MELISSA JAHNKE: MY JOURNEY TO BECOMING A SKYDIVER – AFF LEVEL 8

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

August 13, 2014 AFF 8

I am so laser focused on making my goal a reality. I have been on this incredible journey of becoming a skydiver, its like I am living a dream. I am enjoying the process, and trusting in myself more and more each jump. My window of opportunity is quickly coming to end, as I notice the birds flocking and the treetops beginning to change. I need to “carpe diem”, and seize every chance I can have to get up in the sky. I plan a special trip down to Jefferson, during the week this time to get some more jumps in.

Its only Wednesday, but I have a two day break from my ordinarily busy work schedule. I decide that the weather conditions are absolutely perfect for some skydiving, and I pack up the Jeep and head for Jefferson. The drive is getting easier for me, and I look forward to the transition time it gives me to transfer from “mom” to “skydiver”. I have made arrangements with a family friend to stay at their home and go for a horseback ride in the morning, and I am looking forward to the change in accommodations.

The 200+ mile drive goes smoothly. As I turn south on Rita Lane, instantly my eyes are already fixed onto the sky, as I can see the parachutes already coming down from the last planeload. I watch their holding patterns, and then watch them land. I get butterflies every time I see someone in the air. I pull into the parking lot at the drop zone, and enter the hangar. I am greeted with a warm welcome, and waste no time getting with a coach, and prepping a jump. This next jump I will be performing back loops! I have a giant knot in my tummy thinking about this jump, but Jordan helps me to visualize my task, and ensures I will love this jump. The clouds are big and puffy, and I am eager to see what this is actually like to jump around. I have seen many videos, and heard other skydivers stories of how majestic this can be. I am totally psyched!

Jordan helps me go over my jump plan. We cover the entire jump, from climb out to landing. This time I will be doing a poised exit, which means that I will climb out past the step plate that is over the wheel, but I will be standing on a 3″ bicycle type peg attached to the center of the wheel! I will have to grab further out on the strut, and do my count down and exit without anyone assisting my stability. I practice on the plane that is parked in the hangar, and am confident this can be done. I find my student rig, and run through all the pre-jump inspections. I am told the back loops will be similar to what is done on a trampoline, which I am not afraid of because I have had done this in my younger years. Jenny Buck reassures me that the whole purpose of this jump is to become unstable, by flipping over and then re-stabilizing yourself without help.

This will be the last jump run for the day, as it is later in the afternoon, and there is nothing else scheduled. I am all geared up. I do my gear inspections, and head out to the airplane with the other jumpers and my coach. Tim, Chris, and Dan will be attempting a free fly 3-way formation, after Jordan and I exit. It is really cool to be jumping with Tim, as I did my very first tandem with him three summers ago. I feel completely relaxed, and am in awe by the beautiful clouds that are building all around us. The sunlight captures them in a mysterious way, and I can’t help but think of what a gift I have been given. As we climb to altitude the beauty of the sky on this jump mesmerizes me. I am facing the rear of the plane, sitting in the spot closest to the front of the plane net to pilot Jim. Suddenly, I see the guys put their arms up and yell, “ohhhh…” as though we are crashing into something! I look out the window, and see that we are beginning to fly through a big cloud! I chuckle to myself, and shake my head! I think to myself, “boys”.

I am in charge of opening the door again, and look forward to this task, as I am no longer afraid of it, and love to be the first one out on the strut! We reach our climb out altitude, and reposition in the aircraft. Final gear inspections, and it is time for door open! Everyone gives each other a fist bump or high five, and wish each other luck on this jump! Pilot Jim gives me the cue and like one of the boys, I yell “door” and I open the door. I look out and spot for a moment, while looking back at the GPS on the instrument panel. We will exit appx ½ mile past, and I see the drop zone as we slowly fly over. Jordan instructs me to climb out which I quickly begin my climb out sequence. This time instead of stepping off from the step plate covering the wheel, I will be stepping off from the peg on the outside of the wheel! Although I practiced several times on the plane in the hangar, I am still very careful not to slip and fall off. Strange how things are so much different once you are 12,500ft in the air! I place my foot on the peg, and with my arms firmly holding onto the strut, I look in towards the door and smile! I shout, “check in,” and Jordan smiles and nods back. I look forward and yell “horizon, up, down….” And pushed off into free fall. It was perfect! I steadily found my free fall position instantly, and my circle of awareness seemed to come with little effort.

Jordan signaled for me to do a loop. I checked my altitude, and I instinctively rolled forward, and completed half a front loop, and then found myself back in the state of “circle of awareness”. I checked altitude; I relaxed, adjusted my body, and was ready for another loop. This time, after checking altitude, I brought my knees to my chest and threw my arms downward to loop me over back wards! It was so cool! I stabled my position, checked altitude and then Jordan signaled for another loop. Once again, checked altitude, and I brought my knees to my chest, and looped back wards again. I know I wasn’t the most graceful acrobat in the sky, but I was doing back loops in free fall!! My smile was so big I could have been the next advertisement for an Orbitz commercial! Upon completing the second back loop, I checked altitude and adjusted my heading to track. I tracked about 5 sec, relaxed the tracking position, and checked altitude. I waved off, and I slowly reached back and pulled my pilot chute, and happily found myself under a perfect canopy!

I was instructed to pull on the rear right riser after deployment to practice an emergency turn. I did so and felt my canopy turn just as though I had pulled on a toggle. This is used when there is not time to unstow your brakes, and make a turn to avoid a collision. Then adjusted my leg straps, and tried to sit a bit more in the harness. I also practiced half flares, and turns with my brakes held at half. This was neat to feel the canopy flying in different momentums than I had played with in the past. Jordan was explaining to before our jump what types of circumstances would call for different canopy maneuvers. I love learning about this sport! There is so much that goes into a skydive, and moreover, why.

I practice a few landing flares, and hold in my planed pattern. I look down and judge the altitude as to where I need to be and when. At 1000′ I plan for my landing pattern entry. Bo is on the radio giving me slight correction advice, and describing to me what I should be thinking, what to be looking for, and why. I watch for the last angle of my approach, and turn into the wind. I am cleared land on my own with out any assistance. I take a deep breath, and look up. My arms are all the way up, and I wait, wait, wait, then pull my toggles to neck, and then all the way down. I land on my feet, but I have to run toward the canopy to get it to collapse. “Wow” is all I can think, and I loved every second of it! I gather my canopy and walk to Jordan and Bo who are waiting for me by the golf cart. They give me a high five, and I jump on the back and hitch a ride to the hangar.

I take my gear off, and Jordan debriefs me. He complements me on my stable poised exit, and we discuss what part of the skydive to work on. I watch my video, and laugh at how silly I look looping through the air on my back flips. Even though I have absolutely no smoothness performing back loops, I am still able to get back to a stable position, and maintain my heading with out assistance! I am amazed at how far I am progressing, and how quickly this is coming together. There is still so much to learn, but for once I am confortable with what I can do in my skydive. I help pack up my chute with the help from Jenny Buck, and am off to do some horseback riding and cook out with friends in Milton. I think to myself as I pull away from the hangar how awesome this jump was, and how much I love it here, and cant wait to come back.

Follow Melissa’s complete journey through the AFF program:

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

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

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