shocks of the generation before.

The guys who taught me, Jack Pryor for my first jump, and
Bob Sinclair later, both started on straight, unmodified for
sport, seat packs - no reserve, no training - they just went
up and jumped out - Jack in 1953 and Bob in the 40s right
after World War II.

I remember a mid 60s conversation one night in the parking
lot behind the Rumbleseat where a round of one-upsmanship

Someone remembered when something came out, the next
person remembered when PCs came out, I pitched in with
7-TUs, there was quiet for a moment, and then Don Moses
said, with no particular emphasis, "Oh, I remember when
nylon chutes came out."

We were kind of quiet after that, just standing there grokking
the universe and trying to take it all in.

> And, if you remember, what was the date of your 1st 5-way?

My logbooks are a little buried, but I was in the third 8-way
which I believe was 1966, and some time before that some
of the Arvin guys came down to Oceanside and Clarice and I
made a 5 way star with Alan Walters, Bill Newell and Bob
Buquor out of the Fairchild.

I have a sliver of doubt but those are the three names that
come to me, although Jim Dann comes to mind too.

I may have been in a 5-way contact before that. We spent
a lot of jumps trying to make contact, but the idea of specifically
and persistently going for stars came from Bob.

We (Clarice and I) had gone to all the Southern California
dropzones, but mostly we went to Oceanside, until it flooded,
and then we moved to Elsinore (1966?).

By then stars, as opposed to just making contact, had entered
consensus reality and I fell into organizing star attempts.

We got as far as 7, and then (late 1966? early 1967?) Luis
Melendez told me we should come up to Taft, where the Arvin
guys had ended up after Arvin closed.

That's when I started jumping with them every weekend.

We made a lot of Beech load star jumps, but I had also
been an avid no contact person ever since Richard Economy
had shown me the idea one day at Lancaster (1964?) and
so I did a lot of that, and other than star shaped hookups, too,
mostly smaller 3-5 way jumps.

Bill Newell has a much more complete version of the Arvin
group thread than I do.

Then in middle-late 1967 came the Garth Taggart - Bob Allen
Rumbleseat bet and in late 1967 the first 10-man star meet.

I don't remember the date but for me that was jumps 1019 & 1020.

When competition entered the scene the atmosphere changed
from learning and exploring to anger and tension and stab your
buddy in the back to get on some team, and I dropped out,
although I was still entangled for another 4 or 5 years because
I had not yet learned to be my own person and I still wanted
to be part of the "scene", even though I was pretty uncomfortable
in the scene.

I remember being at that Z'hills meet that had over 100 10-way
teams, feeling amazed at how quickly relative work had taken
over from style and accuracy, but also feeling really out of synch
and out of phase with main stream reality.

(So what else is new? :-) :-)

Well, that was an interesting pour, but I think I'll stop here
because I've forgotten what the original question was.


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Re: Early Daze -- input from a jumper from 1961

I started in '69, and it wasn't very different from what you guys experienced in the early sixties.

My first canopy was an orange/white flat, unmodified, and I created my own 5-Double L mod. B4 and belly mount. Pig rigs hadn't been around very long, and none of the Cedar Hill Outlaws (Dallas area) had them. They were for sissies, and everyone knew they were harder to fall stable in.

When size and weight started being important to me, I gutted the 550 lb. test lines from skirt to skirt, which eliminated a bunch of pack volume and made the openings softer. Then we'd use the gutted nylon for repairs like those described in Depreguy's note. We also used it for tying static lines (50 lb. test, per thread). Waste not, want not.

Only rookies and nerds actually used the stopwatch/altimeter "soup can" combo at our RW oriented DZ, where your eyes were considered to be perfectly acceptable for altitude awareness. Never lost a soul until a low-jump wonder came over from the USPA DZ (Seagoville) and bounced on our turf.

To be more like my hero Jerry Bird (he had no Capewells on his harness), I opted for two-shot Capewells instead of the newer/easier 1.5 shot versions. Mr. Cool! Then I had a malfunction and could only get one side undone, so I deployed under a streamering line-over. By the next weekend I had new shot-and-a-halfs on my rig and a more humble attitude.

BTW - I believe the average "conventional" rig (military harness/container, main & reserve) weighed 40-45 lb, depending on the main canopy (cheapo or PC).

The last "conventional" rig I had included a Pop-Top reserve, allowing me to track much faster. After winning my tracking contest heat at the original Stumbles (Elsinore), Hank Asciutto made me an offer I couldn't refuse to wear one of his new Piglets in the Tracking Finals, which I won. Otherwise, I might've been using belly warts for awhile longer.

Compared to PC's, those Piglets were lighter, smaller, and cooler. They probably had the same rate of descent, but we all swore they landed softer.

I always wanted to jump one of those Paradactyls, which I believe still may be the slowest descending canopies ever made. But I never had the chance. I wonder if any have survived in jumpable condition.


SCS 36

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I always wanted to jump one of those Paradactyls, which

There are a few of us old-canopy enthusiasts out there who jump Paradactyls from time to time, single or double keel, although the double keel ones are pretty rare. (Search for the threads in History & Trivia.)

I see this is your first post. If you've got other tales & details from the old days, they'd be welcome! (This thread is an exception, but most of that stuff is over in History & Trivia.)

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I see that your D license number is a lot lower than mine (2629), although you've only been in the sport for less than half the time. Did USPA start over, or is that a Canadian D?

Regarding Paradactyls, the slowest descending canopy I ever jumped was an old 35' T-10 I used for awhile after gutting the lines (skirt-to-skirt). No forward speed, but on calm days, it was very gentle on the ankles!

SCS 36

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I always wanted to jump one of those Paradactyls, which I believe still may be the slowest descending canopies ever made. But I never had the chance. I wonder if any have survived in jumpable condition.


SCS 36

There were 3 of them attempting crw summer before last over Moose Jaw Saskatchewan. Only one landed due to the wrap of the other two, but I would question your comment about the slow descent. The landing looked harder than the two reserves (a LoPo and a Phantom if memory serves).

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: Early Daze -- input from a jumper from 1961

I always wanted to jump one of those Paradactyls, which I believe still may be the slowest descending canopies ever made. But I never had the chance. I wonder if any have survived in jumpable condition.


SCS 36

Greg Bailey master rigger at Richmond has one and jumps it every now and again. He offered to let this kid try it but his last 3 jumps it malfunctioned (slider did not want to come down) he landed it twice then on the last jumpt it was way too high and he chopped. So I just passed on that offer. Crazy looking canopy though.

I have really enjoyed reading this thread. We are very fortunate to have jumpers like you to learn from!
Life is all about ass....either you're kicking it, kissing it, working it off, or trying to get a piece of it.
Muff Brother #4382 Dudeist Skydiver #000

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Posted as requested by Pat.

Richard Economy DrEco aka: DrEcon aka: D115
Email: DrEcon@yahoo.com
1. How I got started: Moe came back from California in 1959 with a couple of Air Force surplus parachutes and talked me in to making some jumps. At Casterville airport all the instructions Moe gave me were "Crall out and stand on the wheel. When your over the DZ leave the plane, count to 3, then pull the ripcord and put you feet together when you land".

First Jump: Jump count 3 and pull with an unmodified chute with no sleve April 1960 at Casterville, Texas.

Third Jump: 12 second delay freefall from 3500 ft from J3 Cub with out a sleeve deployed chute. (very hard opening, I had harness bruises on my shoulder and chest.).

Fourth Jump:15 second delay freefall from 4000 feet from J3 Cub. Used a deployment sleeve for the first time (much smaller opening shock).

Jump Number 5. An 18-second delay free fall. Tried a baton pass.

Jump Number 7: A 20-second delay from about 5000 feet from a Piper Tri-Pacer at Mitchell Field. Mitchell Field was next to Mitchell Lake (a sewage disposal lake for San Antonio). I wanted to take the right side door off the plane but Moe told the pilot no, no, don’t bother taking the door off. This made it very difficult for me to look straight down to spot when I was over the target. Also trying to open the door against a 60-mph air stream made leaving the plane difficult and time consuming.

Buy the time I left the plane, I was over the middle of Mitchell Lake. From 5000 feet my position did not look too bad. However once I open my chute at about 2000 feet and started looking around, I saw I had a problem. I landed in the middle of Mitchell Lake with my parachute harness, boots and overalls on and of course the canopy had to come down right on top of me. I did not have any flotation gear with me and the lake was about 8 feet deep. I got the canopy off my head but I was all tangled up in the canopy and the lines. With the parachute wrapped around me, and my harness, my boots and my overalls on, swimming was all but impossible.

I was staying afloat OK but my arms were getting tired. So I would take a breath sink down and stand on the bottom for a while to rest and try to get my parachute harness off, then come back up. I did this for about 6-7 minutes until two guys got a rowboat and came out to pick me up. As they started to pulled me out of the water, Moe was on the bank yelling: "Get the parachute, get the parachute, be careful with the parachute, don’t tear the parachute." He never once asked if I was OK. But that was Moe and that is what I liked about him.

When they got me to the bank, they pull me out of the boat and sat me down. I was sitting there, exhausted, spitting out sewer water, when Moe comes over to me. His first endearing words were:

"You have ruined my parachute, you have ruined my parachute."

Jump Number 8: My first night jump. A 20 second free fall. I spotted for myself for my first 10 jumps.

I was on a 1960's accelerated free fall schedule.

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Howdy Pat,

A pleasure chatting with you and all the other old geezers last year at Summerfest.

I started in August of '69.

I'm sure glad you guys had all the fun stuff figured out by then. ;)
“The only fool bigger than the person who knows it all is the person who argues with him.

Stanislaw Jerzy Lec quotes (Polish writer, poet and satirist 1906-1966)

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