MELISSA JAHNKE: MY JOURNEY TO BECOMING A SKYDIVER – AFF LEVEL 12

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


August 24, 2014 AFF 12

I have been very anxious this past week to get back to the drop zone. I can tell the daylight is getting shorter, and there are more and more signs that fall his just around the corner. I sit this Saturday out, as I attend a wedding for my Dad and his new wife Cindy. They are beautiful together, and I am very blessed to have them both. By some miracle, the weather was over cast all day, and it made it easy on me to go an extra day with out jumping. Not to mention the amazing photos that we captured at the wedding not having to worry about sunlight refraction. This would be the first Saturday in nearly 2 months that I wasn’t able to jump. I am still checking trending weather patterns and am hopeful for a jump the following day.

In the morning I check in with Bo, and gather his thoughts and opinions on the trending weather. It is still over cast and low cloud base, and he and I both conclude it will be better in the late morning to early afternoon. My husband and I decide to take a drive down to the drop zone. I am so excited that he can finally come and watch, and meet some more of these amazing people that I am growing to love. I can’t wait to show him all that I have learned, and how much I am improving!

We pull up to the hangar and immediately are in shock as there are so many cars there in the parking lot! This place was hopping!! We walk into the hangar, and the tandem students are already going up with their instructors. They are reporting low cloud base at 4000′, which means the clouds are still too low for AFF students to jump. “No worries,” I think to myself, “I have all day, and a driver to get me home no matter how late.” I am excited to see that my fellow AFF jumper Ericka is there planning her skydive, and I am introduced to McKenzie, another awesome person who is already on AFF 16! We hit it off right away, and I am just amazed at how much we all have in common. The three of us practice dirt dives, and our exits on the plane parked in the hangar, and plan our canopy patterns for the variable winds. In between, we help pack tandem rigs, and watch the other skydivers get ready. Our plan on our work sheets are scribbled full of every possible pattern scenario, as the winds keep shifting. We watch the tandem skydivers come down, and observe their landing patterns. We constantly check with Bo and he assigns us to watch the sky, and wait for the right opening. Ericka has to leave early, and McKenzie and I are on deck for a skydive. It appears as though it is trending in our favor, and we are prepared for our jump at anytime.

I glance over to the hangar doors and notice a familiar face walking in. I know her from the webpage….”Can it be?” I ask myself. “Oh my goodness, its Anna Mae!” I am so excited to finally meet this wonderful, inspirational woman in person! I run over to Anna and introduce myself! She recognizes me from the journal entries on the WSC web page! I give her a big hug and she tells me that today, she will be making her NINTH skydive! She is 79 years young, and is still full of so much life that she is making a skydive. She tells me that story of why she got into skydiving. I learn that she is a breast cancer survivor and nine years ago she made her first skydive on the first anniversary of being cancer free!! This woman is amazing! I am so blessed to have met her. I cheer her on as she prepares for her skydive! I watch her and her niece walk out on the taxi way to the airplane, and we all cheer when they take off!

I sit in the cool grass with my husband Steve, looking up and watching the plane climb to altitude. I take my shoes off, and set them on the ground next to me. I spot a four-leaf clover in amongst the grass blades, and pluck it. “This one is for Anna Mae,” I tell Steve. I can see four Eagles circling up in the sky, and point them out to everyone. The clouds are separating more and more leaving the sky with more and more blue! “Jumpers away, Jumpers away, Anna Mae is in the sky,” we hear Boman announce. We look up and wait to spot a canopy. “There she is!” I point up to the purple and green canopy! We watch them peacefully perform their canopy flight and come down to land. Bo and her are having a good time, and Bo decides to put on a show, and lands her right in front of the grilling area! Everyone shouts “YAY ANNA MAE!!” Bo unhooks Anna and gives her a big hug. I smile so big, as I am so proud of this spectacular woman! Bo helps her to her feet, and I run over to her and give her a huge hug and tell her “congratulations!” I hand her the clover and explain that I found it while she was in free fall. I help Anna get her harness and jumpsuit off, and sit with her for a while as she calms down. I know how she feels, and it is a rewarding feeling to share it with someone who loves it as much as I do.

I go back to planning my skydive and start working with Luke. This is the first time I will be jumping with Luke since my very first AFF jump! I can’t wait to show him how far I have come! We are going to be doing AFF 12, which is learning to adjust fall rate. This will allow for me to maneuver my body to fall faster or slower to move “up or down” in order to match the falling speed of a fellow skydiver(s). I am also going to try my very first “dive out”. I will leave the airplane headfirst as though I am sliding down a slide. I am so excited to be learning this new technique! I practice it on the plane in the hangar over 30 times. Over and over, trying to envision my skydive from exit! I love the rush of anticipation, and excitement!

McKenzie is all geared up and ready for a jump! I give her a highfive, and tell her good luck! I will be on deck, and know when she lands that its time to go next. I do my final gear check inspections, and get my jump suit on. It is so hot out, and I just love this hot humid weather as it makes me feel so alive! I run over to the hose and dose my hair so it is soaking wet. It helps me stay much cooler. The sun is getting lower, but the clouds are almost gone completely from the sky. My favorite time to jump! I get my rig on and walk out to the shaded area to watch McKenzie under canopy. I pay extra attention to her landing canopy pattern, as I will be flying it shortly! She does an awesome job getting to the target, and I can hear Jordan on the radios telling her what to do, and what to look for. He sings to her “GO MAC GO” like the Green Bay Packers football chant. “What a cool place,” I say, and smile to myself! McKenzie does an easy flare and slides in! She comes back to the hangar glowing from her skydive and said it was awesome! Anna Mae tells me good luck, and she will be watching! I give Steve a big hug, and tell him I love him. As I’m on my way out to the plane and McKenzie also tells me good luck and shouts an awesome “WHOOT HOOT” battle cry! I reply with mine, and giggle childishly, and smile big!

At the plane, I perform one more gear check before boarding. I check my pin, handles in order of use. I check my harness straps, and then check my three rings and cloth loop routing. I press the test button on the radios, and then put my helmet on. Goggles are around my neck and altimeter is at zero. I am set. I am the first one in, and sit right behind the pilot. A first time tandem student is going up with Jon, and Dan is going up to do a hop and pop. We will all exit at different altitudes. We buckle up and are clear for take off.

Once in the air, I can’t help but be hypnotized by the beautiful sky. There is a light haze in the air, and the light refracts with such a golden hue. The pilot props his window open, and the fresh air feels so nice. It is hot with all that gear on! We share some Tic-tacs, and laugh and have a good time. I reassure the tandem jumper that she is in for a treat and will absolutely love this! She has nothing to be afraid of and Jon is going to give her an experience she will cherish the rest of her life. We reach 5000ft and Dan preps for his jump. We all give him high-five, and good wishes. He yells “Door” and swings open the door. He climbs out and hangs like a monkey one handed as he scratches his armpit with the other. He makes a great face and lets go into free fall! It was classic. Pilot Jeff banks the plane, and the door closed. He latches the handle and we continue higher and higher. Jon starts to prepare his student for the jump, and once we are at 9000 he has her turn around and he mindfully hooks her harness to his. He explains to her what to expect, and helps her get her goggles on and tightened. I relive my first tandem skydive every time I see a student get ready to make theirs. It is such a neat paradox. Once again, high fives and good wishes! The plane idles down, and Jon yells “Door”. The door opens, and they carefully make their way to exit. Jon points and leans forward and ducks his head at the last second and they are off. I smile at Luke!

We are the only skydivers left in the plane, and it is amazing how much bigger it seems! I relax for a minute and go over the jump plan with Luke. It will be awesome! We reach 12,500′ and Luke checks with Pilot Jim, and then opens the door. We spot for a bit, and then its time. Luke climbs out and hangs on the strut, and I quickly get into position for a dive out. I place my left foot at the base of the door edge, and then carefully grasp the doorframe on each side with my hands. I stretch my right leg out to the step, readjusting from the wind sheer. I place it firmly on the step plate turning my toes towards the rear of the plane. I push my elbows outside of the door, and look directly at Luke. I smile. I say, “check in” and lean back, and then lean forward while pushing off at the same time! I look up and out, and see the ground. I stretch my hands in front of me and try to fight the feeling to roll. I cart wheel slightly but never flip over! My feet come over my rear, and I balance out into stable free fall position. I do an altitude check and see Luke flying higher. I just did my first dive out!!! It wasn’t the most graceful, but I did it!!

I adjust my body position to “flatten” more than usual, and I feel myself moving “up” towards him. He adjusts his fall rate to be below me, so I arch to fall to him. He signals for altitude check, and I check my altitude. We continue this routine; up, down, altitude… till 6000′ where I look down to track perpendicular to the runway. I motion to him the direction I will track, and slowly move my arms back and straighten my legs. I track for 5 seconds and relax into stable free fall position and check altitude. I wave off and pull my pilot chute at 4500′! My parachute opens easily, and I look up and watch it inflate. It is so beautiful to watch as it dances around grabbing the air. The slider drops down, and I pull on my rear risers for a flare. Then I pull one side to the right, and then the other to the left. I pull my leg straps down so I can ‘sit’ more in the harness, and I unstow my brake lines. I turn into my holding area, and watch my altitude as I descend, making sure I hold in the designated area. I hear Bo on the radio describing to me the winds aloft are coming from different directions and will change as I reach 1500′. I get a bit nervous, as there is an illusion that I am going the wrong way and holding too far out. But I trust Bo, and remember the pattern that McKenzie had just run. I take a deep breath, check altitude, do a penetration check and line up for my final approach run. Bo explains everything to me kindly, and calmly gives me advice or complement on any corrections. I watch for my final approach angle and then turn into the wind for my landing. Bo clears me for landing, and I can see that I am in a perfect position to land. I wait to flare, arms all the way up looing out at the big picture. I watch the ground getting closer and closer, and just as I think it is time I flare half way, and then all the way down. I almost run it out, but my toe catches the ground and I fall to my knees for a light slide. I quickly stand up and help my canopy collapse. I think to myself, “that was an awesome 20th skydive!” I collect my canopy and hitch a ride back to the hangar. Bo tells me to get ready, because I am going up again. There isn’t much time, so I have to hurry.

AFF Level I – The Beginning
AFF Level II
AFF Level III
AFF Level III part 2
AFF Level IV
AFF Level V
AFF Level VI
AFF Level VII
AFF Level VIII
AFF Level IX
AFF Level X
AFF Level 11
2nd Solo
AFF Level 13
AFF Level 14
AFF Level 15
AFF Level 16
AFF Level 17
Almost There!
Check Dive!

A lady smiles while in free fall during a tandem skydive.

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