It was my first time to drop a jumper from my plane. To chunky balding Andy, a man with many jumps “under his belt” as they say, I sang out a hopeful “Adios, amigo”’ as he traded a Perfectly Good Airplane for leg-flailing insecurity, hurtling earthward through unforgiving air.
I watched intently, waiting, expecting, to see his parachute open.
I didn’t see it. I kept on not seeing it. No billowing rainbow-hued poof, no swinging man hanging from a multi-colored fanciful shade – no Andy at all, in no quadrant of the sky. I circled and scoured the landscape, goose bumps crawling up my arms. I clutched the yoke anxiously.
Oh dear God, what do I now? I asked myself. Urges to just keep flying away, far far away, like even disappear into the wilds of South America, were invading my brain. Someplace where I wouldn’t be found and blamed for Andy’s splatting bone-snapping bloody death against the ground. The air turned sinister, I heard terrible music…
I shook my head. NO. Andy was highly experienced at this killer sport. NO worries.
I headed back to base. I landed, taxied up to the building, shut down the engine, and collected myself. The guys who had seen us off trotted up to greet me. They had helped extract the right front seat so the crouching jumper would have a launching site.
“So. How’d it go?’
I gulped, quavered, and looking pale, tremulously spoke from my pilot seat:
“I never saw his chute open. Never spotted his parachute.”
They looked at me, chewed that over, then shrugged, snorted, and said, “Oh well, easy come easy go!” True airport characters.
I climbed out, went to the office phone, and shakily contacted the people into whose party he was jumping (they were into drama and entertainment). “Has Andy arrived yet?” I casually inquired.
“Oh yes, it was so exciting! Just a while ago he landed smack on target.” (Earlier in the afternoon, Andy had laid out a sort of bulls-eye on their lawn, a large white crepe paper circle, crisscrossed with a giant X to aim for). My legs stopped trembling.
The airport manager had long-since pegged me for what I was, a clear-eyed adventurer. Of other people’s exploits. That is, I was mighty good at aiding and abetting the thrill-seeker, just not exactly one myself. He knew I could be counted on to cant my wings to accommodate parachute jumpers, to slip through the airstream so they wouldn’t tangle themselves on the control surfaces. It was a New Thing, and I was into New Things. I had learned to fly and to soar, hadn’t I? He figured that had to qualify me as Patsy-to-the-Ready, for ‘chutists looking for a hike up.
Ultimately I did that, while hollering out at their downward hurtling bodies, “Bye Fools!” (I could take four at a time.)
I mean, really. How could anyone leap out of a perfectly good airplane?
So the permit to change my plane’s configuration by removing a seat and door, to allow jumpers to eject from one’s Perfectly Good Airplane, went like this.
First, I had to pull together all its certifying documents – and mine – and trot them to an area FSDO (Flight Standards District Office). That’s a government agency that hands out all sorts of permits, if you pass. If you don’t, you’ve got a problem. That means you’re missing proper airworthy documents, or your own., and you have to get the missing item (s) in order to ever fly again. The gov loves paperwork and documents. Someday they’ll sink under the weight of it all. But we got ours, and copies thereof joined the tons of their ilk in those vast FAA archives. And we were good to go.
We made our flight and the jump. I hied myself to the party for the cheers and accolades along with Andy, recounting with humor not being able to see his chute open (keeping the part to myself where I’d been scared witless) – and drank the champagne toasts – smiling to myself.
Jumping thrills? Not me.
I like a reassuring solid surface under my behind.