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  1. Ideally, the first group in the door does that check, as they're the ones with the luxury of more time, with the door open while waiting for the green light. But too many people don't do that any more... Even if the first group fails to do so, it only takes a couple of seconds for the next guy up to the door to sweep their eyes around, while they're doing their count waiting to exit next. If you're on jump run at 13,500', and you want to scan an area of two miles radius, that's less than a 45 degree downward angle. So, you're not really looking that far outward. Look down at the floor right now where you're sitting, and sweep your head so that you scan a 45-degree circle. Didn't take long, did it? If there was a bug crawling across the floor in that scan, I'll bet you would have seen it. And the human eye is naturally attracted to movement. If something is out there, your eyes should zoom in on it automagically. You can't stop this from happening if you try - it's a hard-wired survival instinct that's probably millions of years old. Those that didn't have it, got eaten by saber-tooth tigers, and fulfilled Darwin's theory.
  2. That's a no-brainer. Work as a mechanical engineer. Jump on weekends to build your skills and work towards your tandem rating. You can get there in two or three years. And still have your savings.
  3. Well if you just saw an aircraft below there is no way you can fall fast enough to get down to it to hit it. It's the plane you can't see that you are at risk of hitting! "Below" doesn't necessarily mean directly underneath you. If it's at a lower altitude, and moving towards you at 120 mph from a mile or two away, it could intersect with your freefall path. So you don't just check underneath you, you also need to scan around the horizon in a circle, as much as possible.
  4. Heck, find an old canopy that has been retired from service, and cut out swatches of faded orange fabric. Also get swatches of new orange fabric. Give a swatch of each to the doubters and ask them to do a "thumb test" on both samples. Stand back and watch their expressions. First hand experience is far more convincing than a quote from some obscure study.