Never

While reading today’s Daily Lex installment for March 26th, I found myself nodding in agreement.

About the flying part.

About the strapping on the equipment and feeling one with the air part.

Oh yeah, the flying part for me is sans the aircraft.

At least the relevant part is. While it does begin in an aircraft, he first part is really kinda like an elevator with a really touchy attendant or two. You get on with your bags and equipment, everyone stuffed inside, then it lurches up with the occasional jolt and bump. Finally you get to the floor you want, maybe 24,000′ or so, the attendant opens the door for you, announces your destination, and we step out. And sometimes it’s only 1,200′ or so. And sometimes the attendants have a good reason to be proud of their ability to get you to your floor as some of the folks still on the ground floor are the envious types and consumed with their envy. Cursing, gnashing their teeth, and throwing things up at your elevator car of woe and delivery. And the elevator attendants have need of things like spoofing gear, chaff, and other things not usually found on the elevator you ride in Macy’s. So it gives the attendants something to talk about later on that night while they’re back in the club. But I digress.

It took you a couple of hours of pre-breathing pure oxygen to purge your system of nitrogen before they depressurize the aircraft to the 24,000′ altitude that you’re at and open the back of the plane. The crew lowers the ramp at the rear of the plane (or jet, I’ll use generic “plane” here as it’s my story) when we are getting close to the drop zone, or target. It’s a drop zone if folks you want to see are waiting there and have lit a fire, an IR light, or put out bright color panels. If there’s no one there, or possibly folks you’d rather not make the acquaintance of just yet, then it’s a target. In cases like this, it’s probably dark out, both in the air and on the ground.

The jumpmaster crouches down to look forward of the plane the better to see where our target is and where our drop point is. Inside, we’re getting ready, disconnecting from the oxygen console we’ve been hooked to for the last few hours. Checking the equipment attached to us, 100lbs or so of rucksack with goodies for the mission, weapons, small oxygen bottles for breathing from now to the ground, and ensuring that everyone’s altimeter is reading correctly. The jumpmaster will wave everyone up to the edge of the ramp to stand by for the jump. The ramp is about fifteen by fifteen feet or so and about 12 inches thick. So, you’re standing on the tailgate of a plane looking out over 24,000′ of pretty much dark nothingness over a place you may not ever have been to before. With about 10 or so other guys all around, you stand on the edge of the world until the light turns green and the jumpmaster waves everyone out. In a matter of seconds about 5,500 pounds of specialized humanity dives out of the back of the plane, into its jet stream, and into the darkness beyond.

Halo jump from altitude

Halo diving exit

Everyone flies a loose formation through the sky on the way down. Through the dark at about 126 mph with just some dim chemlites to see each other. Think very dim running lights for those of  you who are compulsive plane riding types. One man, the base man, tracks to the opening point and everyone else follows him. Glancing at the dimly lit altimeter on your wrist until the signal is given to turn outwards and spread out before opening. The ram-air canopies ripple open in the dark until all are open and the formation rebuilds on the base man again for the approach and landing. The parachutes have forward thrust, can be steered, and stalled similar to other unpowered aircraft. The base man heads down toward the landing point flying the approach: downwind, crosswind, and turn onto final.

That 100 pound rucksack we mentioned earlier? It’s attached to you with a 30′ line to an anchor point on your harness. On your way down your hook your legs into it, then release it from it’s attachment straps letting it dangle from the toes of your boots as you enter the pattern to land. After you turn onto final, as you approach the landing zone, you release the brakes on the ‘chute to gather speed. If it’s a full moon, you can do the landing by sight, let the rucksack slip from your boots to dangle below you just as you flare the ‘chute for contact and stall,  gently contacting the ground. If it’s too dark, the rucksack dangling below you acts as a feeler gauge to warn you that you’re within 30’ of the ground. When you feel it hit the ground, apply brakes and prepare to do a parachute landing fall when you hit.

On the ground you can hear yourself breathing until you drop one side of the oxygen mask. What a rush. You think back to that moment standing on the ramp between the green light going on and stepping off the ramp and think, “And they pay me to do this”.

And nothing in civilian skydiving is like this. You can’t even pay to do it now.

No, you never get used to not being able to do it anymore. Never.

16 Comments

Filed under HALO, Uncategorized

16 responses to “Never

  1. Mike M.

    Ssshhh. Don’t tell anybody, or they’ll try to charge money to do this stuff. 🙂

    Military life, including the support services, involves a lot of drudgery. But once in a while, there’s a payoff.

  2. You know, the funny thing is that one person’s pay off is another’s, “Oh, H3ll, no!” moment. But that HALO stuff sounds kind of fun to me.

    • Yeah, those of us that enjoy it puzzle the dickens out of the airplane driving set who generally prefer to ride the smoking, flaming hulk to the ground if necessary. I’ve yet to ride in a “perfectly good airplane” they all have something wrong with them, slight though the fault may be. It seems that you’d feel yourself falling, but we actually spend the first 15 seconds or so “transitioning”, or slowing down from the speed the bird is flying at down to terminal velocity. Consequently, there is no feeling of falling which is the process of accelerating to terminal, it’s very much like riding a motorcycle, only without the bike.
      It is fun. Dangerous as the dickens, but fun. I miss it.

  3. Pretty interesting stuff, that. Picked out a few interesting things in Act of Valor and your post fits in neatly with that. Things that “make sense” but that those of us not involved with it never think about….like the rucksack off the foot. makes sense, Never dawned on me tho. Captivating! “Please sir, may I have more” ?

    • Thank you sir, I was concerned that it would be too long.

      While watching Act of Valor my wife asked me about the HALO sequence, if that was what it was like. The HALO sequence in Act of Valor was well done, except for the jumpers exiting without equipment on. What we call a “Hollywood” jump. Without equipment you’re only getting part of the value out of the jump, but it is still a valuable exercise. Making a stable exit, flying formation in the air, opening then reforming under canopy, flying the pattern and landing together are perishable skills that require practice to maintain.

      I will say that there is a certain amount of pleasure taken from turning points while doing military free fall with full equipment. 🙂

      I have some video I’ll do some frame captures from for some future posting.

  4. stscm

    Outstanding write up, thank you.

  5. krisinnewengland

    Um – yeah, whatever. I love you however you are bat-sh!t crazy. Which, I think you know it and are proud of it. 🙂
    That said – how long does it take to land once you exit?

    • One man’s b@tsh!t crazy is another man’s day at the office. 🙂 It takes a little under two minutes of free fall to fall to the opening altitude of about 3,500′ and then maybe another five minutes under canopy before you finally touch the ground. So, maybe 7 minutes from ramp to earth.

      My wife does not think that I’m crazy, she says that I’m “unique” but a serious adrenalin junky. 🙂 My daughter agrees that I’m an adrenalin junky and did not realize for the longest time that not everyone goes to the drop zone to watch their Dad jump. It wasn’t until after I had retired and she was attending a civilian high school that she realized that most people don’t grow up with their Dad and all of their friends Dads being SF.

    • ohengineer

      Your wife doesn’t think you are insane? Either she is taking pity on you or she’s as crazy as you are. Of course it helps to be as crazy as your husband if you intend to stay married to him.

      And I disagree that airplanes that are making normal power and fully controlled are not perfectly good airplanes.

    • That’s supposed to be Quartermaster. That old tag is still haunting me.

  6. Nice post. I had a friend I never met that used to write stories like this. Lost him a few weeks ago.
    Thanks.

    • In looking at your ship I recognize a missile that I used to work on, the SM-1. I worked at General Dynamics in their Depot Level Maintenance Facility. After an non-functional missile wended its way through the Navy system if it was still unrepairable it was sent to us. We repaired it or replaced it.

      Thank you, I’m honored.

  7. homefrontsix

    I’ll ditto the comments – excellent! And MORE please.

  8. oldafsarge

    Marcus, Love your writing. To paraphrase what was said earlier, “more, more, more!

  9. Reading your stuff, Marcus, is like being back in my old police tac firearms unit, for among us were several SF guys who jumped from aircraft, exited submarines through torpedo tubes and other submarine orifices or submerged themselves for an underwater swim mission whilst clad in kit so heavy that they could barely walk, the entry into the water being a blessed relief. I have a tale of CT exercises where a lot of this happened by the SF supporting us. I must work myself up to telling some of it someday. It was good, for when we exercised CT we played it for real, including our government ministers. It was fun when it was over (but never as easy as the real thing). A great post sir.

  10. Pingback: Index – The Rest of Neptunus Lex | The Lexicans

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