Monday, May 02, 2005

I still owe another post about Ft. Devens where I include Wagon Wheel memories, but I just reread one of SFAlphageek's posts regarding a jump gone awry and I'm remembering all sorts of things that happened on jumps.

As SFAlphageek mentions, there are a lot of variables involved in a jump, including, but not limited to: wind, aircrew experience, jumpmaster experience, experience level of jumpers, the guys on the ground setting up the drop zone...It goes on and on.

Besides the jump on Turner Drop Zone which I already mentioned here, I'll bore you with some others.

During the Special Forces Qualification Course potential radio operators had to do an exercise in Pisgah National Forest. I don't know if they still do it. The drop zone in Pisgah is (was) minescule. It was referred to as a three-second DZ. The C-130 could only drop four guys per pass (count--zero, one, two, three). I hadn't yet learned how important parts of the pre-jump briefing are and let my mind wander far afield while the aircraft commander discussed the direction of the DZ and the azimuth the aircraft would be flying, etc. Another mistake I made was assuming that they were talking about "B" Mountain (presumably there was also an "A" Mountain and a "C" Mountain). Turned out it was called Bee Mountain, for good reason.

C-130s have air conditioning--a nice feature. But as we learned on that flight the air conditioning ducts eventually freeze up and--I swear to God--start throwing out chunks of ice. Everyone's helmet went on. About an hour out of the DZ the aircraft descended to what's referred to as "nap of the Earth". Low-level flight to avoid radar. Of course in low level flight the aircraft is constantly turning around hills or pitching up and down over them. A number of guys had to use airsickness bags, further enriching the atmosphere.

A further feature of that DZ is that everyone knows that there are periodic jumps there, and at four jumpers per pass it takes considerable time to complete the jump, so lots of spectators show up.

Like the Turner DZ jump, there was enough wind that we exited over trees and the wind would push us over the DZ. I exited the aircraft and saw nothing but trees underneath me. Having paid no attention to the briefing I was on my own trying to find the DZ. There was a promising clearing to my front, so I headed for it, losing precious altitude all the way. After a bit I looked to my left and saw smoke. Holy Sh*t! So I grabbed the left toggle and pulled that thing hand over hand until I nearly collapsed the 'chute. Now I'm heading in the right direction, but at the last minute a tree between me and the DZ suddenly grew very tall and very wide. I hit the tree, which took the loading off of the parachute and pretty much collapsed it. Fortunately in that part of the country they like to dump garbage at the bases of trees and it was actually one of the softest landings I ever had. I shook the coffee grounds out of my hair, pulled the orange peels out of my ears and mustered what dignity I had left as I walked past the spectators to the turn in point.

Could have been worse. At this point the name Bee Mountain became obvious. Someone disturbed a bees' nest when he landed and we were treated to the sight of him running across the DZ with his parachute dragging behind him.

Several guys overshot the drop zone. The far end of the DZ ended with a dropoff into what they called Lost Hollow. Overshooting the DZ by a few feet horizontally meant dropping an considerable distance vertically into this hollow. We got the guys down and then proceeded to rip the parachutes to shreds getting them out of the trees. Someone took a knife and removed enough suspension line to pass around to everyone. We never heard anything, but I know someone got in big trouble over what we did to those parachutes.

Spent the next 17 days humping up and down Bee Mountain with AN/PRC-74 radios, batteries and GRC-71 Coderburst devices. I literally bent the frame on my backpack due to its weight. And the bees? They were everywhere. These big yellow things that would dart to and fro and hover. Not a meal went by that they didn't try and fight us for our C-rations.

God, I miss those days...


NOTR said...

C-130 NOE? Now that is a scary thought. Actually NOE is variable speed/variable altitude. It's a helo thing. But, having had the joy of riding in back while a Herky driver tried to do contour flight was no fun at all, when he got back to low level it was a much nicer ride. There is nothing worse than riding blind in one of those nasty canvas seats knowing the flight deck is the only place the ride is smooth. I always preferred jumping Chinooks anyhow. They were the only "perfectly good aircraft" I was always ready to leave as soon as possible. On the other hand there is no such thing as a "perfectly good aircraft". :)

Lilly said...

All this talk about jumping has me thinking that maybe I'll give skydiving a try. I'm a chicken for pain, but I have no fear of altitudes, and I'm hoping jumping out of a plane won't hurt. Bungee jumping was scary because it's only 120 feet off the freaking rocks. My college roommate has been bugging me to skydive for years. I wonder if there are places to do it in Colorado. I'm going out there for some whitewater rafting this summer.

Snake Eater said...

Thanks for setting me straight on the terminology. Like I said, I apparently never paid enpugh attention at the aircraft commanders' briefings.

Oddly, I never much cared for Chinooks. They swayed and bucked and going off the ramp into the exhaust plume was like stepping through the gates to hell.

For Lilly: Jumping out of a plane doesn't hurt one bit. It's that Delta V at the end...:)

Lilly said...

Hmmm, well I'm going to research this thoroughly before I committ to anything. Research is what I do for a living after all :) I just need to find some time to play with google.

Snake Eater said...

Skydiving is a lot of fun. Military jumps are quite a rush too, it's just that sometimes (not always by any means), they're followed by a thump into the ground.

Nobody jumps parabolic or conical chutes anymore for skydiving. It's all square rigs, which are actually aerodynamic--they fly. All you do is wait until you swear you're gong to hit the ground and then pull on the toggles. At that point vertical speed gets exchanged for horizontal speed and simply touch down and take a few running steps.

Easy. Fun. And way cool.