I just got back from Empuriabrava, Spain where I did my AFF course with Scotty Milne between 28th May to 7th June 2012, and, after a few people on here have messaged asking, I would do a little write up of how it went... Sorry that its a bit long, but hopefully it will help anyone thinking of doing the course. Id say to anyone thinking about it, JUST GO FOR IT!
I met Scotty and 3 of the others on my course at the airport on the first day, then met one other lad at the apartment where we were all staying
We all walked down to the DZ and did the paperwork stuff, then spent most of the day learning freefall drills, using the creepers, learning how to check the rigs, canopy control practice, exiting the plane practice, emergency drills in a hanging harness, and repeating it all over and over until we knew it well.
At 5pm when we were all having a break, Scotty asked if anyone was ready to have a go for real... Of course I jumped at the chance (excuse the pun)!
We were to use a plane called a Pilatus Porter. Scotty went over everything before we boarded, then during the climb to 13500ft as well. The 2 blokes sat by the door,, leaped out and made it look easy, giving me a wave as they left the plane.
Then it was my turn. I was the first AFF student on that lift to go. I was crapping myself! I knelt in the door, put one foot out onto the step, did my 'hotel check', then away we went. The first time I had any comprehension of what I was actually doing was at 12000ft when I was doing my checks!!! After that it felt to me like we were going head first vertically down, but I arched hard and did what id been told, and immediately felt more stable.
Once Id pulled, the canopy shot up, and I remember seeing Scotty falling away grinning like mad!!!
I couldnt find the DZ at first but did some gentle turns and located it, then floated down exactly as we had done in all the theory work. Flared too late and ended up doing a running stumble ending up on my knees.
LINK TO AFF Level 1
Wednesday 30th May
Went down to the DZ early, and after a debrief of my level one jump, and after only 25 minutes of being there, I was getting on to the Twin Otter plane for Level 2!!!
Kept forgetting to keep my head up during the practice exit, but the actual exit was ok except my trainer almost coming off. I kept getting signals to straighten my legs and I went to pull a bit too early, but, other than that, I was pretty good I think
Canopy control and planning was all good except for i got a bit of tunnel vision and even though i could hear scotty saying FLARE FLARE FLARE, for some reason, I didnt listen, and didnt flare at all, and found out the hard way that thats a really bad idea! Thought id busted both my ankes but luckily only bruised them. Stood up and took the walk back to the hangar ready for the piss take that i got when I got back LOL
Click for link to AFF Level 2
Waited a few hours while the others had their turns, then was ready for level 3. I was totally relaxed while waiting for the plane, which for me, is pretty amazing!
I cocked up the practice run through on the ascent, but the jump itself was good. Had a great exit, good circle of awareness, good practice pull, and then tried to keep a heading along the coast line. When I turned round and realised both instructors had let go, i nearly s**t myself and had a bit of a wobble, but pulled at 5000, did canopy checks, and had a better landing, but leant back a bit too much and landed on my butt!
CLICK FOR LINK TO Level 3
I had a bad night, and woke up wondering if I would be able to carry on the course. Level 4 was today, and for some reason, the thought of having only one instructor with me, and being let go of, was really scary! Thankfully, everyone I have met in this sport, are really really helpful, and encouraging. I spent a little time on the ground chatting to other skydivers, and convinced myself back into doing it, and it really wasnt too bad at all! I was let go, and turned 90 degrees to face Scotty, then 360 left and right. Just needed to concentrate on straightening my legs more. And came in for another arse landing!!!
Click for link to level 4
Later in the day, I was ready for Level 5. My first SOLO exit. No one holding on. I got in the door of the Twin Otter, Scotty already on the outside, and checked out, in, out, then 'fuuuuuuuuuu..........' Even the people at the very front of the plane heard me go out, and it was the subject of piss taking for ages!!! LOL
I was quite surprised when I got stable quickly! Got on with doing my tasks, turned left to see Scotty, then did 360 right, checked alti, then went to do 360 left but went right!!! Realised Id twisted my body instead of turning at the shoulders. Did it right then completed the 360 left. Then did my first attempt at tracking, which felt absolutely awesome, but when I realised how fast I was going I quickly pulled out of it!!! At 5000, I waved off and pulled, and experienced my first 'hard opening'. Felt like id been kicked in the balls!
My canopy and planning work was good again, but there was a fairly strong crosswind, and i bumbled my landing again. I landed on my feet, but stumbled and went down to knees.
I was wondering if I would ever land on my feet like all the others were!!!
CLICK FOR LINK TO Level 5
Friday 1st June
Got down the DZ nice and early, but had to wait a few hours befor I could jump to allow the others on the course to do theirs first. Eventually at about 11:30, I was briefed for level 6. Solo exit, backflip, and track. The backflip was the latest thing I was nervous about, especially since, up to this point, I hadnt got unstable, so it was more a fear of the unknown about how to get stable again, but I was surprisingly feeling very relaxed just prior to jumping, although my face tells a different story, LOL. Then I did a weird cartwheel style exit, got stable and went straight for the backflip. Which, to me, felt like it had gone perfectly, but on the debrief video, turned out it was actually a front flip! Straight after the flip, I seemed to do a bit of a riverdance impression, before telling my self to ARCH!! Never felt panicked, and even despite the flailing about, I felt fairly well controlled. Flipped myself over, and went for some tracking, although I did rush it a bit. When I came back to the arch position, I was given the signal to track again, so had another go. This time did it for the count of 5. Pulled at 5k. The canopy ride was brilliant, and by this time, I was now taking far more time to take in the stunning views too, whilst looking for other traffic. Coming in for my landing, I was determined not to screw up the landing again, and flared earlier than I had been... and got a perfect stand up landing and jumped up and down for joy!!!
Click for link to AFF Level 6
Had to wait for a few hours again, in the sunshine, to do my next jump, Level 7. This was to be the last one with an instructor, and had to incorporat everything I had learned. I was in the Twin Otter for this one, and the atmosphere between everyone seemed electric. The Babylon freefly team were all on, the french formation champion team were on, and just prior to my jump they were all giving me the 'skydiver handshake'. This had happened on all my jumps, but these guys are sort of famous, and it just felt amazing to be accepted into their gang so to speak!
I stood in the door, ready to exit, did my hotel check, then went for it. Arched really hard and got stable nice and quickly, hesitated for a few seconds, then did my backflip, which I knew had gone well this time. I stabilised quickly and went straight into a 360 right, followed by 360 left, then tracked for a few seconds, and finally turned to face Scotty. Somehow I had managed to do everything and still have a good few thousand feet til pull time, and I was confident that Id passed it, as you can see from my face!!! The canopy ride was as usual really good, but had another ankle munching landing, probably in part due to the crosswind where I was trying to compensate and trim to one side. (you can only land north or south there).
Click here for link to LEVEL 7
So, that was all 7 levels of AFF done. I had managed to pass them all with no retakes, and all in the period of 4 days. Now I had 5 days left in which to try and do 10 consol jumps and AFF level 8 - the hop and pop from 5000 feet.
It was really cool that i was able to do some consol jumps first prior to the hop n pop, so that I could get more confident in my stability. I had previously thought you just went straight to 8 after7.
Saturday 2nd June
I was even more nervous of this first consol jump than I had been of making my first EVER jump!!! I was on the little pilatus porter plane, and all the way to 10,000 feet, I was crapping myself, and even thought I might chicken out, but, again, there were other people on board giving encouragement and I told myself that I had come this far, and that I should just do it!!! My turn to jump came, and I dived out. No hesitation, just went for it!! The second I was out, all the terror had gone, and I had a job to do. I arched and stabilised quickly, did a practice pull, tracked for 5 seconds, turned and maintained a heading, then did nothing else, except look around, and at the ground speeding toward me for what seemed like ages. I hadnt really had chance to see all this before, because I was so busy concentrating on all the tasks Id needed to do, but this was Awesome!!! Pulled at 4200 (was told to aim for 4000) Canopy work was great, and made a perfect standing landing!
I couldnt wait to get back up and have another go! It seemed like all that worry, and all the apprehension, had just gone, until the door opened at 13500 again! I was in the plane this time, with a bunch of 7 other people who I didnt know, and as I was the least experienced, they explained, I was to be the last one out. It took me a few seconds to realise the joke that 'last one out has to close the door' as well LMAO.
It was weird being last in the plane to leave, but I dived out and went unstable where I hadnt brought my arms up enough, regained stability, relaxed a bit too much and flipped over again, arched hard and got a good position. Did a little track, then a 360. Pulled at 4000. Flared too early on landing but held it as instructed, and then dropped the last 4 ft on to my arse!
This was it! I had the bug for this jumping game!!! I was off up again. Jumped fro the Otter, but this time, I was a bit too stiff on exit, and did a couple of (unintended) backflips, did a practice pull, the 360 left and right, and tracked straight. And again, flared a little early, My knees took the bashing this time!
They were expecting a storm the next day, so Scotty encouraged me to do a fourth jump today. I went to manifest, and I was told that I would be on a lift in an hour. I got about 10 paces from manifest when they called me back and told me there had been a mistake... My lift was in 10 minutes! I couldnt believe it! I ran to the hangar, and did the fastest change into kit ever, then got an instructor to check me, but I was still too slow! I could see the plane taxi-ing down the runway. Spoke to manifest (not impressed), but they were really cool, and radio'd the pilot, who stopped and I had to just go and jump on. Another cause for the piss takes later. Apparently, chasing the plane up the runway isnt a regular occurence!!! LOL. Everyone on the plane was understanding, even though I did feel like i right tit!!!
The jump itself was really good. I got nice and stable, did a bckloop, some 360's, and a long track, and spent more time just looking around especially now that I realised how fast i was moving forward while tracking! This was fuuun!!!
Thankfully, the storm did come on the Sunday so no one was jumping. I say thankfully, because I spent most of the day hungover in bed, after a night I dont remember a lot of!!! Except a lot of Jager Bombs, and a strange walk back to the apartment involving the other lads 'borrowing' a deck chair, so they could sit me down every few metres LOL Sorry lads
Anyway, back to the DZ on the monday 4th June
On the twin Otter, made a nice clean exit, I stabilsed quick and tried the new thing Id been instructed, 'max tracking'. I had thought normal tracking was fun. This took it to a new level! I held it for 10 seconds, then went to arch position, and, as instructed, pulled at 3500. I also had a new thing to practice under canopy, rear riser steering, which went well. Canopy and planning work well well, but flared too early AGAIN More bruises for me!
Made a good stable exit, and did my usual practice pull. Then really went for it in a 20 second max track toward the mountains - this was f***ing awesome!!!! I tried doing a normal track,and turning, but flipped over. Got stable and pulled at 3500.
Looked around and didnt recognize any of my surroundings, but eventually spotted the DZ waaay off in the distance. Ooops. I didnt think I was going to make it back tot he holding area since I was so far, and already facing into wind, So I planned to just keep going and just land straight into wind without a downwind or crosswind leg.
I realised soon, that that wasnt going to happen either! I picked a nice looking field, just missed the tops of the trees surrounding it, flared on time, but still managed to land on my bum! Then had the fun task of gathering up my parachute, and trekking back to the road, where a 4x4 had come out to collect me. I felt much better when I was told there were also 2 instructors that had to be picked up as well!!! :-)
3rd jump of the day... This was the first time I had jumped above cloud, so I couldnt do any tracking. I had a slightly terrifying experience as I was heading toward the cloud, and was all braced up ready to hit into another person, but I later found out that the dark figure that had seemed like it was getting closer, was in fact my shadow on the top of the colud!!! LOL. Went throught the cloud to find that visibility was pretty awful! then popped out the other side at about 6000, Did a few 360's, then pulled at 3500. Did some rear riser steering, then came in and made a jogging landing on my feet. Woooo
Tuesday 5th June
First jump of the day, and I was feeling really good about the last jump I did yesterday, but made the mistake of relaxing a bit too much on my exit. It was a terrible exit, with me doing about 6 backflips and I didnt get stable til 11,000. After that, I had time for a couple of 360's, but that was it. Pulled at 4000, then flared too early and landed hard on my butt. Ouch! By far, the worst jump I did there! But all good learning experiences
A really good exit this time, and went straight for some tracking for 10 seconds, then into some max tracking for 5., did some 360 turns, took in the scenery some more, realised, while in freefall, from the direction of the giant wind bar on the ground, that the wind had changed direction since we took off, opened at 3500, and changed my plan accordingly to come in for landing in the opposite direction. Thought Id flared too early, but landed on feet :-)
HOP 'n' POP
This was it, I was ready for the hop n pop. Crapping myself, but ready as Id ever be! I was in the Pilatus Porter, sat on the floor, with another of the lads on my course behind me. I think I was more scared of sitting right next to the door, than of going out of it! LOL. It was quite difficult to turn over onto our knees from sitting, (I am 6'2, and not small at all), but did it, and at 5000ft, the door was opened and out went my mate, followed shortly after by me. I took my time, but got stable straight away, and pulled at 4200, which gave me more time under canopy that usual! so just spent the time doing some tighter turns while up high, and practicing rear riser turns, came down and made another standig landing. I thought Id cracked the landings.
Wednesday 6th June
This was to be my last jump before qualification, and my last jump in Spain, so I had already decided it'd be a good one! I got out at 13,500, got stable, did 2 back flips, tracked, and made a tracking turn left and right using my hands and feet, did a 360, left, then right, and opened at 3500. Practiced my rear riser turning, had an amazing canopy ride down 'Woooooping' for most of it!!! Then came in for what looked to be a good landing, but mucked it up, and came in fast, landing on my arse, and since the grass had just been cut there was bits flying all over the place. I was later referred to as looking like a lawnmower! But I didnt care! I had passed. Qualified BPA cat 8 and FAI UK A licence.
Sadly due to the high winds when I got back to the UK, I couldnt jump on the saturday, as Id hoped to, but Im going up to Dunkeswell this weekend, either fri 15th june, or saturday 16th, whether its sunny, windy, or snowing!!! Hopefully by then I will have had my licence through the post too. :-)
I know that the wind tunnel training I did at Bedford, prior to going out to Empuria, helped immensely, in that I was able to have practiced stability there, and with a dummy rig as well, but the main reason, I was able to do all this, was the Instructor. Scotty Milne, he is bloody good at what he does. The fact that he got me through the course is proof of that! He was really patient with me in the months prior to going, when I had a LOT of questions, and put me at ease pretty much from the moment I met him at the airport.
He's a top bloke, and Id recommend him to anyone. (activeskydiving.co.uk) (and no, he didnt pay me to say that! LOL)