10:22 PM

When Jumping Out
of a Perfectly Good
Airplane Isn't Enough

We've all heard that one before, eh? It usually comes up when we pilots discuss the sport of skydiving, and while not exactly true, I have yet to meet many fixed-wing pilots who really WANT to shoot towards the ground like a dart.

Not that I've thought once or twice about it. But the closest I have ever actually come to skydiving was getting cut off in the pattern by a worn Cessna that was returning from dumping a load of divers into the sky. Yes, that was close, but not as close as this:

As I departed Fresno Air Terminal (FAT) for a quick little practice flight over the grapevines to Madera, I switched as requested to Fresno departure for the short 20 minute jaunt. Since MAE was a popular spot for divers, it was not uncommon to hear ATC calling out attention to all pilots in the vicinity of MAE that jumping would commence in 10 minutes, followed by the same call at five minutes, and again at one minute before those dudes would drop from the jump plane. But on this day, I heard nothing about jumpers, period. So it was with great surprise to see the windscreen of my rented C150 fill with the multi-colored rainbow of a skydiver's chute. I chopped the throttle and veered HARD right, and got the hell out of there. I immediately jumped back on departure to ask if I had missed their calls. Negative, they replied, they were adamant that there was NO skydivers in the vicinity of MAE. Oh yeah, then the one I almost sliced and diced must have been a hallucination from my "adventurous" 70s.
Usually skydivers do their thing from somewhere south of the flight levels, so as not to get that sucked in feeling when they cross paths with a triple seven on short final. I am not exactly sure as to what altitude they prefer to launch themselves into the slipstream of a battered Skylane or Caravan, but I am pretty sure it is lower then this...found today on space.com:
"Frenchman Michel Fournier is readying himself and equipment to attempt a record-setting free fall from the stratosphere. Dubbed "The Big Jump", Fournier is eyeing next month for his supersonic free fall from about 130,000 feet – roughly 25 miles above the Earth. The dive from a balloon-carried gondola is slated to take place above the plains of Saskatchewan, Canada. The Jump equipment is principally composed of a huge Russian-supplied stratospheric balloon and the specially crafted gondola. To ascend to jump height will take some 3 hours. The gondola shelters Fournier during ascent. It also is loaded with flight instruments: navigation equipment, oxygen bottles, radio gear, video recorders and Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite tracking device."
I wish only good luck to this guy, and have my money on him making it back in one chunk – that is if he doesn't become the hood ornament on a 747 coming west over the pole from Heathrow inbound to SEA.

Do I have a problem with skydivers? No, except when their chauffeurs rudely push their way into the pattern in front of me, trying to beat the rest of us to the runway to pick up another load of darts. Would I every try it myself? Considering the abrupt nature that comes from arriving back on this planet after a parachute ride, I'd choose to stay in the plane, leave diving to the young and the fearless.

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