Night Jump

Here’s a video I saw over on Kerry McCauley’s Dead Reckoning site. It’s a good look at jumping out of a plane over someplace that you’ve never been to before, loaded for bear. You’ll notice that no one is running, but they’re not dragging ass out the door either. Each guy heading out the door weighs in at about 350 to 450 pounds, depending on how big they are and how much gear they are carrying.

They are in good shape and trying to stay together. When putting paratroopers on the ground, you try to put them in one place, unlike what happened in WWII during the D-day drops. The primary way is to keep them from dispersing, or spreading out, in the air. Once into the air, the paratroopers drift away from each other until they hit the ground. One way to limit dispersal is to drop them from a lower altitude, this limits their time in the air, thus limiting dispersal. Another way to limit dispersal is to slow the plane down while the troops are exiting during the jump run over the drop zone. Moving slower will decrease the distance between paratroopers as the plane will have covers less distance between one jumper and the one that follows him. Finally, the jumpers will attempt to stay close to each other while they’re moving to the door so that they come out quicker with less time and distance traveled between each one.

This is learned behavior that requires training, discipline, and repetition. Airborne combat units are comprised of mostly young men who are wont of competitions in every category to the exclusion of good sense. Like who can empty a plane the fastest. Or which side of the plane can empty faster than the other side. Too close together as they head out the door and the chutes collide and entangle while deploying. This leads to things that are Not Good. It leads to things like having to deploy your reserve parachute and the possibility that someone’s family member may win the life insurance lottery.

It also leads to the paratrooper being focused on getting out quickly to the exclusion of getting out correctly. You are to jump out in a specified manner, said manner being for the good order and discipline of the jump.

And the jumpers body.

When you jump you are to try to jump up and out. Six inches up and thirty-six inches out. This gets you out into the wind stream far enough away from the bird so that you don’t reconnect with it again once you’ve exited. Failure to get up 6 and out 36 is known as a weak exit, which is not only considered unmanly (or poorly executed for our female airborne out there) but will cause you to twist while the parachute is deploying as well as hitting the outside of the bird. Bouncing off the outside of the bird will give you some hit points of damage with chance for a saving throw. Like a bloody nose, broken nose, broken arms, etc. Bouncing off the bird gives off a loud thump that your comrades inside will hear, announcing your weakness for one and all. Said performance will haunt you, especially in venues where alcohol is flowing.

Your colleagues won’t remember who won American Idol five years ago, but they will remember your trip down the side of the plane collecting rivet marks on your face as you went.

At every jump. Where they always brief about weak exits.

Twists in the parachute will cause a couple of things to happen. One, the best of such things, is that you will be unable to control your parachute until you untwist your risers and suspension lines. They teach you to bicycle with your legs to get yourself twirling so that the twists will untwist. You drift willy-nilly until that happens, away from your friends. In a hostile situation, do you really want to be the one deer away from the herd? The other likely thing is that with too many twists the parachute will be unable to open. Again, this leads to things that are Not Good. When the parachute deploys but does not open (think inflate), then you are a like a very heavy seed pod falling with only a nylon streamer above you to slow you down. For that reason this type of parachute malfunction is called a streamer. Nothing you ask for at Christmas. Once again, someone that you know may win the life insurance lottery.

You should pull the ripcord on your reserve parachute Real Soon Now.

Real Soon.

You may get to watch the abbreviated version of your life starring you. Or not.

For those of you that are plane drivers, this is the paratrooper equivalent of the Martin-Baker option. Except that you don’t initiate this activity by riding a mortar round out of a jet within arms length of a couple hundred pounds of canopy that may or may not have separation anxiety.

It’s a dangerous business when you perform all the steps correctly, more so when you don’t. But I digress.

So, you train said meatsuits of testosterone knuckleheads (been there, done that) to stay close, but not too close.

Back at the ranch, the sky is full of our highly motivated horde of Mom’s finest boys heading to earth with the anticipation of wupping ass on someone. Trying to stay close while in the air, but not too close,  looking to see if anyone on the ground is running your way looking like your prom dates father when he caught you with his pride and joy. Also looking to see how far above the ground you are so you’ll know when to release your rucksack. Your ruck is probably 100 lbs or more of fun and games for your pleasure while you’re busy the next few days. Paratroopers usually jump in behind enemy lines so if you ain’t got it, you must not have needed it, ’cause you ain’t gonna get any more for awhile.

The more plebeian of you may be heard to observe that this means that you deliberately got yourself surrounded by the enemy. That would be one way to look at it. The airborne way to view it is “have those poor bastards surrounded from the inside”. While most of the Big Army folks would not do this sort of thing, this is how the airborne mission starts, de rigeur as it were. This is one of the reasons that paratroopers are so self-confident (I’ve heard the term cocky used by unenlightened non-airborne souls). Their job is to start out surrounded and cut off. After jumping out of a “perfectly good airplane”. It takes a certain type of person to live that as a way of life, and they develop a special camaraderie because of it.

Unlike HALO jumping, this parachute possesses the flight characteristics of an improved rock. It’s not really steerable, you can’t stall it, and you can’t really land softly with it. You hit like a bag full of bricks when you’re 6’3″, 185lbs plus 120lbs of ruck, plus another 40lbs of LBE, plus boots, helmet, and weapons. They liken it to jumping off of a twelve foot wall.

I’ve done it a few times, I want a remeasure of that wall, ’cause the one I’ve always jumped off of was higher than twelve feet.

So, you lower your rucksack so that when you hit, you hit with 120lbs less. You look at the horizon (if you can see it, it may be darker than well diggers ass), bend your knees slightly, relax (that takes some work), then hit, twist, and rotate while rolling your five points of contact across the ground. This distributes the shock and impact of the fall across your body so that you don’t injure yourself. Well, that’s how it’s supposed to work. Sometimes you land on your ruck and break your leg. Sometimes you land on a rock and break your leg (one of the ways that I’ve broken my leg jumping). Sometimes you don’t relax and instead of relaxing you reach for the ground instead and break your leg. And sometimes you land with one foot in a frozen tank rut and . . .

you guessed it, you break your leg (another one of the ways I have broken my leg jumping).

So, the first thing you do is check yourself while laying there, does anything hurt more than it should? Thank God that’s over, time to get moving! If the wind is blowing, get up and collapse your ‘chute (unless there’s shooting, then pop a canopy release to release one side of the parachute so that it cannot inflate and drag you across the ground for the amusement of the others). Release the harness so that you are out of the parachute, release your ruck, then start checking with the others around you to determine where your unit is and/or what needs to be done first.

Finally, here’s a video of the USMA chorus singing a song they teach us while in Jump School. It pretty much captures the spirit of the Airborne and dates from those WWII guys. It still works.

Sometimes something is funny until it’s not. While looking for the right version of this I perused a half a dozen or so. And I remembered the guys who died jumping. Not the ones who died in combat or for other reasons, just the ones that I knew that were supposed to get together with me afterwards for a drink to celebrate being young and airborne. Nothing preps you for a night out on the town like starting it off with a night jump first. Except when you don’t make it.

For my airborne brothers and sisters who didn’t make it to the turn in point and the DZSO, the song we sung and didn’t think it would apply to us, Blood Upon the Risers.

In the refrain, the word is gory, not glory.

marcus erroneous


Filed under Paratroopers

30 responses to “Night Jump

  1. wingwifeusmc

    This is a fascinating post of jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. The broken leg part reminds me why none of the aviators I knew wanted to do so. Either they accomplished as many landings as takeoffs, they joined the Martin Baker Tie Club, or their families and friends shortly thereafter attended a memorial service. No one wanted that.

  2. Haven’t heard that song in years. Both funny and not at the same time.

    I never jumped meself. I liked the innards of a perfectly good airplane much too much to do such insane things. And, any plane that is making normal power and in reasonably controlled flight, is a perfectly good airplane as far as I am concerned.

  3. oldafsarge

    Wow! Excellent post Marcus. You brought us into the world of the airborne with the same panache and attention to detail that Lex would use to put us into the cockpit with him.

  4. To all, thank you, I’m glad to hear that you enjoy these posts of mine. I’m always concerned that they run too long, the good news is that I have more war stories (the Army version of sea stories, maybe we should create a category?) so I’ll trot more out, though not likely to be a daily event. Thank goodness so many have stepped up and are putting up really worthy posts.

    So, I’ll keep putting up Airborne, Army, and Special Forces stories. The rest of y’all contribute as you can. I’m looking forward to stories about ship building from our new, resident ship fitter!


    • Glad to hear Byron is an admin now. I like the new handle which he debuted over at Brad’s place early this week. I’m sure his motto is still “SLEP the Figs.”

  5. darylel

    They used that song in “Band of Brothers” but I didn’t realize it was real. I thought they made it up for the movie. Really interesting post Marcus.

  6. Dust

    Hooah! Put your knees in the breeze! Anyone remember the jump scenes in the movie A Bridge Too Far? I went to see it with my parents just after coming home after a three week ROTC CTLT gig with 1-508 at Ft Bragg in the summer of 77. I told my folks the sounds of the static lines rattling on the anchor line cable etc captured the noises of a jump experience perfectly. Especially jumping a C123 with big round engines. Thanks for posting Marcus.

  7. Dust

    Btw, the avatar is me on Green Ramp circa 1984. That day I was primary Jumpmasters on a daylight Battalion mass tac jump.

  8. Whew! That was pretty darned good. Methinks its takes a special type of man/woman to fling themselves out of a flying tube of steel. The “Ex” was 101st, eldest brother was 82nd. They both just ain’t right in the head… Me? Give me 4 wheels and 5 speeds to run thru in the curves. Hell yeah Bay Bee!!

  9. Jimmy J.

    Right fine story there, Marcus. I’m one of those Nazal Radiators with an equal number fo takeoffs and landings. You just reminded me why I never wanted to make a nylon approach. Especially at night.

    • Jimmy J. – I think I’d much rather jump that cat and trap. Well, the cat maybe, not so sure about the traps.
      xbradtc & Dust – I’ve got some jumps out of 123s in the log book.
      darylel – They play that song on the last morning of tower week, the second week of jump school and the last training day before you start jumping. As they show you all the things that can go wrong and what to do.
      K-dubyah – Well, we like to think so, but that’s kinda like asking the car salesman about the car you’re looking at. 😉


  10. Paul L. Quandt


    Thanks, it’s been a while since I’ve heard “blood upon the risers”. I don’t remember it being played for us, we sang it while waiting our turn on the 250 foot tower. I was Air Force, but went through at Fort Benning in 1967. The cadre were testing jumping the C-141 (for which I was later a crew chief ) when we were there. They told us that all the C-130s were in SEA, so they found some C-119s for us to jump. As a USAF Survival Instructor, we were only on jump status for the three weeks of jump school, so I’m still a cherry jumper. Going through jump school is one of my proudest accomplishments; I wear miniature jump wings to this day.

    Paul L. Quandt

  11. Paul L. Quandt


    Please see about adding a preview feature so that those of us long winded people can see our whole post before we have to show it to y’all.


    • xbradtc

      Paul, if you save a draft before publishing it, there’s a preview button available that will show you what your post will look like.

      And if you’re drafting a post and it runs a tad long, there’s a page break button among the formatting tools.

  12. xbradtc

    If God had wanted us to jump, he wouldn’t have given us Blackhawks and Chinooks.

    • I never jumped a Hawk but the Hook was a sweet jump. Just walk down and a small hop off the ramp. The reason for the wings on my hat started with my first time in the door of the 34ft. tower.

  13. The absolute ‘hairiest’ jump description I’ve ever read was Chuck Pfarrer’s HALO jump in the first chapter of Warrior Soul. It was on his last day before retirement. His chute wouldn’t deploy. He kept trying and trying every way he could manage, and finally, with the ground approaching at frightening speed, he got the chute to partially deploy. But he was going about 75 miles an hour when he landed.
    I’ll say one thing. I’ll nevernevernever jump from an airplane. Of course he survived. He finished the book, didn’t he?

    • There are a number of competitions I’m not in. One is lowest opening, too many bounce trying to win that one. Another is worst jump experience. I’ve had only one malfunction, on my highest jump of course, a HALO jump with a hard pull, meaning I couldn’t get the ripcord out. After that things got worse. But that’s another post.

      As with the above, I made it out and many more jumps after that. Jumping is something that I’ve done little of since I got out, but that will change. I miss it. ymmv 😉


  14. Thanks for the invite here Mark. Love your version of the night jump. Could have been worse could have been DZ Karen the night Cpt.Tolman started putting jumpers out too soon…

  15. Heh. I remember my few sport jumps when I was young and dumb etc. We didn’t exactly have training in the Huntsville Sport Parachute Club. What we had was more like “training.” Being the most junior person there, I usually got to be the Wind Dummy. Another fun thing, was that everybody was too cheap and/or poor to have them put us out very high. I mean, don’t enjoy the freefall for too long, y’know.

  16. Come on guys, jumping isn’t THAT dangerous. I mean out of twelve thousand jumps I’ve only had twenty three malfunctions and loved every one of them! The reserve that is.

    • Yeah, but I bet they put you out high enough to give you time to handle the malfunctions. A guy in the Huntsville club, another NASA co-op, had his first jump in the same load as my first jump. He had a total malfunction, coolly deployed reserve, hung onto the ripcord so as not to buy beer, etc. I don’t think I would have been up to that. As I wrote above, we really did not have very good training. That guy’s quick wits made up for the lack. If my wits aren’t quick enough, I want me some good training.

  17. You don’t have to make a whole lot of jumps to be a paratrooper. I made 11 jumps. The prissy old geezer who used to live next door made 12 jumps. His 12th jump was at about 0300 on June 6th, 1944.

    Bill French was his name. I don’t even know if he is still alive, but I do know that he was a Christian gentleman. He spent a while running all over Normandy with a Thompson (he said it was annoyingly heavy) and shot some Germans with it.

    Later, after the Sun came up and he got re-connected with his unit, he happened by a medical facility where wounded sojers were being looked after. Now, the policy was to treat all wounded sojers, without fear or favor, but a lot of the German guys were kinda last in line, due to understandable grumpiness.

    Mr. French recognized a German he had shot with his Thompson in the middle of the night, who was undergoing some hurting. He then took his very own, his only, the only morphine syrette he had, and squeezed it into the guy he had shot. Now that is the act of a Christian gentleman.

    I do hope he also took the opportunity to advise that German to take it easy on the Vitalis and the Brylcreem. Those guys really did love to slick their hair back.

  18. Oh, Marcus? The older guys in the airplane were singing “Blood Upon the Risers” while I was going up for my first jump, just to help me get my mind right, I reckon.

    Dangerous Fun is Dangerous, as they say on Teh Internetz.

    • Yeah, it can be. One of the reasons we sing it is to poke it in the eye and let Death know we’re not terrified. And, if it’s the right kind of jump, you only need to make one jump to be a paratrooper. Being a paratrooper is not like sport jumping, but at least the sport jumpers can relate to us. It’s not all beer, blondes, and hackey sacks on a military drop zone. 😉

    • Yeah, Marcus, as I said, my grumpy old neighbor’s first eleven jumps were all practice jumps; his 12th, and last jump, was for all the marbles on June 6th. I think that was sufficient. Later, he got shipped off to the Phillipines, but did no jumping there, or ever after.

  19. My dad was one of those misdropped WWII paratroopers, jumping from 200 feet from the plane which crashed. He wandered with other troopers until found by General Gavin and brought to the battle at Ste. Mere Eglise. Dad’s name was Dutch Schultz and he was portrayed by Richard Beymer in The Longest Day.

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

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