Almost everyone knows about this… falling from an aircraft, free fall and then parachute landing. It’s one of the well-known adventures and high-speed aerial sport, Skydiving. It’s not a young sport as it looks like and as/if to believe, at the end of the 18th century, a Frenchman, Andre Garnerin, jumped from a hot air balloon and was thought to be the first real parachutist. Army/Air force people are doing this as a part of their job since ages, however, that we civilians can’t categorize as a “sport” for them, but for us, it is.
Tandem Dive — It means you will be along with an expert and not alone. I did a Tandem dive as a first jumper and I choose the highest one, 18000 feet jump. You can opt for 14000 OR 12000 feet’s too based on your choice. Diving alone would take lots of practice and experience, however, the thrill in the tandem dive was same as in diving alone. I choose Skydive Space Center because of two primary reasons. One, my friend already had done skydiving from here and I had free mouth publicity from him, second, this center offers you the world’s highest tandem dive (18000 feet’s). There were couple of more reasons which I came to know later during the dive, why this was an excellent option to choose. For example, an incredible view of the entire Space Coast, a scenic view of the Atlantic Ocean, the Indian River, and the Kennedy Space Center including all the launch sites and the main shuttle assembly building. I was flying directly over the Space Center runway where the shuttle lands. This diving facility is having special permission from NASA that allows to fly directly over the Shuttle Launch Pads, the Main Assembly Building and the Shuttle Landing Runway on way to altitude. What more you can ask for?
Freefall — That is incredible. You and the air with lot of pressure to make your brain empty and to give you a feeling that your body can’t even control the air… the heartbeat you will feel inside and the time you will jump out of aircraft, your speed for the free fall will be at 120 MPH (~193 KMPH)!!! It’s like a powerful engine running on a free road without any speed limits and without any fear of challan, without any state/central govt laws. You are the vehicle, air pressure is the fuel and accelerator, and free space is the road which you have to cross/cover. Moreover, as it looks like in the pictures, Freefall is totally a different thing. It is a comfortable sensation of floating and support from the surrounding.
Jump Master/Instructor — My instructor/jump master was Rick, and he is doing this since last 16 years. It was a good company and he made it easy for me since we got into the plane.
The plane ride was of around 20 minutes and rather than height and dive, I was more afraid of the plane. It was small and I thought it can barely take upto the height of 18000 ft, but it happened. Once inside the plane, Rick started treating me like a celebrity and started a video shoot about what I am doing here, how I am feeling. If you choose the video/photo option, they have a set of funny questions to which first jumper answers loosely same as other first jumpers. Often they ask you to sing a song of your choice, alas, I was not asked for that or else I would have started with my playlist and other people who were there to jump and had fear in their heart, would have jumped without thinking anything 😉
So the action started. Rick gave me few instructions, what to do, how to hold the things, to listen to him carefully! And the moment came. Luckily or unluckily, I was the first one to jump! We set ourselves on the door of the plane and get-set-jump happened. For a fraction of second I felt like nothing happened, and then I was in the air, not in the plane. The “actual” free fall was around 90 to 100 seconds, and that is when I was trying to be the whole identity in myself. You are alive in that moment, was the feeling. I was able to feel myself as a human mechanical device with all parts/organs working, which is not the case in day to day life. Incredible, awesome, can’t be explained!!! After the free fall, when my instructor opened up the parachute at about 6000 feet’s above the ground, that was something I already did in Panchagani… paragliding. It was not that new to me, but doing it after so many years, it was too good to experience it all over again! Paragliding gives you a feeling of being a bird. No traffic rules, no signals, no pollution, no honks.. You are just sitting in the air without a chair and feeling nothing, blank! A bird’s view is the best view I can tell. All troubles/world looks so small, everything/anything can be solved feeling, nothing is impossible attitude, all those things you get on that altitude while doing paragliding.
When I hit the ground, I realized that this kind of experience helps in giving you the real push to go beyond your limits, beyond your imagination.
There are people who are against these kind of adventurous sports and I agree to those people too. No one is wrong in this world and everyone has their own perspective/reason to see/do the things. However I believe in the theory where human nature force us to practically see the things. Skydiving for me is like leave yourself and let the other forces do the things on/for you. And later, having a bird’s view to see the part of the earth within the reach of your eyes. These things give’s you another and different ideas to think about anything what happens around you day to day.
This is it
Is skydiving tough/dangerous? Tough — Not at all, considering few factors. One should not have any heart condition, weight should not cross certain limit (in tandem dive), should not “extremely” afraid of heights (yes we all have our own “scared” corner in the heart, but extreme would be an issue). So without seeing a doctor I got a confirmation at least about two things. I don’t have any heart conditions yet, and I am not overweight (not too much at least, which can stop me doing this skydiving ;)) Dangerous — Yes, it is. But less than the other dangerous things which we experience in day to day life, like polluted air/water pollution, eating genetically modified food, global warming, road rages, and politics!
Afraid of heights? Don’t worry!! We all are afraid of something. And this acrophobia condition is related to seeing things on move. In skydiving, you are too far from the surface and everything looks static, like a picture. So don’t think much about the fear of heights, you can do it until and unless it’s extreme of extreme fear.
Need more technical details? When the freefall starts (jump out of the plane), there is a drogue chute that is deployed immediately after exiting the plane. The drogue will help slow down the jumpers to maintain a speed around 120 mph (~193 kmph) which is necessary for the parachute to open safely. Parachute deployment usually happens between 6000 to 5000 feet’s.
Highest parachute jump? As of October 24, 2014 the record for the highest parachute jump is 135,890 feet. The jump was made that day by Google Senior VP, Computer Scientist, Alan Eustace at the age of 57 (proving that age is just a number). It smashed the previous world record of 127,852.4 feet (38,969.4 meters) set by Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner on October 14, 2012. More info here.