Jumping a Round
I have many goals in life and more than a few in skydiving. One of my skydiving goals was to jump a round parachute. On Tuesday, July 29, 2003, I accomplished that goal. I made a round, static line style, jump from our Cessna.
I had no plans to land the 35ft. "TU" canopy. Many people said landing the round would be fine. The canopy I was jumping had been used to train students for years. I deferred to the will of my less-than-perfect knees. I try to protect them so that I can jump for years in the future. So, the plan was for me to exit with the round canopy, ride it for awhile, chop it, return to freefall and then deploy my Omni 183.5, leaving me with my normal reserve in case of trouble. The rig that had contained the round has a container that is detatchable from the harness. I wore that harness underneath my regular sport rig. The setup was a little tight, but not cumbersome. Because I was not wearing a container for the round main, I had to hand carry it, enclosed in the deployment bag.
I was on a load with a student who was doing his first freefall. After he exited, we ascended to 7,000'. I guessed at the exit point as I didn't have a great deal of experience spotting under these conditions. After checking everything I climbed out on the step. While I am doing this, Holli was maintaining order out of the bag and all of the loose lines. I crouched low, because I wanted to be sure to clear the door and to make sure that everything happened over the top of me. I let go and almost immediately I had a very soft opening. There I was, hanging under a round canopy at just under 7 grand. Yeeeeee haaaaaaa !!!
I gave the canopy a cursory check. I'm not sure of what to look for other than the obvious. The first thing I noticed was two gaping holes in the back of the chute. I was pretty sure they were supposed to be there. Even if they weren't, it didnšt matter, the thing was working and I was going to chop it anyway. Although I was definitely descending, I didn't sense much speed because I had no forward movement. Steering was different, too. When I pulled down on a toggle, my direction didn't change, The canopy just rotated. I did not feel in control at all.
Because I wanted to give myself plenty of time in case of a problem, I planned to cutaway the canopy at 4,500'. I released the wooden toggles and got mentally prepared. I pulled down the Capewell covers and put my thumbs in the rings. I pulled the rings sharply and felt the "click" of the release. For half a second, I didn't sense any real movement so I Iooked up and saw that the canopy had indeed released. Then I was falling, feet first. I wasn't at terminal velocity yet, and flailed like a geek. I had an instant flashback to my balloon jump exit a few years ago. Finally I flipped over into position and deployed my main canopy. I thought that I would be uncomfortable hanging in the two harnesses but it was just a bit tight, no biggie.
I landed and looked up into the air for my cutaway round. It was still WAY up there. The canopy had cross connectors and stayed inflated. I casually walked back from the landing area to the clubhouse, dropped my gear, and removed two harnesses and a jumpsuit. I grabbed my wallet and keys and headed out to try and retrieve the canopy. I drove about 5 miles, staying under or nearly under the canopy the whole time. That is until about 800' when I ran out of roads underneath where the canopy landed. I searched for a few hours, including about one hour by boat (Thanks, Don!) but to date the canopy hasn't been located. Oh well, it was well worth losing a $30.00 canopy for that great experience.
I had underestimated the thrill of cutting away. Meeting the goal of jumping a round canopy was great, but chopping a "perfectly good canopy" was a real rush! It really was like having two skydives in one. I'm getting another round canopy. That was just too much fun not to do again!