ADVICE FROM THE FIELD

For Staff Sergeant Anish Chauhan (blue helmet), a water and fuels systems maintenance journeyman assigned to the 509th Civil Engineer Squadron at Whiteman Air Force Base, MO, it all started because he wanted to do something exciting. Now he has made almost 100 jumps and wants to become a skydiving instructor. 

 

WHY YOU LOVE IT

It’s like going on a drive to clear your mind. When I’m skydiving, I find a sense of peace.  Even though I’m falling usually around 120 mph, I have total control over my body up there and all the movements that I make. I can position my arms, legs and body in different ways to make different maneuvers. That’s what I like most about solo skydiving—what comes next is completely up to me.

 

HOW YOU PREPARE

When I get to my drop zone, the first thing I do is ask about how busy it is and what load I will be manifested in. Then, I take my gear out and inspect my container bag, risers, chest straps, front/back leg straps, hip rings and the reserve static line (RSL). I also inspect the reserve seal and make sure the closing pin for the main canopy is facing the correct way. At the same time, I double-check that the pilot chute is cocked. Next, I go outside to watch the other jumpers and look at the landing pattern. I also ask an instructor about the landing pattern. Before my first jump of the day, I do a quick body stretch. If I am jumping solo, I rehearse it in my head a few times. When I am jumping with my friends, we talk to each other about what will we be performing and do a practice simulated dive on the ground, which we call a “dirt dive”.  After the jump, we come back to the hangar and discuss what did, both right and wrong.

 

STAYING RELAXED

When I started jumping, I was really anxious and my heart would race. For my first 15 or 16 jumps, I needed to take deep breaths every time I was inside the airplane. I believe that I have gotten past that feeling. Now, I take naps between jumps. It gets pretty exhausting with the heat, the jump and packing the parachute, so I try to give myself as much rest as I can. My goal is to get at least four jumps a day when at the drop zone, with six being my most so far. Every time there is some wait between jumps, I find a spot to take a nap, be it on the floor or the couch. Stretching the body also helps me relax a bit. 

GEARING UP

I have all the basic required gear, including an Aerodyne Icon container bag, Aerodyne Pilot 188 main canopy, Smart LPV 190 reserve canopy, a Cypress-2 Automatic Activation Device, Alti-2 altimeter and a logbook. I check the weather app on my phone before I drive to the drop zone and also call them and ask about the weather. 

 

CLOSE CALL

Recently, I had a really bad landing that grounded me for a month and a half. We were doing a right-hand, J-pattern landing to the south. The landing starts with the spot at 1,000 feet. You head straight and turn right at 600 feet. At 300 feet, you turn right again and prepare for a Parachute Landing Fall (PLF). At six to eight feet, you flare (pull the brakes) and hold on until you step on the ground. As I was getting ready to flare, the east wind dropped me. This resulted in a bad landing with my knees hitting the ground. I felt a sharp pain in my left knee and inner groin muscles. I stayed on the ground a few minutes before checking to see if my leg was still in one piece. When the pain only worsened overnight, I went to the ER and found out I torn my medial collateral ligament (MCL) and meniscus.

 

LESSONS LEARNED

I realized that accidents can happen at any time. It doesn’t always have to be your mistake, and you should be prepared for any surprising elements that could come to play. In my case, it was the sudden ground wind that came from the east. I also realized that people get hurt participating in this sport, and I accepted it being a part of the sport. I look at every day at the drop zone as a learning experience. With only 98 jumps, I am a newbie in the sport. I learn from the experienced instructors and other jumpers.

Tandem Instructor, PRO Exhibition Jumper, FAA Senior Parachute Rigger

 

WHY DO YOU DO IT

I skydive because it’s a way to push myself and my boundaries as well as take my mind off of the monotonies of everyday life. The entire jump requires complete focus, and I am always keeping an eye out for random things that may affect anybody’s safety. A lot can happen and things can go badly very quickly. So it requires 100% mental dedication.

 

HOW DO YOU TRAIN

My mind and body work best when I maintain a regular cardio schedule, stretch my body out, eat well, and get some good sleep. Skydiving is a 120-mph sport and requires training if you plan on getting the most you can out of it. Weight training, stretching, and yoga can help avoid injuries, especially considering all of the different ranges of motion you may use while flying your body or a parachute. I personally keep my weight training and cardio to the weekdays and get some good stretching in throughout the weekend.

WHAT DO YOU EAT?

My diet varies, but ideally, I keep it very low carb with a lot of meats and vegetables. I don’t think this is as important for the everyday jumper, but it certainly helps when you’re doing 10-20 jumps a day, some with heavy tandem gear and a variety of students. When your jump day goes from sunup to sundown, it is a marathon. I notice that when my diet involves a lot of sugar or carbs, I start to lose my momentum halfway through the day and I am wiped out by the end. A cleaner diet helps you make it to sundown and will keep you in a better mood, more attentive, and more aware throughout the day. I will indulge in the occasional energy drink, but these can also be detrimental if they are loaded with sugar and too much caffeine. If treated properly, your body will supply all of the energy you need. Oh, and water. Water, water, water.

DO YOU RECOMMEND ANY PARTICULAR APPS OR GADGETS?

I love using my Garmin Forerunner 235 while I skydive. Sometimes I will check the heart rate monitor throughout the day just to get a feeling of where my heart’s at and if I’m really as worked up as I feel. This is the only additional gadget I use, along with the Garmin Connect app, that is not specifically designed towards skydiving. Sometimes I can tell how many times a day I jump based on my heart-rate monitor.

HAVE YOU HAD ANY CLOSE CALLS?

I’ve had a few close calls. I nearly had a parachute deployment while hanging onto the side of a PAC-750XL, which can be particularly dangerous due to the low tail wing. I have been in a collision in freefall that resulted in the other jumper snapping his femur on my parachute system. I smacked and skipped across the ground on a high-performance landing, luckily without serious injuries. I’ve had a few more run-ins with the ground, but nothing too bad (although my chiropractors aren’t impressed with my lower back discs).

 

WHAT TIPS DO YOU HAVE FOR STAYING SAFE IN SKYDIVING?

Skydiving is all about doing dangerous things as safely as possible or mitigating risk. The gear nowadays is amazing, and there is no excuse for getting on a jump with sketchy equipment. Skydiving requires a healthy amount of respect and fear. We have a saying that “Fear keeps us alive.” We all also have different comfort zones and levels of respect for certain aspects of skydiving. You should never get on an airplane or a jump with a plan that makes you concerned for your safety. Talk to the jumpers that do it for a living and listen to yourself. Do not feel pressured into doing anything. We have another saying that “It’s better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air than being in the air wishing you were on the ground.” Some of my most uneasy moments in the sport have been on the plane wishing that I didn’t put myself in that situation or wishing that I had admitted to being uncomfortable and taking myself off the jump. Oh, and have fun. When it becomes more stressful than fun, maybe it’s time to take a step back.