MELISSA JAHNKE: MY JOURNEY TO BECOMING A SKYDIVER – AFF LEVEL 16

Thursday, December 11, 2014

August 31, 2014 (early evening) AFF 16

We begin working right away on swooping position. It will take more groundwork to develop muscle memory, as this is a new maneuver that I haven’t done. I practice the entire dive flow with Jake, and then work on my own as he goes up on a jump with Ericka. I send her off with a big hug, and good luck. I lie on the trainer, close my eyes, and try to feel my entire body, and move my arms the way that Jake had instructed me to. I try to visualize what this will feel like in relation to tracking. I already know how to track, and have an idea what to expect with swooping. I practice until I am sore, and then get up to watch the other canopies land. I wait for my parachute to return from the sky, as I am sharing the 210 with McKenzie. She is kicking butt today too, and will definitely be doing a check dive in the next day or so. I am so proud of all my fellow AFF students, and it seems as though we are all part of a special family. AFF class of 2014! The senior skydivers all help us out, and answer any questions that we may have. I heard Bo say at one time that it takes a community to raise a skydiver, and let me tell you; there is so much truth to that! Every one of the Wisconsin Skydiving Center community is helping us at some point in our journey. It is a very special dynamic, and I know it is a special bond that I will carry the rest of my life. As I ponder this thought, I look out the hangar doors and I see Miss Anna Mae coming in with a great big smile on her face! I jump up and run to Anna Mae and give her a big hug! She tells me that she just couldn’t stay away, and came just to watch me jump! I feel so humbled to have a fan like Anna Mae as she has inspired me since I first heard her story! Anna Mae tells me she brought some cookies for us, and although I have no appetite, I can’t resist and start munching on one!

McKenzie and Ericka return from their skydives, and we eagerly wait to hear about their skydives. They both had awesome jumps, and are so happy! I give them both hugs, and high fives, and the momentum keeps on chugging. The day is growing later and later, and I know that Devonda and her husband Paul will be going up soon. I gather my rig and start getting ready for my last jump of the day. “Swooping,” I think to myself, “I hope I can do this…” I turn in my paper work, and Manifest asks how long before I can be ready. The announce 10 minute call, and Jake and I are gearing up in no time. I do my gear checks and double check that my radio, goggles and altimeter are on. I have my helmet in my hand, and walk out of the hangar to wait for the rest of my load. I notice that there is a fist time AFF student getting geared up for his first jump as well! I will be on his first solo jump, and I start reliving the emotions from my first jump in my head. I smile so big, and give the kid a high five, and tell him, “you got this… HAVE FUN!”

We walk out to the plane and I have Jake check the pins on the back of my rig. At the same time I am checking the handles, straps and three rings. I test my radio, and put my helmet on. My goggles are around my neck, and my altimeter is at zero. “Lets skydive!” I say. Jake pats my container and gives me thumbs up, and smiles. I get into the plane first. I sit right behind the pilot again, and Jake faces me in the rear of the plane. Chris sits next to Jake, and the new AFF student, Michael sits next to me, and Jordan sits next to the pilot and closes the door. My excitement grows as we take off. I watch the drop zone as we circle around and around climbing to altitude. I am relaxed, and collected, and try to calm the Michael. I remember how nervous I was on my first jump, and it is nice to help someone else go through it too. We reach altitude in about 20 minutes of flying, and we rearrange for exit. We inspect our gear one final time, and then exchange high fives, fist bumps, and pumped up warrior calls. It’s a great aura in the plane, and everyone is excited to start skydiving. The pilot slows forward engine speed, and the tone of the motor drops. He nods to Jordan to open the door, and Jordan yells “door”. I instantly feel the Michael lean away from the door, and I laugh to myself because I used to do the same thing. Jordan climbs out and motions for the student to exit. I watch him carefully climb out and Chris is right behind him already hanging onto his harness strap. I watch as he checks in, turns to confirm horizon, and he motions up, down, and they let go! “YEAH!” I shout, and smile to Jake. Jake then makes his way quickly to the door. I follow right behind, and place myself into position in no time. I check in, and lean out, and in, and then fall into my dive out! Again, just as I feel myself begin to roll over, my body planes out and I am in perfect stable position! Nailed it again!

Jake is flying lower than I am, about 50 ft away. I have to “swoop” to him. He motions for me to “come here”. I gently put my arms back, and straighten my legs, but I loose heading. It seems as I am still tracking, not swooping. I try, and try and try, and finally somewhat closer to him to move in and dock, but just can’t seem to get close to him. I reach out and then float up over him, and roll on my back. “Geeze, what the heck?” I think to myself. I smile, gather my circle of awareness and check altitude. I am approaching my pull altitude, so I hang out, and watch for my 6000′ deployment altitude. I wave off and gently pull my pilot chute and watch Jake continue in freefall.

I look up and watch my canopy open, taking its sweet time. The slider comes down, and I reach up to collapse it so it stops flapping in the wind. I catch my breath, and unstow my breaks. I do a practice flare, and then I am assigned to do 90-180 degree turns back to back. I was instructed to watch my altitude beginning the turns and then check it again afterwards to see how much altitude turns can consume. I look right and left to make sure my airspace is clear for the turn maneuvers, and then I pull down my right toggle and feel the canopy turn hard, and then right away simultaneously pull left as releasing the right toggle and feel the canopy swing out the other way! “This is SO cool!” I shout. I check altitude and can see that I dropped about 600ft in just a few seconds of turning. I perform two more performance turns and then hold in my pattern. I can see that I am getting closer to the AFF student and need to hold my breaks at half because my fall rate seems to be descending me faster than he his.

I have a smaller canopy, and can see that we are going to be landing at the exact same time. I know I have to maintain separation to avoid a collision, and I hold out my pattern as long as I can. I see that I have passed my entry point, and my altitude is getting low. I have to think quickly and have two options going through my head. 1.) I let him land first, giving him the right away, and pick another spot to land; or 2.) I can try to land downwind, and we land at the same time, with ample space between both of us. I enter my landing pattern and decide to avoid turbulence from the buildings and land down wind on the target. The winds are light, and I know as long as I wait to flare, and hold it I can slide right on in. That’s what I do. I turn directly into my downwind leg, and flare all the way down and slide in on my butt. I think everyone forgot about me for a second, and they turn to look at me with a perplexed look on their faces as to why I just landed down wind. I gather my canopy and walk over to them, and explain my actions. They all agree I did the right thing. I am relieved.

I loosen my leg straps, and hook my helmet on my chest strap. I gather my lines and canopy, and walk back into the hangar. I am down on myself because I know that jump didn’t go as planned, but I try to suck it up and focus on what did go right. I just executed a perfect dive out, and I was able to quickly remedy my canopy pattern safely without any assistance what so ever. I try to shake it off, and tell myself the rest will fall into place. I come to accept the fact that I will be taking AFF16 again. One of the hardest things that I am learning is how to not be so performance oriented. Skydiving is a free, and passive sort of sport, and learning to fly is about feeling every ounce of your body, and reacting, not over powering.

My family, friends and fellow skydivers all come to ask how my jump was. We watch the video, and I can quickly see that I am not swooping, but am still tracking, which are two completely different maneuvers. Alex helps me on my form, and helps me understand what I need to correct in order to execute the swoop. I can feel the clarification to the different body positions as she demonstrates and helps me “find” the correct position. Now I have the right idea, but am too physically tired to try another jump. I call it a day, and put my things away. I catch Devonda and Paul as they come in from their tandem skydive. They tell me it was awesome, and they just love it! I am so thrilled to have friends that are adventurous and open to try exciting new things! Its time for a cold one, and we throw some food on the grill!

As the evening winds down to and end, we celebrate two very important little people’s birthdays. Both my daughter and Bo and Alex’s son share a birthday. We light the candles on the birthday cake, and everyone sings happy birthday! The mood is wonderful, and relaxed, and everyone is enjoying one another’s company tremendously. Once the sun has set, Bo and I help the kids light Chinese Lanterns and watch the kids (and adults) ignite with curiosity and excitement. One by one they each help the lanterns lift up after Bo lights them with the torch. It is a magical experience, and the innocence look of wonder on each of the children is one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. It was the perfect end to a perfect day.

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
AFF Level 12
2nd Solo
AFF Level 13
AFF Level 14
AFF Level 15
AFF Level 17
Almost There!
Check Dive!

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

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