It is now an official tradition for me to travel to south Florida and get some warm weather skydives in during February. Being military and stationed in the Washington-Baltimore for the last three years, by the time February rolls around, I must have jumps where I don’t have to wear polar fleece and I can feel my fingers in the toggles after deployment. I always have the same plan: Fly in to Orlando and rent a car, then drive around and visit a few drop zones. My first stop the last 2 years has been Skydive Space Center and even with the best-laid plans, I have not made it out of Titusville. The DZ, accommodations, facilities, but most importantly the people at that DZ are awesome! I will venture out further someday but I just keep having so much fun at Skydive Space Center
Facility: The airport is a light use, general aviation airport and most of the non-jump plane traffic is from small single engine airplanes and ultra-lights. The packing area is adequate and I have never seen a shortage of packers for lazy bums like me. In fact, during my last trip, the packers made sure I was on every load for my last 2 days. Sweet! Five dollars a pack and if you don’t tip for nice openings then bad JuJu on you. There is a nice mock-up for practicing exits and plenty of room to dirt dive. There is a kitchen facility where lunch is served almost daily and other snacks are available on demand. The loft if full service and there to help. I know this because for some reason I have gear issues whenever I get to Titusville. As minor as my issues may be, Kristin who is the Senior Rigger and is also kept very busy as a camera flyer, has always been there to help. I can read her mind though… “God here comes T.J. again. I bet he wants me to tie his shoes this time…..” A small grand stand and picnic tables overlook the landing area and there is usually a few locals checking things out. For those who dare, there is a very small swoop pond in front of the old lobby area (laugh Gregg, it’s a joke). No swooping the pond! The location of the DZ is 45 minutes from Orlando, 15 minuets from the Kennedy Space Flight Center and Cocoa Beach. Although you can no longer jump during shuttle launches, when timed right, you can still jump during other missile launches. Quite a sight! Oh, by the way, although I am a free flyer I noticed that there were regular R/W loads being organized by DZ organizer and other belly flyers.
Landing Area: I suggest you pull high your first couple of jumps. There are plenty of outs but they can be elusive unless you are familiar with the area. Anyone who jumps there will be glad to point them out so please do not be afraid to ask. There is a small landing area in front of the hanger but you must have at least 1000 jumps to land in that area and remember, tandems get the right of way (Don’t even think of landing there if you can’t beat a tandem to the ground). Your very best bet is the huge landing area on the other side of the main runway. There is a grass runway so stay clear of it. It is used often and as always planes have the right away on taxiways and runways (and in the air unless you have a death wish). Left-hand patterns are the norm.
Planes: Un-fuc***** believable. There are 2 King-Air’s with upgraded engines. These are some bad mo-fo’s. They can get you to altitude (15,000 is standard, 18,000 is a little extra) in about 7 minutes (8-9 min to 18K). Never had the pleasure of riding in Mike Mullins’ King-Air but from what I understand these two are at least as fast and maybe faster. Be ready to exit when you get on the plane and start your gear check early. Before you know it the green light is on. BONUS- If you have a non-jumper in your party, for a minimal fee the DZ will allow them to ride along. I understand the ride down is thrilling. The DZ has also just acquired a Cessna that they are in the process of making jump ready with brand new engine that promises to climb like a cat on fire to allow smaller loads on slow days the opportunity to jump. (Sorry PETA but that is a great visual….. a flaming cat flying to jump altitude with 6 jumpers clinging on it’s back for dear life…I am so retarded I crack myself up).
Bunkhouse: What a great place to stay. Your slot (space available) is free as long as you are jumping at the DZ. It is located less than ½ mile from the DZ and includes showers, full kitchen, TV and lounge area, and a screened in porch and all the funny smells of a bunkhouse. If you are not some whacked out, anti-social, scab of a person, you will like staying there. First, it’s free so the price is right. Second, the house brings all the visiting jumpers from all over the world to one place to socialize (who am I kidding, skydivers are reading this… PLAN TO FUC**** PARTY). On both trips I made friends that I am still in touch with. Linens are provided (please do your laundry or make arrangements before you leave). There are plenty of restaurants a short drive away (all different flavors). There is even wireless internet access. (Yea, internet porn…uh…did I say that?) Yes I did….BONUS! Buying a few sundries while you stay or upon your departure is always appreciated (paper towels, toilet paper, condoms, ect..) but not conditional of your FREE stay at the FREE bunkhouse (read between the line Sparky).
Weather: Weather is the best reason to come to Florida in February and is obvious to everyone. However, there is a phenomenon that goes on there sometimes that is worth mentioning. When the steely-eyed missile men at NASA were looking for a suitable place to hurl missiles into space I believe they picked Cape Canaveral for a reason. I have seen soup in the skies over Orlando and blue skies over Titusville and the Cape. Strange but true but sometimes the clouds just can’t make it to the coast. Good for launching rockets and jumping out of planes.
People: The people are the core of any DZ and are responsible for the vibe. The vibe at SSC is great. I read one review that described “cliques” being the norm there. Well, if there are any cliques there then I am way more cool that I thought I was. I was accepted into every. Everyone made me feel comfortable from day one. Greg, the DZO, shares my infinite love for all things that fly. I really enjoyed talking to him and he seemed to bend over backwards to accommodate jumpers. On more than one occasion I have seen him put up two planes for sunset loads because jumpers were still trying to get packed. I know I am going to forget someone and/or get a name wrong so forgive me now, but the other characters in the cast include (but not limited to):
Snorre: The pilot. This is one great guy and a regular at the dinner on the town nights. I have family in South Florida and this man offered to fly me down (in his own plane for a break-even fee), so that I might pick them up to have fun and visit the DZ. What a nice gesture. His spots are great. I never had a problem making it back to the DZ and never saw anyone land off while I was there.
Kristin: The previously mentioned rigger and camera flyer. She and her husband Mark Griffon own Griffon Rigging. Need advise about gear? Have a question? Ask them. We spent about an hour one day (while Kristin fixed yet another piece of my freefly suit) discussing my next rig I am planning to purchase. Mark’s side job is at NASA (kidding Mike). It was a blast talking to you Mike and the package we talked about in on the way. Kristin… thanks to you and April for making feel so sexy when measuring me for my rig. Can we take that one measurement again please???
Carolynn: This nice young lady is the packer wrangler (besides being a full time schoolteacher). She always made sure I had nice soft openings, was packed for every load I manifested for, and even let me demo her new canopy. What more could you ask. I owe you one babe…. You name it.
Mike X.: The first dude I met on the drop zone last year. Very cool. He gave me my DZ orientation and gear check. After going over my rig, he handed it to me and told me I could not jump it. I was stunned. New gear with a recent reserve re-pack and Cypress…what gives? “Well TJ”, he said laughing, “That is the ugliest rig I have ever seen and we do have standards here….are you color blind or something?” I laughed and assured him I would be able to tell the difference between the red and green light next to the jump door. The best advise he gave me, first jump pull high, enjoy the view and identify the outs we talked about. Sorry to see your heading home soon. Like I said, stop by X-Kyes and let’s jump before you make your run for the border.
Mark (“All you have to do is ask and I’ll do a tube jump”). He is the master of the bunkhouse and in charge of a group of juvenile delinquents most nights (I am not talking about skydivers, these are real live little troublemakers that society is expecting a skydiver to have a positive influence in their rehabilitation… Good luck!)
Mark C: Tandem master and A&P mechanic. Also shares a love of flying machines. He is funny as hell on the way to altitude keeping his students at ease.
Dean: AFF/Coach and Tandem Master. This man is one of the premier skydiving still photographers in the world. If you read Parachutist or Skydiving magazines you have seen his stuff. Very cool dude, not standoffish at all and was willing to answer any question I ever had. Who owes beer? I think was my most asked.
Kenny: A true steely-eyed missile man over at NASA. I was very impressed with the dedication this man had for his son (he is a single Dad). It is obvious he and his TEENAGE SON have so much fun just spending time together. I have teenage daughter and I was jealous. Kenny is the DZ Daddy-O. He packs, he opens and closes the facility, and generally makes sure the ground ops run good.
Fabian: A world class freeflyer, load organizer, and instructor but most of all world class person. He is always smiling and his laugh is infections. He always makes sure everyone who wants to be is included on a jump. Thanks for everything you taught me!
Phillip: Again, another one of the world class Thanks for understanding when I kept calling the other visiting Austrians “Germans” I hope I made up for it by allowing them to call me a Canadian for a day. (Easy there Mike X, you can get me back when you stop at X-Keys and make a couple jumps with me on your way back home). Every time I jumped with Phillip I learned something.
Adrian: Another world class freeflyer. The first time we jumped together last year he told me I dropped like a valadi-ball. I said “valadi-what”. I was just learning head down a year ago but he jumped with me more than once and I accomplished my first hand dock with him. What did he have to say to that? BEER! We all have our priorities. Adrian is not employed by the DZ but will always help come up with something fun like leading a tracking dive, a hybrid or whatever. It is always a bonus for him when there is someone doing it for the first time. BEER!
Noah: Another fun jumper. I mention him because he is always up to jump! If you are new to the DZ and meet Noah it will most likely be because he said to you “What are you doing this jump?…..Cool I’m in” This attitude is popular at this DZ. This is why I don’t understand the post about the cliques.
OK all my new friends at SSC. I am raising my beer to toast all of you ( - this is me making eye contact while we toast… Hummm that really kinda looks like me after margarita Sunday at the bunkhouse) Thanks for a great time and thanks for making me feel instantly at home upon my arrival and throughout my stay. I will see you all soon. I have to get down one more time before Uncle Sammy sends me to play in the sand for awhile. Blue Skies, TJ