With a little help from fairy dust
It's Got Soul Today
It's a beautiful day-
Look at those clouds!
Clouds, as they form and change,
Are like stars as they cruise around the sky.
That is a beautiful sky up there ...
I see a sky like that and I want to get up there
And touch clouds
And hug clouds
They make my heart big.
It's got soul today.
The ride up is always a pain in the ass.
If you fly at the back of the bus, the windows in the Beech are too high to see out of. Conversation and the guys clowning at The door-pass the time.
On jump run, you sit as long as you can so you don't have to stand crouched in the thin air.
When you do stand, ready for the sprint, you put your head in that state of aggressive, relaxed, total concentration that you've found really lets you get it oil.
Cut. Ready? 54321! Go! go go go go
Head low, down the hall, sharp right and out, you arch to dive and your left side stalls briefly in the subterminal air.
Into the dive. Far out! A valley of clouds!
The base disappears into the puffy side of a cumulus mountain and the swarm follows.
You dive, swoop, brake and set up your approach in sinewy movements,
While grey-white masses roar up around your ears.
Reflexive paranoia: Cloud-Rush freight-trains you and the star.
Wet air. Your vision flashes in and out like a strobe light. The adrenalin rush bobbles your approach and slows your entry.
Drop your ass for a wrist entry - and you're in.
Shake and break. Check out the star as the white world waterfalls up around you with an eerie, silent roar. Awed and exhilarated, you split as the star explodes like a Fourth of July rocket.
Sit up, pull, and the world starts.
Pat Works, RWu, Fall 1972
Safety is survival. You should practice safety nearly as reflexively as you automatically blink when a raindrop nears the eye.
As a jumper, and interested observer of and participant in a few "Bonus Days", my more than 17 years of jumping suggests that you will likely become more safety conscious the longer you jump. In other words, you'll come to recognize the subtle distinction between a "might survive" and "comfortably survivable" situation.
Safety consciousness in parachuting can be described thus: The easiest thing to "do" is nothing. Unfortunately, in parachuting doing nothing is deadly, Occasionally a parachutist, or pilot, or motorcyclist, or mountain climber or hang glider will do nothing -
or the wrong thing -
for too long...
There are some adventures that are hard to squeak past, There are some adventures that are fairly certainly terminal ones. So whenever anyone slips past a "real close one," a new calendar is started and ALL the days survived thereafter can be termed "BONUS DAYS."
These are those extra days you get after the near-crash. As Freak Brother No. 2 Roger Nelson tells it:
"I reconfirmed my membership in the Bonus Days Club watching the ground 'stop coming' at about 100-150 ft. SPORT DEATH!
"What had happened was a typical brain malfunction, yep, I packed a total! So I really shouldn't have been doing a 3-man after-star. 'Cause when I threw out my pilot chute, it went 8 feet and stopped fully inflated!!! So, immediately I pictured Waldo Jecker, FB No. 22, and Tony "Frit" Patterson, FB No. 181, (both deceased), as I looked at the ground.
"Time was vital. I had a choice of two things, dump your reserve and chance an entanglement and streamer in, knowing I'm gonna bounce (the way Frit went in at Deland), or reel in my small 29" pilot chute and take it lower for a clean reserve opening. See, when I looked at the ground right after realizing my problem, I said "3 seconds" in which I had to play. So I decided to reel as I counted to 3. I hit 3 just as I grabbed the bottom. I dropped my head to get some air on my back as I dumped my reserve.
"Well, at this point, seeing where I was, I kind of thought dropping my head might not of been too smart 'cause I was about to bounce head first on the side of the runway. When all of a sudden, "YEA, BONUS DAY CLUB!!!" (To become active member in the Bonus Days Club you must very narrowly escape eternal freefall ... one exciting time.)
`I looked down, saw my shadow, screamed excitement and saw a jumper clapping my Z-Hills act."
That was a Bonus Day.
Blue Sky...Black Death
Thunderous energy of flightFlashing sequences roar into
... for instants
among the blinding blue.
precise physical and mental movements translated
into the reality of perfect flight.
Flight, perfect flight, in harmony
and close formation, we relate to the
You and the Formation
ebb and flow from the rhythmical entry sequences
into an 8-donut ... to 8-caterpillar.
Problems ... one out ...
He enters, donuts, and we
pause for the camera,
As predetermined, the front man on the cat pulls
(for the photo, of course.)
On pulling, he glances to the ground and
high speed dirt ground-rushing up.
And mouths, "Oh my god!"
as you, too, pull
perversely perhaps ('cause it is low)
you look up to see the entire formation in the puppet-like dance
called line stretch.
"Separation is nice to have
an open canopy is better'...
You look to
"Okay, I'll give the main three seconds..."
... Not bad. Thirteen-five.
Funny, 'tho. Everyone had 1,000+ jumps!
"Going low is a rush ... But it's not practical..."
Everybody understands about that. It has to do with reaction time on those days when everything seems to be going wrong at once. Recently I have noticed a lot of people with stratostars pulling high ...
That is sport death too ...
"Sport Death" is a phrase that seems to bother a lot of people. But the concept came from a drop zone that understands the reality of watching people die. Friends and strangers... students and experienced ... for every reason in the world... none of which make the slightest difference. It doesn't matter who is moving and who is holding still... the impact is the same.
"For two miles up in the heavens
Is a cold and lonely spot
That's where you find out what you are
And indeed what you are not.
"Some men roam the heavens
And some men sail the seas
But most men sit by the fireside
And wish that they were free.
Some men try, and some men die,
And other men just fail,
Some fly the sky like the eagle
And others like the quail.
For two miles up in the heavens
Is a cold and lonely place
And if you can't keep up - Get Out
It may not be your race.
Some men should never fly at all
It wasn't God's intent,
They should stay and walk the earth
As mortal man was meant.
But for the breed who are lonely
The sky is the only place,
They'll rot on the face of mother earth
Looking heaven right in the face.
Then some men die with a mournful cry
Some with a smile on their face,
Some men call it an act of God
But most say an act of Fate.
For two miles up in the heavens
Is a cold and lonely place
You bet on skill and Lady Luck
To lose is no disgrace.
If you last, you'll give the whole thing up
But then you'll crawl on your knees,
For another chance to race the wind
To be a man again and free."
Introduction. RWunderground does not ordinarily print stories or poems about death. But we're printing this piece by Matt Farmer because we think it is more about life than it is about death, and we want to share it with you.
A Friend Goes In. The Story of a Jump.
This is going to be a good one. I can feel everyone psyching up for it, as we turn jump run. Quinn is up front, keeping everybody loose and the vibes up.
"Alright, let's do it!"
"Air dive, Air dive, feels great."
"Air dive, Air dive, can't wait."
The twin Beech vibrates at a new pitch, as the driver throttles back. Floaters swing through the door and hang waiting. We move quickly to stack ourselves in the door. Heydorn is in the door. I slide in behind him and Luginbill leans tightly over the two of us. Melroy, Captain, Wooten, Herman and Gruber take their places.
Between Heydorn's back pack and the top of the door, I can see Chuck and Quinn watching me intently for the start of the count. Their jumpsuits are already flapping in the wind we will all feel in a second.
Gruber starts the count.
"Ready," comes back the response.
Stacked in the door and counting, I can feel the adrenalin flow, mind and body winding up -
We explode from the tight confines of the Beech into a bright blue sky two miles deep and stretching from horizon to horizon,
I catch a good exit and look for Heydorn. He's right in position and the floaters are close behind him, tracking up on the still slow air. Quinn is up and on first with a beautiful fingertip dock. I close facing him on Heydorn's left hand. Chuck's up from the other float slot as Luginbill docks beside me on Heydorn's right arm. A five-spider fast, clean and stable.
Looking out for Melroy's side-in approach, I catch in my periphery above us Gruber's flare to the back door. He is perhaps fifteen feet above us, head down to the point of being nearly vertical, fully flared against the momentum of his approach speed. He looks for all the world like a flying squirrel in a desperate full spread flight to a small tree branch. Melroy slides into his side-in slot and Quinn and I catch him with no trouble. It's going great.
I glance over my shoulder to see where Wooten is. He's on a smooth final to the tip slot on Melroy's leg. Gruber's already in on the point and Captain has finished his side-in when I look back across the now nearly complete ten-wedge. Only the two tips are out and they close a heartbeat later, right on the pace. Little more than 25 seconds have passed since exit, the base formation is complete.
Everyone's attention is on Heydorn, He will key the break with a simple nod of his head. Ready -Now, he nods, hands release grips, the ten-wedge breaks into three pieces. Two three-man wedges separate from a four-man diamond. The two wedges are side by side, facing the diamond.
As the pieces begin to separate, the wedge that I am a wingman of turns a quick 180. The other wedge turns with us, between us and the diamond. Melroy, Wooten and I are the base wedge. We take up a heading, trying hard to hold it and fall straight down. I take a quick look over my inside shoulder and see the other wedge move into position behind us, ten feet up and ten feet out. The diamond is right behind them, on their level or maybe a little lower.
My gauge reads five grand. We've got the time. Three pieces are in position and we can dock them to triple diamonds, if we hurry. I take a glance at the ground, then back at the gauge. Coming up on four grand - still no dock. I look back over my shoulder again.
The other wedge is almost on us. They are shooting a very vertical approach, carrying a lot of speed. Captain on the point of their wedge has his arms back and up; Luginbill and Herman, his wingmen, are tucked up tight. The diamond is in close, already on our level, moving for the slot that will be there when the wedge docks.
Crash, the wedge, unable to brake all their vertical approach speed, comes on hard. Captain catches the grips and we struggle to regain stability. Before we can dampen the effects of the hard dock, the diamond, already committed, piles into the back of the two struggling wedges. Heydorn, on the point of the diamond, comes up with a grip on Luginbill. We fight for stability. The oscillation begins to dampen but the formation distorts where the grip is missing between Heydorn and Herman. Tension pulls at the formation; we struggle to stabilize and connect the open grip. It's no good - Snap, we lose a grip. The formation starts to break up.
I let go, turn to my left and lay it back into a track. Right at three grand, safe and sane, I track hard, then sit up and look over my shoulder. Above and far off to my right, I see Heydorn unload his P.C. Nothing over the shoulder, I wave and punch. My rag comes off clean and I feel the steady pull of opening. Just as I'm getting the opening shock, I see Heydorn again, not a hundred feet away, still at terminal velocity. His P.C. is streamering.
Words flash in my mind. Streamer ... Streamer...cut-it-away ... cut it ... Long before the words can be verbalized I see - seemingly in the very instant I perceive his situation - a flash of white, his reserve.
The scene screams away toward the earth. I watch. Stark white against the dark red and black of his tangled main, the reserve streams out. It doesn't bloom. It's tangled; tangled in the mess of line and canopy over his head.
Fear! Fear for this man, my friend. Fear borne of knowledge. Knowledge of time and speed and the ground.
The words pour out.
"Come on ... Come on ... pull it out, pull it out."
Seconds tear by. I watch, far below, the ground, the still hurtling figure, the flapping tangle of red, black and white. I watch, small now against the enormous earth, the man and the flapping un-opening chutes.
Fear and helplessness - my thoughts race - the time - Christ the time - come on - come on. I can see it's too late only an instant before he collides with the planet. A ring of dust and sand explodes outward from the violence of the impact. The flapping tangle of nylon lies still against the hard brown desert.
Dead. Oh, God. lie's dead, Not ten seconds have passed. Ten seconds, a life time. I hang spent, drifting slowly toward the desert under my breathing canopy. A deep sadness washes over me. I feel empty.
On the ground I can see cars stopping on the highway. People are running from the hangars to form a small circle around the smashed, lifeless figure. I am momentarily angry at these vultures, What do they want here? Do they think they will understand something of their own impending deaths by staring blankly at this man's?
I land and walk toward the hangar. The spectators drifting past me look curiously at the parachute rolled in my arms, Their eyes are bright as they hurry to see violent death. They don't understand the loss. What can they know of Heydorn - of fast hands and a quick mind, of an easy laugh and his intense personal sanity. To them it is only an opportunity to see a newspaper headline in real life. - Chutist Falls -Something to tell at work Monday.
Those of us who were on the dive drift slowly into the packing area. Eyes sad, movements strangely slow and deliberate. No one quite knows what to do with themselves - I am here, but my friend is dead. We stand in a small circle around Ron's van. There are short snatches of conversation.
"It doesn't seem real - not somebody like Heydorn."
"Fought it all the way in."
"God, did you see him hit."
The conversation dies out, each of us lost in his own thoughts,
Thoughts about dying - about this odd chain of events we call life that leads us to it. He made a mistake. You can throw a reserve past a streamer sometimes. - A chance. He rolled and lost. Now he's lying in a broken heap out by the highway and I'm sitting here feeling the hot sun on my back and wondering. Wondering what it is we seek in freefall. Why are we here?
"Hey, that was a good dive."
Someone breaks the silence.
"Yea, that spider was right there."
Someone else picks it up.
"That was a nice swoop, Grube."
"The break to pieces looked good to me."
"Yea, but, when the lead wedge turned, it dropped down and away."
"Right, and vertical separation makes it hard."
The conversation rambles on slowly. I'm half listening and thinking -Well, what are we doing? Our friend is dead and we are standing here talking over the dive. But we're skydivers and so was Heydorn. Our lives and perhaps our deaths are tied up in this thing we call skydiving. Who's to say? We are only human, so we all live to die - and there are many ways to die - many ways. You can be so afraid of dying that you can't live.
Life is what skydiving is all about. In free-fall you know you're alive. You're right there on the edge where the world is moving. Where time is right now. Jimmy Hendrix said it right -
"I'm the one who has to die when it's my time to go, so let me live my life the way I want to."
The talk is slowing down. I glance up, squinting against the setting sun to see who's talking. It's Luginbill, big hands thrust deep in his blue jean pockets, kicking aimlessly at the gravel with his toe and summing it up in one easy sentence-
"Yea, well, no sweat, we'll get it. All we need is a few more dives."
"Skydiving is an invitation, a privilege audaciously and impolitely granted, perfumed with danger and surprise, offering greater freedom of movement, inviting one to live life at some other level. If one dares."
Adapted from Tom Robbins, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues
How Far is Up? (A True Story)
There I was, at 12,000 feet. We're flying close formation with a Twin Beech. We're in a 182. The crazy pilot is flying us in real close. The spotter in the Beech is just giving the "Cut" as I step out ... and fall off the wheel.
Goddam! I fell outa the stupid airplane! And oh, woe! I'm supposed to be part of a 15-man formation. A 15-person triangle that will grip change into a three-man star inside of a 12-man star, which, if there's time, will become a 15-man star with three people entering from the inside. Horrors, what if everyone gets in but me? Finally they exit ... slow-motion out the doors far up and far away. Now what in the hell am I gonna do on a solo 60-second delay?????
In a split second I decide I'm gonna be in that formation. I look straight down and reverse arch til I ache, pulling every trick my skinny body knows about going up. I do this forever, it seems. I've even got my mouth open catching all the air I can. Looking up, nothing is in sight. My heart sinks further. More arch! And oh god, I'd just been talking like a plastic Skygod, too... "I never miss ... blah, blah, blah..."
There, I can see them! ... but they're a long way up and far away. I concentrate on horizontal movement and recovery. Then I'm getting close enough to see colors. I gotta pick out my spot. I'm closing way too fast ... I've built up an amazing amount of horizontal speed. I actually have to flare and slow down (slow up?). Spencer, who'd seen me fall, sees me enter and laughs like a madman. We sequence to part of the second maneuver and run out of time.
On the ground, many who had observed the jump wanted to know how I did it. A perfect shot for a heroic rejoinder like, "Oh, that ... well, I never miss." But I'd learned too much; I was still stupefied, over-wrought with adrenalin. I walked in circles for 30 minutes, sorting it out. "I haven't got the foggiest idea how I did it," I said. But my muscles ached from the strain for two days afterward.
I'd fallen out 3-4 seconds before exit. Think about it. It means you can put out eight floaters with base-pin going out 9 and 10! My physics teacher would be amazed, too.
Pat Works, RWu, December 1974
Jumping Into A Volcano.
It all started at the Z-Hills Turkey Meet. I was eavesdropping on a conversation between Jerry Keker and Dave Williams and heard some key phrases like "rock concert" and "demo." I eased my way into the conversation and found out that they were talking about the January 1st demo jump for the Sunshine Festival -which is held smack dab in the center of Diamond Head Crater in Honolulu, Hawaii. When I found out that much they had to stop talking for a while and fill me in on who to get in touch with if I should just happen to be in the neighborhood,
When I arrived in Honolulu at two in the morning, December 30th, I called up Randy Cordes and introduced myself as a visiting jumper who wanted to make the demo into the Volcano. I was warmly invited to their house, called "Toad Manor," one of the highest houses perched on the cliffs that overlook the city.
They informed me the next day that there wasn't a jump planned for this year due to lack of interest. With the interest that I showed and the interest that was generated when I mentioned that it might make for an interesting article in the RWunderground, the demo was planned New Year's Eve.
Randy, Flip Hollstein and myself were going to make the jump the next day, or later on that night (it depends on how you look at it). Just an hour before we were ready to go to the airport, veteran crater jumper Randy came up with a cold sweat and chills (really!). So "Rag Man" Frazier took his place on the load.
On the ride up the plane flew over Pearl Harbor, I saw a ship with the smoke blowing straight up which suckered me into thinking that there were no winds. But there were and they blow over the crater and create the same effect as blowing into an empty coke bottle. Veteran crater jumpers know this and do two things: 1) jump round canopies, and 2) stay in the middle of the crater. I did neither and felt the "crater effect" at about 100 ft. when the swirling gust hit me sideways and turned my Strato-Star the same direction with a few cells closed. The landing turned into one of those "keep the toggles up and try to hit a clear spot 'cause your ass still has to pass over stuff" landings.
Flip and Rag Man landed where they were supposed to and I didn't break any bones or take out a bunch of junk by the stage - so we called the demo a success.
P.S. - Randy asked me to add that he would like past crater jumpers to get in contact with him at Toad Manor, 821-A Puunani Pl., Honolulu, Hawaii 69817.
Whitey, Rwu, June 1976
Unconscious and Falling!
In Texas on December 22, 1966, 16 expert parachutists met at a small pasture five miles from the Gulf of Mexico between Galveston and Houston. After two weeks of planning, they were ready to attempt free fall jumps from the edge of space.
At 12:15 that afternoon the first five loaded their jump aircraft: a 206 Super Cessna Skywagon. It roared down the narrow grass runway and climbed upward into the 21 below zero temperature at 25,000 feet, into air so thin it robs a man of useful consciousness in minutes by oxygen starvation, or hypoxia as the doctors call it. They were climbing into trouble.
We were manifested for the second lift to 25,000 feet. So, as the plane took off, we watched with more than casual interest. Tim, an ex-jet fighter pilot who had lost his left eye flying for the Marines, turned to me with a grin and a shrug, "Well, they made it off the ground, but I'll lay you odds that one of those clowns screws up before they even leave the airplane."
Some 37 minutes later, when the Cessna reached jump altitude, the thin air and cold had done their deadly work. Only two of the five skydivers aboard were able to jump. One of the others had been so affected by the cold, or his nerves, that he froze in the door and did not jump; another had accidentally unhooked his oxygen line so that when it came time to jump he was only able to turn blue and babble. During the ascent he had been sucking on an oxygen line that wasn't connected to the oxygen tank and as a result, the necessary state of mental alertness was replaced by confusion and euphoria.
The third jumper had suffered the consequences of gas expansion which occurs at high altitudes. When he was carried from the aircraft on the ground, I solicitously removed his lined jump suit and carefully scraped the frozen vomit from it, Warmer than mine, I wanted to use it for my upcoming jump. Little did I realize that before the day ended, I, too, would be lying unconscious at 25,000 feet far out over the chilly waters of the Gulf of Mexico in a plane piloted by a man whose oxygen-starved brain convinced him that north was best reached by flying south.
The two that did jump grossly misjudged their exit point so that they landed some five miles away. Although we blamed it on stupidity at the time, later events indicated that their misjudgment was caused by the insidious dullness which accompanies hypoxia. Just what is hypoxia?
Hypoxia means not enough oxygen in the bloodstream. It is a silent killer, as the symptoms are seldom unpleasant and there is no pain. The accompanying impairment of muscle coordination and judgment is not noticed by the pilot or jumper. In effect, you can suffocate without ever being aware of it.
In the thin air of 18,000 ft. you can breathe less than half as many molecules of oxygen into your lungs as you can with each breath at sea level. As a result, your body undergoes rapid and severe psychological and physical changes. You experience headaches, light-headedness, marked fatigue, labored respiration and mental impairment: you just can't react or perform in a normal manner. Collapse is imminent. At 23,000ft., 8 to 15 minutes of exposure leads to convulsions, cessation of respiration and circulation, and death.
The onset of hypoxia could cause a pilot suffering from its effects to fly straight into a mountain without blinking. He feels exhilarated and weak at the same time; he may see the mountain and know it is there without being able to do a thing to miss it, or care.
Some people maintain that they can hold their breath for two or three minutes. This, they feel, should give them a longer time of useful consciousness in the event of oxygen failure. What they fail to understand is that your whole body needs oxygen to survive, not just your lungs. The human body is porous so that even a saturated system of oxygen will rapidly diminish and induce cellular damage in the brain, leaving you a babbling idiot.
To avoid the devastating effects of oxygen starvation, all aircraft which operate at altitudes over 12,000 ft. must supply supplementary oxygen to the pilot and passengers. Big commercial airliners pressurize their cabins to an oxygen content of 4,000 ft. to avoid having an oxygen mask for each passenger. On light aircraft, however, such as our Cessna 206, 100 per-cent pure aviation oxygen is carried in a tank. When the plane reaches 12,000 ft., passengers and pilots simply plug their individual oxygen masks into this central tank and hypoxia is avoided.
To we jumpers on the ground the possibility of hypoxia seemed remote, We were more worried about the cold.
The sun shone through broken clouds and above their scattered whiteness the sky was clear all the way up to 12,000 ft. where a light layer of broken cirrus clouds seemed to divide the sky. Below these clouds is most of the air we breathe: 90 per-cent of the earth's oxygen. Above is nothing except dark blue sky and cold.
The temperature drops ten degrees for every thousand feet you climb. Above the clouds the air is too thin to retain any of the sun's heat, On the day we made our ill-fated jump the temperature was 21 degrees below zero at 25,000 ft. At the wind-chill effect at that altitude makes the cold even more deadly.
Like most jump craft, the twin waist cargo doors of our Cessna had been removed, creating a large opening 21/2 ft. wide by 39 inches high, for easy in-flight exits. This leaves a gaping hole in the side of the airplane which acts as a funnel for cold air. Air so cold it will freeze a gloved hand in minutes.
But we were confident that we would be in complete control of any situation which might arise. We didn't expect to be at that altitude long enough to encounter any danger. We were grossly overconfident.
Our aircraft was a good one. The 1966 Turbocharged 206 Cessna Super Skywagon has plenty of horsepower even in the thin air at 20,000 feet, where the rate of climb is 500 to 700 fpm.
Average round trip to and from 25,000 ft. is 45 minutes. Our trip was to take over two hours.
To take care of the oxygen requirements of the pilot and passengers, this Cessna has a tank behind the baggage space. A pressure gauge is located on the bulkhead and is easily visible for in-flight reference. Overhead, above the windows, each passenger has a female receptacle to accommodate the plug on his oxygen mask hose. Masks are simple rebreather types held to the head with an elastic band. Unfortunately, all of the masks in our aircraft were either broken off or removed from the oxygen line, leaving the jumper with a bare hose to stick in his mouth and suck on. Each individual system has a small spring-loaded check valve in the clear plastic oxygen hose. When oxygen is flowing, the valve is held open.
Thirty minutes after the Cessna returned to the ground, we were rigged up, loaded and ready to go. As the wheels lifted off, I tried unsuccessfully to adjust my position so that the coming cold would not blow directly across my body. In the back of the plane Tim sat and fiddled with his oxygen line. Beside him sat Don, inscrutable in a cold weather mask and dark glasses. Ed, a 23-year-old dental student from Houston, was sitting in the door. He was to act as jumpmaster and pick the spot over which we would exit. His choice of an exit point would determine where we would land.
In the front, next to the pilot, sat Skippy, a field engineer for a construction firm in Houston. Skippy, a short and muscular fellow, had been a pro boxer in his youth. I was sitting on one side of the open door, facing Ed.
As the plane climbed we tried to assure ourselves that our jump would go better than the jump which had preceded, We decided to keep up a rapid cross-talk so that anyone suffering from the altitude would be quickly noticed by his friends even if he himself was oblivious to his condition. In addition, we assigned partners. Each man would have someone to look after. We weren't going to make the mistakes that the first load had made. My partner was Ed and I was to look after Skippy.
Some 20 minutes after, takeoff, at about 12,000 ft., it began to get cold. Plans were forgotten as we attempted to assure that we would not be too cold to move when the time came to exit. My face went completely numb.
At 16,000 ft. we hooked up to the oxygen supply, With the tubes stuck in our mouths, conversation was difficult; later it would be impossible.
It took me several minutes to get accustomed to breathing through a thin tube. I let the oxygen trickle into my mouth until my cheeks were puffed out with the pure oxygen, and then I'd breathe in. As I looked around, everyone seemed to be having the same difficulty. Except for the pilot. Having been up to 25,000 ft. once that day, he apparently felt that he was an old pro and didn't hook up till the plane reached 18,000 ft.
From 18,000 ft. the ground looks strange and unreal. Most of the color which you would expect to see is replaced by a cold gray. Thin clouds that looked like wisps of ice made things seem even more unreal.
At 20,000 ft. the wind rushing into the cabin has a different sound - a higher pitched whistle instead of the usual roar. The lower pressure and thinness of the atmosphere gave me an airy bloated feeling. Climbing at over 1,000 ft. per minute, the Cessna reached altitude in just under 40 minutes. However, we remained at that altitude for over one hour.
The temperature was well below zero. The cold whipped in the open door, driven by the 175 mph speed of the aircraft. My legs grew numb. The five of us sat and sucked on the oxygen lines as if they contained pure ambrosia.
My altimeter still showed 20,000 ft., but it hadn't been working properly lately. Anyway, as long as I could see the ground in freefall, the trees rushing up would paint a graphic picture of my altitude and tell me when to pull my ripcord. If you have to depend entirely on your altimeter to tell you how high you are above the ground and when to pull, you are likely to dig yourself a hole on impact if something goes wrong.
The plane turned onto jumprun, Ed threw off his blanket, nodded to us and began to sight along the edge of the door to the dropzone far below. Still sucking on his tube of oxygen, he made thumb motions to Skippy up front who relayed the direction of turn to the pilot. Looking over Ed's shoulder I could see the target area: four miles down, a bit ahead and to the right.
One small ten degree turn and two minutes more and we would be directly over our exit point. Excitement began to build. Just two more minutes.
I got on my knees to unhook my oxygen, then passed it up front for Skippy to stow out of the windblast. As I awaited Ed's command to exit, dizzyness came over me like a cold fever. My head throbbed and my stomach turned. Ed made circular motions with his hand to the left; my head moved with his hand. The two minutes had passed and despite his repeated requests for a ten degree left turn, we had continued straight ahead and up; missing the exit point by over a mile. Ed wanted another pass; I wanted some oxygen. Still, instead of a hard bank and a quick pass we began a slow sweep to the right, out over the Gulf of Mexico. I suddenly lost all of my energy. I knew I needed some oxygen, and quick.
Others had their problems, too. When Ed shifted in the door to spot, Tim slid over to watch and double check. He braced his hand on the open doorsill where it froze almost immediately. Meanwhile, thinking that we would soon be around for another jumprun I borrowed "drags" of oxygen from Don and Ed and waited for the plane to turn.
But for some reason the pilot refused to turn the aircraft. He sat hunched over the controls, dark glasses, his parka, and oxygen mask shielding his face. He hadn't hooked up his oxygen until 18,000 ft. and was now floating in the mental confusion of hypoxia. He probably understood what the signals meant, but couldn't relate them to turning the aircraft. We were at 25,000 ft.
Unable to figure out why Ed was wasting time, Skippy pushed back to the door. "What the goddamn hell is going on? Let's go!"
Wordlessly Ed pointed down to the gray waters of the Gulf of Mexico; then out to the receding coastline of Texas. Skippy took one look and returned up front to convince the pilot to turn.
I had a strange floaty kind of feeling: somehow I felt more like a spectator than a participant in this crazy game of getting the aircraft back over land.
I watched nature unfold a panorama of conditions at 25,000 ft. The most noticeable thing was the ice. With the onset of hypoxia the cold had ceased to bother me. But ice was everywhere. My chest and lap were covered with a light frost of moisture frozen out of my breath. All of the metal fittings on my chute and boots had grown snowy beards of frost. Ed had icicles frozen on his chin from his running nose. It was like the winter scenes in "Dr. Zhivago".
Around us the thin air seemed to turn darker. Below, the waters of the Gulf were an unpleasant black, spotted by soft cotton puffs of clouds.
Inside appeared even more unreal. Don sat blue-lipped and silent, sucking on an oxygen tube with the intense concentration of a hash smoker seeking release. He held the frozen hand of Tim who was now curled on the floor crying words I couldn't understand. The inside of the cabin was done in a soft yellow fabric, fuzzy like a blanket. The instrument panel was the only thing alive, it seemed. Its gauges registered four hundred feet of climb per minute and a slow motion bank to the left. The cold surrounded me.
Oxygen - who ever misses it? Here I was dying without it. Man, what a gas ... had to get some air, and soon. But Skippy was arguing with the pilot and I couldn't break in to convince them to give me my mask. Besides, I didn't have enough wind to whistle, much less shout. Tim was still curled up in a tight ball. His shaking was causing the wing tips to quiver in harmony. Ed was still trying to get the plane turned and Skippy had quit talking and was pounding the pilot on the back and shoulder. It was like an oldtime movie.
Don gave me a drag from his tube and I laid down and shut my eyes. I was unable to think sitting up. Slapping me, Don peered closely into my face. He stuck his oxygen in my mouth while he tried to get someone up front to pass my mask back to me.
Shaking so hard he could hardly talk, Tim addressed the world in general: "I'm freezing, really I'm freezing ... I can't take much more ... I'm goddamn freezing to death. We have got to go out or down ... I don't care which ... I'm freezing."
We turned, but in a circle.
By then I couldn't care less. Don handed me my oxygen equipment. As I fumbled with the tubing which had become stiff with the cold, the plane began to return to course, Unable to hook up the oxygen with my numb hands, it seemed like a good idea in my addled brain to remove my gloves. Working in slow motion, I finally got the line plugged in and secured.
Then came the problem of putting my gloves back on. It just couldn't be done. I didn't have enough coordination to clap my hands together. I knew that I wanted to put them on, but couldn't figure out how to make my hands obey the commands of my brain. The effort was making me dizzy. My fingernails were blue, which struck me as funny. Attempting a stern frame of mind I tried to will my hands to work. I got my gloves on only to discover that I couldn't feel them. Further, the exercise had worn me out so I laid back down, thinking that perhaps if I didn't move I could resupply my blood with the needed oxygen.
Meanwhile, Ed and Skippy somehow got us pointed toward the drop zone. I don't remember much of what went on. I do remember my altimeter swinging wildly from 22,000 to 25,000 ft., with the intermittent buzzing of the plane's stall indicator warning device for punctuation.
Suddenly Ed unplugged his oxygen and said, "Jump run." Tim seemed to come out of shock. Don unplugged and turned to me, "Are you OK?"
"Yeah. Be glad to get some air..."
"You sure you're OK now?"
"Yes ... Hell yes, if you think I'm going to stay in this plane you're crazy."
We unhooked and waited. The nightmare repeated itself. The pilot refused or couldn't make the final corrections necessary for us to reach the drop zone. We needed still another turn.
When we realized we couldn't jump yet, we spent the next several moments hooking up life-giving oxygen lines with clumsy hands. By now we were all suffering from the cold and lack of oxygen. But for some unfathomable reason, no one considered going back down.
Except Tim. His frozen hand had thawed enough to really hurt. In addition, he was getting the full force of the freezing wind across his body. There was an expression of hurt on his face that was total and complete. He leaned toward Don and spoke a voice that wavered for control. "I'm hurting bad. I think my hand is frozen. You've got to convince them that I'm hurt." His voice broke. "Make them understand ... I'm hurt ... We've got to get out or go down..."
Don didn't reply. He held Tim's frozen hand between his own and kept nodding his head, like a mechanical Santa in a store window.
Finally hooked up, we all sat immobile, content just to be still and breathe. Then, in a rushing panic, the implications of our inaction hit me. Pulling off my mask I began to pound on the pilot's back and scream, "Turn this sonofabitching airplane around! Turn around ... !"
Don grabbed my fist and said crisply, "Shut up." The pilot didn't even glance around.
Dizzy from exertion and somewhat ashamed, I tried to explain, "Tim's right; we've got to go out or get down to some air."
Punctuating his speech with sips of oxygen, Don replied, "Next pass - we either go out - or take the plane down."
His eyeglass frames covered with frost, Ed spoke for the first time. He had removed his oxygen mask and stuck the tubing down his throat so that, with the bone whiteness of his frozen face, he resembled a hospital patient who wasn't going to make it. "What the hell - we've made it this far - let's go one more pass - then jump."
No reply was made or expected, so we each turned back to our own problems. Skippy and Ed worked in a team to get the airplane back around over the field. Skippy would relay Ed's hand instructions to the pilot and prod him into carrying them out. Completely absorbed with pain, Tim sat and shivered convulsively while Don sat like a mother hen over the two of us. I had returned to my prone eyes-shut position to wait. The time had to come when we would exit - get out in freefall where there was plenty of air.
My mind began to wander crazily: Don't trust airplanes. All you need is some air and a parachute and zingo, you're an airplane. Boy, from this high - just like a jet airplane - whoosh, with clouds hitting you in the face. Clouds? Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country and fellow man. With a silly smile, I opened my eyes and stared at Skippy who was slapping me in the face. He had stuffed the mouthpiece of his oxygen bag into his mouth. The bag expanded and contracted with his breathing like an extra lung. There was ice in the bottom of the bag. He said to Don, "Should we let him jump?" Don shrugged; I smiled. Come hell or high water I am going to jump.
"Jump run," but nobody moved to disconnect their oxygen. I taxied to the door and prepared to take off, still happily sucking at my oxygen. Ed yelled "Cut!" the engine slowed, and the roar of the wind abated.
Ed hopped out into the blinding sky. I spit out my oxygen and took off after him - only to be caught by an iron fist of cold and flung tumbling. A slow roll on my back silhouetted the airplane which perversely seemed to be falling up, white oxygen masks streaming in the wind. Grabbing air I arched and stabled out, excitement rushing through my veins like ice water. Outstretched on the air, the other jumpers floated. Hands at sides, I dipped my head and air roared by as I dove down to them. They loomed up like overstuffed man-birds, all wearing intense grins. Skippy sailed past, his boots covered with frost. I turned and followed him. He turned to face me and we slid together for a perfect two-man hookup. My altimeter read 18,000 ft. 16,000 ft. to go till pull time.
A wave of uncomfortable lassitude came over me. With mild curiosity I watched the rim of the world below go dark and narrow around me. The dark slowly closed in, leaving a large-ish spot of vision that rapidly grew smaller. It was as if I were failing into a black funnel toward the small end which was snapping shut in front of me.
Just before I went totally unconscious my mind unvoiced the realization of the "tunnel vision" phenomenon. There was nothing I could do. I passed out exactly when the tunnel snapped shut, at about 7,000 feet.
How much time goes by while you are unconscious? I aroused slowly, knowing I was skydiving, unconcerned about having just awakened from oblivion. I knew that something was wrong. Unable to focus on the particulars, I began a systems check.
I couldn't see my altimeter. In fact, nothing was visible except a diffuse bright glow. It was like looking at the sun through clouds. Was I falling on my back looking up at the clouds? If so, then I was falling upward because the light was getting brighter! What could cause this to happen?
Hmmmm, I can't relate to what is happening. I pull my ripcord chanting "When in doubt, whip it out." Opening shock saddles me into the parachute harness and a sharp pain, unnoticed before this, washes over me so that I cry out.
My head ... no, my eardrums are exploding. I still can't see. I tear off my goggles and the suddenly visible ground is right below me. I am open over a Texas pasture. The grass is yellow and dry under the warm sun. It was the feeble reflection of the sun off this grass that I'd seen through my frozen goggles. It got brighter as I rushed toward it in freefall. Now my overwhelming feeling is pain in my eardrums. I let my arms drop to let observers on the ground know I am hurt, steering only enough to soften my landing.
Touchdown brought a blinding flash of pain to each part of my body that touched the ground ... feet, then knees and hands. My hands burned. And my legs tingled. Too stiff to rise. Too pained to think. My hands were too cold to remove my helmet. My eardrums and eustachian tubes hurt badly, I stayed on my hands and knees, moaning and shifting my weight from hand to hand as the ground crew rushed up.
My hands eventually thawed out and I finally got warm. The tremendous change in air pressure from twenty-five thousand feet down to under one thousand feet in just over two minutes of freefall had put painful pressure on my eardrums. The hooded parka I wore under my helmet had sealed off my ears so that the pressures couldn't equalize. When it finally did, days later, the return of full hearing startled me with its volume. I spit up small amounts of blood from whatever had ruptured for several days.
Tim developed painful frostbite in his right hand. Skin peeled off his hand in sheets. His glass eye had frozen, frostbiting his eyelid. Don developed stomach cramps. While Ed didn't feel well for days, he and the other two had no serious problems.
The hazards of high-altitude jumps are serious enough that the United States Parachute Association has promulgated regulations to help ensure greater safety for participants. Experience in a high-altitude simulator pressure chamber is a must.
We thought we could handle it. We couldn't.
Pat Works. 1966
"To follow the sun
And romp the clouds
And race the Wind"
Mexican Madness with the ParaMatadors in Juchitlan, Jalisco.
It seems invariably that when one first hears stories about Mexico, he usually stands there taking in the last gruesome detail and then says something like, "Oh well, that's almost as good as what happened to me in T.J. back in '67." But this one is different - honest!
Mexican Intrigue, that's what it was, Mexican Intrigue. See, there's this guy standing there, grinning, and casually telling me I'm going in there and fight the next bull. "But after all Senor, didn't we just jump into this bullring, now why do we have to fight the Toro?" Must be because he thinks that if we're skydivers, then we'll make good bullfighters. He hands us another beer. The crowd's cheering of the real matadors is diminishing as we swallow the last foamy dregs. I just toss my bottle into a corner and the gates in front of me open, we walk into the ring, amid the renewed cheers and shouts of the crowd. As we walk we are handed the capes. Thank God the alcohol seeps quickly into the blood in the late afternoon heat. We turn and face the opening where The Bull will appear and fan out into a Vee. I shake the cape, more like canvas than the soft flowing material I had expected. The door swings open. The crowd seems to quiet, perhaps it's only focusing my attention.
The Bull stomps into the ring. First, he looks towards us, then around the ring and immediately right back to us. A quick thought flashes through my mind - Estamos en Mexico. I move in on the Bull, shake the cape and shout, "Toro, Aha, Toro!" I've got his attention now. I steady myself for the first pass ...
Hey, Hey, let's wait just a second, I'm getting way ahead of myself relating this thing back to you. Let me start by explaining who we are, and just what the hell a bunch of jumpers are doing in a bull ring in Mexico.
We are Rick Hinchman, Efren Perez, "Chepe" Perez, Adan Perez, Alfonso, Dan O'Leary and a cast of a few more, whose names I can't pronounce much less spell or I never knew formally, but without whose help it might never have gone down the way it did. The place was a town called Juchitlan, an hour's flying time from Guadalajara, in the state of Juchitian, down in Mexico.
I first heard the tales of Juchitlan through an old jump buddy, Rick Hinchman, currently a medical student at Guadalajara. Rick was up in the States on one of his periodic trips North. He was bubbling over with this wild story about a demo into this bull ring where the jumpers actually fought a bull after they landed. This sounded like a bit too much to believe, I thought, but I went along as I listened. But as Rick continued, it began to sound better, much better. In fact, I could even almost see Hemingway himself sitting there in the stands, a Tequila Sunrise in one hand and his free arm wrapped around a Margarita. Rick went on painting word pictures of the town, the people and the jump. Almost before I realized it, I said, "When do we go?" I had locked myself in.
Rick picked it up, "Sometime around Mardi Gras I'll count on seeing you. I'll send the particulars." During the few months between September and February I met with Efren and his brother Adan several times at Elsinore and we began firming up the trip's many particulars, tying the thousand and one loose ends. Finally January drew to an end. Efren and Adan set off on the two thousand mile trip by truck. I made it down to Tijuana and boarded an Aero Mexico flight to Guadalajara.
Rick and Dan O'Leary, another medical student, met me at the airport, armed only with a bottle of Suaza Commeritive, Mexico's finest liquor or best grade of antifreeze, depending whether you are man or machine. This was January 31st. The demo was scheduled for the fourth of February, so we had some spare time on our hands. Rick and Dan took it upon themselves to get me acclimatized. We spent the next few hectic days and nights in hard preparation - daily doses of street corner cuisine, rural fiestas, long nights of tequila, dark-eyed muchachas and not too few Mexican songs sung in Irish brogue.
The evening of the third we met with Efren and Adan, and for the first time, met the rest of our "team." There would be six of us jumping into the ring. Rick, Efren, Adan, "Chepe" Perez, a Major in the Mexican Army, and Alfonso, another Mexican Army officer and, oh yeah, me. We'd fly in from Guadalajara in a Cessna 206, buzz the town to announce ourselves, then climb to altitude and make two or three passes. Chepe and Alfonso on the first and the rest of us on the second or third, whatever. Organization and good planning are the key to a good demo.
We spent the rest of the evening packing, builshitting, telling jump stories and talking cape technique; good idea if you would rather get the bull than get the horn.
We ended the evening by producing a bottle of moonshine tequila Rick and I had found back up in the hills the day before. The booze proved to be safe; at least, I wasn't blind when morning came.
The morning of the fourth seemed to be one of the longest mornings I had spent since waiting for my Army discharge, afternoon reminded me of waiting to graduate from college, but finally everyone showed up around three o'clock and we headed off for the airport. The adventure had really and finally gotten underway. We expected to hit Juchitlan about an hour or so before sunset. Since there is really no one to notify in Mexico about when or where you are going to jump, our main concerns at the airport revolved around readying the plane, briefing the pilot (incidentally, he had never flown jumpers before, and probably had never seen any before either) and wondering if we should stash some beer in our jumpsuits for when we landed.
Standing around in an International Airport with a jumpsuit and rig on is really kind of a laugh, especially when you aren't quite sure what the natives and tourists are saving but you've got a good idea about what they are thinking - Sorry ma'am, they only give parachutes to passengers in First Class, bye now.
We took off behind a 727, and sat back for the flight, another fifty-minute eternity. We came in low over the hills and headed up a long valley. Chepe saw it first. "There's Juchitlan!" We made several low passes and I got a glimpse of the target.
"Christ, you couldn't even get a tennis court in that sucker," I thought, "and no alternates either."
Rick looked and grinned then he said, "Told you it was tight, didn't I?"
"No Brown Material," I said.
We climbed and came in on jump run; suddenly, there were three people spotting. I was next to the pilot and couldn't see anything, so I kept giving him rights. Chepe turned around and gave a cut. He and Alfonso disappeared out the door. We circled and watched. Both of them went right `in,' perfectly. We were losing daylight and time, so we decided all four of us, Rick, Efren, Adan, and myself would go on the next pass. Rick and I would do a two-man. We hit four grand and headed in.
Rick spotted. Cut. Efren and Adan tumbled out. Rick looked at me like "Well?" and I yelled "Go!" We rolled out and I looked for Rick to start for the pin. Then I remembered, the smoke! I reached around and pulled the thing, then looked for Rick, then the ground, again for, Rick, then the ground, at the horizon, at the ground, at the bull ring, which was the ground, saw the whites of their little brown eyes, gave a quick wave and dumped it out. Rick opened to one side and just a bit lower. The smoke was a dud, wouldn't you know it, but I could see Efren and Adan make it two more "in" perfectamente.
Rick and I weaved in for the target. Rick on a PC, me on my Piglet. Both of us looked like we were in a good position to make it. Rick hooked in beautifully. I started in - No brakes, No wind, No low turns - I ended up just outside the ring. Oh well, five out of six in, but why me?
People were coming from everywhere, helping me back into the ring. Then the six of us joined up in the ring. The crowd went wild. After a few minutes of the limelight we exited to the stands for some liquid refreshment and were met by O'Leary, who had patiently acted as ground control and guardian of the moonshine.
I guess that sort of explains what and how and who had gotten into this thing so ...
I tensed for the first pass, dangling the cape off to my left. The cape is the key, I remembered; you move the cape, not yourself. "Ah ha Toro, Ah ha!" I moved in closer, his head dropped, then suddenly he rushed me, I shook the cape and he headed right for it. At the last instant I pulled it aside and he brushed on by me to the next `Para-matador.'
The contest between men and beast continued and we all became bolder. Chepe was first to grab the Bull's tail and soon Adan, Efren and Hinchman were astride El Toro, the fight was becoming a circus. Then it happened. O'Leary was moving in on the bull, when he suddenly charged, goring Dan with his horn in the chest and throwing him back out of the way. We all froze. Dan stood clutching himself. Slowly he pulled his hand away and for a moment seemed afraid to look, then his eyes slowly dropped to his chest ... Nothing; no hole, anyway.
He stiffened, drew himself up and charged the Bull, his own head lowered now. He caught the Bull near the shoulder, simultaneously grabbing his forefeet. The Bull was down, successfully gored by an Irishman, undoubtedly a first in bullfight history. We all jumped on the Bull and held him down as the crowd yelled, "El Gordo, El Gordo, El Gordo, Ole El Gordo!" Dan O'Leary had been renamed.
That night we were the honored guests of the town of Juchitlan. We wined, dined, danced and sang around the town square with the entire populace until the last reveler went home and the long purple creepers of dawn streaked across the sky. Then we fell into our pickup and headed back for Guadalajara.
Pound, Pound, Pound, Pound, "Hey `Dirty Billy,' are you awake?"
"No, I'm having a nightmare, I must be!"
"Dirty Billy, it's me, Joe."
"Well," I said, "I guess I'm awake, what day is it?"
"Tomorrow." says Joe.
"That's what I was afraid of," says I, "What time is it?"
"Almost noon," from Joe.
"Oh yeah, well look, I know I said I'd teach you guys to jump at eight
in the morning, so I guess it's too late to jump, Good night," says I.
"Too late to jump," says Joe, "But not too late to teach, right Teach?"
"I was afraid you'd think of that, why, just tell me, if you medical students have to be so smart, why can't you be dumb? OK, let's go, is everyone here?" I ask, as I try to hide a monster green hangover, in the closet.
"Yeah, since eight, how'd the jump and bullfight go?" inquired Joe.
"I think we won, but I'm guessing, some little rascal named Tequila
has been putting funny notions in my head lately."
Our jump stories and rap sessions of the last three days had generated enough interest with Rick's classmates that five of them had decided to make their first jumps. So we began First Jump Course, Mexican Style: Five students, a T-10 with a Stevens Cutaway System, reserve, black board, tree limb for malfunction procedures and a pickup truck for PLF's.
By five that afternoon I was amazed. After training hundreds of students, I found that this was the best group I had ever been associated with. Here they were doing their own critiques, pin checks and packing. After an oral exam, we broke class for the day and prepared for the morning.
We got an early start for Magdellena Airport near the town of Tequila (God, that's a popular place) with hopes of renting an air taxi to put our students out of. We were in luck and in a short time we had the door off a battered 206, marked a target in a nearby cow pasture with a cheapo canopy, and put O'Leary to work holding the windsock on the DZ. Luckily we managed to borrow another canopy and reserve from the Mexican Army bunch, rig up another Stevens System and voila! We began jumping our students two at a time, Rick and I both jump-mastering. Each pass brings more and more spectators until the field is nearly full of kids, farmhands and interested bystanders Whuffos, Latin-style. The last Show of the Gringo Barnstormers draws to an end as late afternoon descends with the last student and a two-man over Tequila. We pack ourselves, our students, cervesa, and tequila into the pickup and head off into the sunset, five new brothers initiated into the sky.
Adios till next year,
Note: Billy Bishop, (Dirty Billy, as his friends knew him), was killed in an automobile accident near Guadalajara, Mexico, on September 15, 1976.
-Dirty Billy Bishop, Starcrest, July-August 1976
The Fable of the Godfrogs.
Once and then there was, of all things, a frog. Not your usual bumpy or horney frogs, but a nice slick-type frog by the name of Clyde,
Now Clyde achieved his standing as the Godfrog while I was still a tadpole. So the first days of the Godfrogs, as the entire group of slick frogs came to be called, are somewhat muddled in my mind.
Anyway, near as I can tell, Clyde was brought up in the waters along the runway of old Beeline DZ, just 40 feet from the rock-hard target. The terrible tadpole fear he had of the roar of the airplanes would always turn to ecstasy and hopping wonder at the pop and glide of the pretty, oh-so-beautiful, waltzing of the colorful canopies as they passed overhead to crash on the ground.
More than anything else in the world, Clyde wanted to be a parachute. He dreamed and he schemed. And he figured that he could do it, After all, he had made it from a fish to a frog, so why not from a frog to a parachute? Frog logic at its finest, pure and simple.
So he set at it. He figured and pondered, He compared the waltzing glide of the parachutes to their unfortunate demise into a limp nothing. They reminded him of the windsock which always died with he wind. But careful study showed him that it wasn't the wind that killed canopies, but rather their contact with the ground. This was proven beyond doubt when on several occasions Clyde distinctly heard
terrible screams, curses and moans of pain when the canopies crashed into the ground. The fact that the wind sock was snapping with life added further, proof to this theory.
On his way one day to do a postmortem on a recently killed canopy, Clyde discovered the People-Totems. Up to this point, he had naturally assumed that the limp objects which dangled beneath the beautiful parachutes were ballast - deadweight and nothing more. (This theory is still adhered to in some government circles.)
At this point, things become rather fuzzy insofar as frog lore goes. it is a pity that so many frog facts have been lost in the mind-smashing quivers of frog fear. For when grasped by one of the People-Totems, Clyde went into the active stage of frog fear, which is to say he was so scared that he wet his pants, he also wet copiously on the People-Totem at the same time.
And thus it was that frog fear led to the discovery of the 7200-foot Swoop and the foundation and propagation of the Godfrogs. Because shortly after Clyde did his frog fear bit, the wrath of the People-Totem caused him to be thrown with vigor out the open door of a jump aircraft at 7200 ft.
Once in freefall, Clyde really began to work on becoming a parachute. while he enjoyed the fun of freefall, he nevertheless felt it his duty as a frog to avoid becoming a flat frog as a result of sudden contact with the ground.
So as he fell, he thought. And as he thought he got the frog fear which looked so beautiful from the ground that people began to copy the effect using smoke as a substitute. In order to think better, he stabled out. He was seen to do so by an old Frenchman who stole the idea and named it the French Frog.
Then in the midst of near disaster (89 feet) came the glimmer of the idea which was later to make Clyde the Godfrog. Putting his hands to his sides, he started into the Froggian Swoop. Now since the initial stages of the Froggian Swoop cause a surprising amount of horizontal displacement, people types on the ground were heard to remark, "Man, wouldya watch that crazy frog! He's flat trackin'!"
And thus, the "track" position was born. Unfortunately the newspapers got Clyde's name wrong so today the "track" is miscalled the Max-Track, when it should be called the Clyde-Track.
Anyway, performing a perfect sequence of swoop-arch-upswing-touchdown, Clyde landed right in front of a group of young frogs who were protesting the increasing use of frog legs as a food item, and the term "demonstration jump" was born.
More importantly, however, the Godfrogs were born.
The young demonstrating frogs hailed Clyde as their leader and gave him the title "Skrow" which roughly translates into English as "God, did you see that guy? This we gotta try!" which is usually shortened to "god" with a small "g" so as not to stir up the religious tribes.
Clyde, feeling that it is better to give than to receive, refused the title by shouting "Skrow You!" which was gladly accepted and followed, creating many tadpoles on the spot.
* * *
Time passed and only the frog who was called J.C. remained of the original group. Clyde died when he tried a low snap roll over the graveyard. He caught a tombstone which turned out to be his own.
Many bad things befell the rest of Clyde's first flock of followers. Iron Tooth, the Hungarian frog, broke his back. Nick Frog blew his cool on a demo and had to be buried as a result. Hawk Frog lost an eye and had to be renamed Hawk-Eye Frog. Another member of the tribe broke his leg and thus became known as Hop.
After Clyde's death, J.C. Godfrog came into power. Under his reign all Godfrogs wore black hats and indulged in the consumption of much beer. Further, the healing rites of the full moon and speed streak were perfected to an unheard-of, but often seen, degree. Because of these developments, a joint body of the Nerds and Feebles dubbed the Godfrog clan "outlaws." Things went from bad to terrible.
The Godfrog clan continued to engage in the practice of things which infuriated the Nerds and Feebles no end - three-frog stars from 3500-ft., low-pull contests, low-swoop contests ...
The Falcons Against Anything (F.A.A.) arrived on the scene and ate every freefall frog they could catch, claiming that air space was for the birds and God had never planned for frogs to fly in any case. The Godfrogs hotly denied having ever flown in a case, much less any case. Being democratic, the Godfrogs delegated Doc Frog to head up the newly organized Protective Cover-All (P.C.A.) for freefall frogs.
Then light (not to mention joy) was spread over the scene with the arrival of Happy Harry, the Hippy Frog, and his chick Joy. Their presence generated a mood of peace and contentment, what with their motto being: "Make Love, Not War." Unfortunately, however, Joy was buried in accordance with local health laws. Happy Harry burned his draft card in protest, claiming that she had always smelled bad.
* * *
Then, as it has a way of doing, considerably more time passed. The mountains didn't get any older, but things changed as if they had. Newcomers came. They looked and listened and learned. We taught them because, somehow, we have always known that teaching spreads the joy faster.
And the Godfrogs watched too. They grew and changed with the times. Fast-learning new arrivals tested new skills. Happy Harry made over a thousand jumps, developed the chronic 1,000 jump surlies, burned out on skydiving, and hung it up. J.C. Godfrog had less and less influence until at last he, too, disappeared.
Meanwhile, a newcomer was following in the footsteps of Clyde and Harry. A callow, green upstart by the name of Carlos Gene jumped into the scene. Looking back at the glories and mistakes of past Godfrogs, C.G. stumbled blindly into the present. With him he brought lightweight gear, tennis shoes, soft helmets and ram air parachutes.
In order to get ahead, he graduated from a relative work seminar, then headed south, following the yellow brick road to California where, he has heard, is where it's at ...
So one day our hero, C.G. Godfrog, is hippy-te-hoppin' along the yellow brick road, wearing a suave new frogskin pair of jeans. His worn webbed Addidas mark him as a frog of considerable depth and experience.
Though life had been good to C.G., problems of his psyche marred his overall self-image of suave, cool, collected Bon Vivant Skygod skydiver. He felt there was something missing in his life - and he knew just what it was. He was having trouble getting laid. Tears welled up in his eyes as he contemplated the inequity of it all. Blinded by grief he moved forward, heedless of a large rock in his path. Danger lurked. He stubbed his toe.
With a croak of outrage and pain C.G. hopped madly in circles on one foot, clutching his stone-bruised foot in one hand while shaking the other heavenward in contemptuous defiance to the unjust gods who not only had meted out serious uglies to him, but had now punctured his left Addidas as well.
It was more than C.G. could stand. He wailed in rage, shouting to the wind: "My Addidas ... my foot! You've gone and done it now! I'm gonna burn a church ... I'll put a rubber check in the collection plate. I'll..."
Cut off in mid-blasphemy, C.G. was deafened by the thundering roar of an 18-wheel Kenworth semi which ran him down, squishing him flatter than a pancake across several cracks in the yellow brick road. Nine massive sets of tires gave him a close intimacy with the roadway that C.G. would have thought to be impossible.
The hot sun glared down at the aftermath. The Kenworth kept on truckin', and C.G. was laying on the roadway, pressed real close to the warm concrete, tire tracks across his back, soaking up the sun's rays and meditating on skydiving and swooping.
After an undetermined amount of time had passed, C.G. Godfrog was startled from his deep and holy sleep of meditation by the sacred mantra screamed in his ear by a mischievous imp of a first-jump student. She screamed those powerful words which have snatched the quivering attention of skydivers over time: "Pull! Pull! Pull your reserve, for God's sake!"
C.G. jumped up and gave her a froggy stare. "Don't scare me like that," he croaked. Then he glanced speculatively at her, "Want to get your SCR, pretty lady? I'll be happy to put the load together myself. You just lay there and remember the most important rule: Beer! Are you interested?"
Sizing C.G. up as a flaky, horney Skygod, she calculated that she could gain some much desired swooping experience by playing his silly game. "Sure!" she purred, staring boldly into his eyes. "I always like to get ahead..."
Suddenly six voices raised in unison from the shadows: "Head? Who said head? I'll take some of that!"
So it was that they had enough for the load, and prepared for the SCR attempt. The sacred ritual was followed:
The student was first instructed by the Ego Priests of New SCR's and told to fear not, that their skill would earn her the coveted merit badge, plus a kiss pass and a chance to get together later, plus help opening the beer, Her instructions were simple and direct:
1. Don't make any mistakes.
2. We're thirsty. Don't forget the beer.
And it went well. And they were happy. And they multiplied. As they all learned together, their happiness grew until giggles could be heard even in freefall.
The excitement of the challenging skydives they made was increased by their plans for more skydives to be made. Several imaginative frog-thinkers thank up ever new ways to fly. Three-dimensional formations ... even four-dimensional formations! The average intelligence of jumping frogs soared to new heights as a result of the demands placed upon their minds and memories by sequential formations and multiple maneuver practice dives into the frog pond.
Soon more novice swoopers - tadpoles - joined the fun in the air. The newcomers learned fast from the more experienced Godfrogs. The happiness and good vibes quotient increased along with the fun factor of the dives.
The reintroduction of magic allowed the Godfrogs to build formations that looked like flowers. Practice in the art of freefall flower-building enabled individual frog flyers to transform themselves into individual flower petals while flying into a formation. They won every flower show they entered with their specialty, the 75-frog carnation.
Everyone prospered because the TV networks bought the Godfrogs' jumping story for much gold. Several frogs even won key parts on the famous frog show, The Muppets. The wealth was used to pay for jumps and new frog suits for swooping.
New, colorful jumpsuits helped the beauty of their flight by allowing frogs to fly like butterflies. With a really big frog suit, any frog was able to do less more slowly on every jump - and in living color!
Frog-eyed scribes recorded the fun the freefall frogs had. Teachers studied the condition of frog joy and related it to longtailed tadpoles. The pathway to perfect flight and good skydiving was written with bright, sunny words on clear-shot blue-sky paper. Thus, the attitude of joy became available to any frog who would listen to the music of the sky or read the words of the sacred Book of Frog: The Art of Freefall Relative Work. Every Godfrog, both old and new, learned to work together to maintain and build up the good vibes required for long-term sky fun.
Life was good to the Godfrogs until, one day, death came swooping from the sky. Great wings blocked out the sun. Terrified froglins looked up to see a great falcon snatching frogs from the sky. His talons held entire formations as more frogs were drawn with horrible certainty into his craw.
The falcon wheeled and circled in the sky. Tadpoles and godfrogs, young and old, perished under beating wings that filled the sky's four corners, from heaven to earth. Mothlike, to meet the flame of their destruction, the frogs plunged headlong into a fiery falcon gullet.
In the midst of this destruction, C.G. Godfrog jumped up. "Tell me who you are, you feathered turkey, and why do you bother us!?"
Opening its horrible mouth, the creature spoke: `I am called Time, destroyer of people and frogs. I wait ever ready for that appointed hour that faces everyone. I am Lord of fire and death, of wind and moon and waters, To you I am double horseshoe malfunctions, main-reserve entanglements, collisions and other nasty, fatal stuff. All who see me and cannot answer my questions must die horribly. Prepare to die, frog!"
C.G. gulped and hopped back, his eyes bugging out of his head. He croaked, "Not so fast there, you obnoxious windbag. First, ask the questions!"
The falcon asked:
"What is the road to heaven?"
And C.G. answered:
"How does Man find happiness?"
"Through right conduct."
"What must he subdue in order to escape grief?"
"When is a man loved?"
"When he is without vanity."
"Of all the world's wonders, which is the most wonderful?"
"That no man, though he sees others dying all around him, believes that he himself will die."
"How does one reach true religion?"
"Not by argument. Not by scriptures and doctrines; they cannot help. The path to religion is trodden by the saints."*
With the last correct answer, the terrible falcon disappeared into a dark cloud, hurling thundering threats of revenge behind him.
C.G., of course, was a hero to the saved Godfrogs. He was rewarded by having his parachute packed for him free for the rest of his life. And he and his froggy friends lived happily ever after in the big frog pond in the sky.
* Adapted from the Mahabharata, 500 B.C.
Pat Works, 1962-1978
The world's largest parachute meet (Z-Hills Thanksgiving, 1972) also saw the world's largest mass exit. 162 nervous RWers and one 6-ft. frog left six monster airplanes at the scary altitude of 3500 ft. The pilots flew in tight formation and in freefall the sky looked like a beehive. There were several small stars built. The only fatality was C.G. Godfrog, a 6-ft. bright green, stuffed 10-lb. tree frog who opened too high and drifted off into the alligator-infested swamp. C.G. was a beloved member of the Godfrogs 10-man team. His competition experience included the invention of the Swoop.
RWu, January 1973
Comes this mysterious letter. "Thought you would like to know that I ran into C.G. Godfrog the other day. Seems somebody gave him a bad spot at Z-Hills and he landed his cheapo in a swamp where he was rescued by some Zephyrhills swamp frogs. I guess they were pretty impressed to have such a celebrity drop in, even though most swamp frogs don't know much about skydiving except what they watch from their quagmires.
"Anyhow, C.G. taught them all about swoops and other neat stuff like that, so now a bunch of swamp frogs are logging swoops in their frog logs. C.G. says they didn't know much about skydiving, but they really turned him on to the Bayou Boogie. He used to sit around on toadstools, but down there they use mushrooms; `puts a whole new perspective on things,' says C.G.
"C.G. heard about a 30-man attempt at Elsinore and thumbed his way out here. As it turned out the Hueys didn't show so they used two Beeches and two Howards. We thought it was a 27-man, but Ray Cottingham's pix the next week showed that it was only a 25-man with two guys breaking wrists less than half a second after a grip was lost, and another less than a second after that. Well, C.G. was pretty upset about that so he split back to Z-Hills for a Big Swamp Stomp they have planned for Easter."
RWu, March 1973
"Sunward I've climbed and joined the tumbling mirth Of sun-split clouds... "High Flight" John Gillespie Magee, Jr.
The First Relative Work Festival.
A beautiful new event happened ... a lot of people who love to jump outa airplanes in groups drove a buncha miles to be with their people in Richmond, Indiana on September 9 & 10, 1972. A hundred-twenty RWers jumped at the first RW Festival ... there were no prizes or competition, there were no judges or hassles, just RW for the sake of RW. The City of Richmond hosted it, Tag Taggart honchoed it and everybody loved it.
The city charged admission to whuffo cars and made several thousands of dollars to support the Boys' Club. The RW people made several big stars out of a Twin Beech and a DC-3. All the self-styled, super-hero RW types made three tries at a 30-man and succeeded in FUBAR-ing all three in front of the lens of Carl Boenish. Everyone else just giggled and went up and made 18-mans and other big round things with no problems on "garbage" loads. Saturday night saw bonfire, boogie and the most beautiful RW films ever seen - Carl Boenish's great flicks of Jerry Bird's All Stars flying at the XI World Meet.
I believe the Richmond RW Festival was wonderful for the sport. The fact that 120 people from all over the Eastern half of the USA (plus California, Australia and Montana) came reflects the tremendous interest in good ol' RW jumping. I doubt that any recent local competition drew as many people. A lot of people had a lot of fun. More people oughta have old-fashioned RW Festivals, trackin' contests and Scrambles.
RWu, Fall 1972
More music-making at Hinckley where an 11-man accordion was built recently - sans jumpsuits. Plain old ordinary accordions built the hard way - start with a 2-man, add to ends only, with jumpsuits and regular "para"-phernalia - were getting dull. Sure was cold on the way up.
RWu, September, 1972
Unplanned Twenty-six (26!)-Man Star at XI World Meet.
It just happened. It was supposed to be mainly just a free, fun mass jump/star attempt. Three monster helicopters chugged up to about 11-grand and 28 RWers jumped at once from both sides. 25 for the star, plus 3 cameramen. It built to 22 and broke. Three people entered on this line to make 25 as they flew it back together(can you imagine trying to fly a 25-man line??). One of the cameramen got antsy, couldn't stand it any longer and entered. It broke at about 5-grand and everyone did a severe track. The beautiful thing about it was the fact that it was a true RW-USA star... Army guys, East Coasters, Southerners, Mid-Westerners, Californians, etc. Everyone got together ... and got together.
There was also an 11-man "everywhere" star including people from many countries. It was reported that the East German Team made their country's first ten-man after several tries.
RWu. September, 1972
Jonathan's Creator Tries it Himself. Author Richard Bach (Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Nothing By Chance), who received an RW Certificate of Merit from RWu on behalf of Jonathan several years ago, decided to try his own wings in freefall. He took up jumping in Florida this winter, progressed rapidly into relative work (flying an SST with Strato-Star), and wrote in a letter to RWu after participating in his first 10-man that "The great thing about RW to me now is the sovereignty and independence of each jumper choosing to reach out in the sky and touch and touch and be touched by another. In the air or on the ground, that's exciting!"
RWu, June 1975
" ... the most important thing in living is to reach out and touch
perfection in that which they most loved to do, and that was to fly...
Jonathan Livingston Seagull
* * *
There is always another destination, and, ultimately, it is the availability of everywhere that make the plane a hero, that makes flying miraculous. When Wendy, John and Michael finally got the hang of air travel, the bed-mantel route wasn't enough. "I say," said John, "why shouldn't we all go out?"
And they did. And the prospect of the unknown wasn't all that frightening, even though Peter Pan hadn't bothered to show them how to stop, because "if the worst came to the worst, all they had to do was to go straight on, for the world was round, and so in time they must come back to their own window."
J. Barrie, "Peter Pan"
RWu, March 1973
Celebrity News Note. Famed Jonathan Livingston Seagull, who has gained 27 pounds eating royalties from his best-seller book, was reported to have moved to New York where he got his beak shortened and has a part-time job at the United Nations as surrogate Peace Dove.
"As an unlimited idea of fat, son, your whole body, from wing tip to wing tip, is hard to fly and lands harder," said Jonathan heavily.
RWu, March 1973