|An Amusing Sunset Skydive in Arizona|
by Dean Fournier - firstname.lastname@example.org
In the spring of 1998, I was jumping at Skydive Arizona near Phoenix. It was one of the last loads of the day, and as we climbed to 15,000 feet in the tailgate-equipped Skyvan, the setting sun was infusing the western horizon with a beautiful orange glow. Soon we were on jumprun doing our last-minute gear checks and getting ready to go.
A few groups of jumpers exited ahead of me, leaving just me and one other jumper in the aircraft. With a polite wave of his arm, he motioned me to go first if I was so inclined. I took a few running steps and launched myself off the tailgate and into the sky. As I dove head first into freefall, I put my arms at my sides and straightened my legs till I had the appearance of a soldier standing at attention, only upside down. As I hit the wind blast below the tailgate, I was momentarily tossed onto my back, affording me an excellent inverted view of the aircraft I had just left, with the last jumper on the tailgate watching me fall away. Holding the "stiff soldier" position, aerodynamics and gravity took hold and I started to rocket to earth head first.
Turning slightly to face the sunset, I accelerated to around 200 to 220 mph. It was now time for my little "freefall experiment of the day" which I had planned on the way to altitude. I had spent the last few dozen jumps speed diving, checking my speed after each jump on a little freefall computer called a "Skycorder" that I carried in a jumpsuit pocket. I had managed to hit 242 mph the previous summer. I had become curious for some reason as to what would happen to my arms if I just relaxed them while head down, while retaining the stiff "soldier" position with the rest of my body. It was time to find out.
As I let them relax from the shoulder down, my hands and arms began to move in small circles by my sides. After a few seconds, my hands seemed to drift to the area slightly behind my back near my bum. They would stay there for a second or two, then they would come back out by my sides. This process repeated itself a few times before I figured out why this was happening. Because I was falling head first, the wind was mainly hitting the top of my helmet and shoulders. With the wind coming from this direction, my parachute backpack, which ends around the small of my back, was blocking the wind from the area around my bum. My hands were naturally drawn to this low pressure area. For some reason, after a few seconds in this "wind shadow" created by my rig, they would drift back out into the 200-plus mph wind by my sides, where the high-speed wind would again "help" them find their way back into the low pressure area around my bum. I found this interesting and was having fun watching the 200 mph sunset, while listening to the hellishly high-pitched shriek of the wind, while my arms slowly drifted in and out from behind my back.
Then my gloves inflated. POOF! POOF! One right after the other, I felt my thin leather handball gloves with a Velcro wrist closure blow up like little balloons. In the roughly 100 head down jumps I had done up to that point, this had never happened before. I know now that the gloves inflated because of the way I had relaxed my arms, thereby letting the wind hit the gloves at the wrist at a different angle. Somehow the wind had managed to ram it's way into the cuff of the gloves and inflate them. Now this struck me as really funny.
I am a musician, and not long before going to Arizona, I had been working on a tune by Pink Floyd called "Comfortably Numb". There are a few lines in the song that go, "When I was a child, I had a fever. My hands felt just like two balloons." Well as soon as my gloves inflated, that line popped into my head and I started laughing. Here I was, head down in freefall at over 200 mph, watching the sunset with my arms flapping slowly and my gloves inflated like balloons, with a Pink Floyd tune running through my head, laughing like a madman. I still had about 20 seconds of freefall in which to relish fully the absurdity of my situation as I watched the sunset and increasingly, my altimeter. I pulled out of the dive at 4000 feet, decelerated for a few seconds, and opened my parachute - still laughing.
Sometimes life is just so weird and unpredictably bizarre! I had a stupid grin on my face for a few hours after the jump, and to this day it makes me smile to think about it!