By Dave Thomas
The call rings out over the rumble of the twin 1,200 horsepower engines pushing the old war bird through the air. Your heart races as the sequence begins.
You struggle to your feet; movements that were fluid on the ground during practice are now complicated by the swaying of the aircraft. You’ve done some strange shit in the past, but this is the current champ. Your heart is about to beat out of your chest, and your deepened breathing is constrained by the chest webbing of the SF10 parachute that’s strapped to your back.
Come loose you little bastard, you mutter to yourself as you fight to pop the universal snap hook loose. Adrenaline has your fingers feeling like they’re stuffed in mittens. But you reach up and snap it to the static cable running the length of the airframe. This particular cable has some history behind it, as it is the exact cable that guys hooked to as they prepared to drop into Normandy, France in June 1944, and later in Holland. Indeed, part of the Greatest Generation once stood where you do now, on their way to bringing freedom to those who needed it most.
Shit is about to get real. You snap back to reality. You’ve got one hand on the rib to steady yourself. This is the moment you’ve spent the last week working toward. Just then you feel an odd sort of peace come over you.
It’s go time. The last command thunders from the door and the line moves forward. You follow suit, your left arm locked in a death grip on the bight of your static line. Once you get to the door, it’s your turn. You make eye contact with the Safety, hand off your static line and turn to the door. Time to sack up. One hand on either side, you throw yourself out of a perfectly good airplane.
The roar is intense. You think it lasts forever, but then your training kicks in yet again. Hands on your reserve, feet and knees together, 1,000, 2,000, 3,000 thousand, 4,000 thousand. Then you feel the thump you expected. You look up to check your canopy and, lo and behold, she’s big, green, and round. Next step, grab your toggles and pop them loose from their retainers.
It’s amazingly quiet. The peace you felt returns as you float toward the drop zone. You steer clear of the chutes below you, turn into the wind and settle on a landing spot. As the horizon enters your field of vision you bring the toggles in a bit more and prepare to land. Feet and knees together, knees slightly bent, remembering the five points of performance and preparing to land.
Your feet touch the earth and you follow your training, executing an almost perfect parachute landing fall. You’re on Earth yet again, and your stones descend from your gut. It’s a strange thing to voluntarily exit a plane in the air, and you just did it. You stow your chute in the manner you’ve learned, and sling the kit bag and reserve over your shoulders before hot-footing it back to the DZ muster point.
This is the finale of your time at the Round Canopy Parachute Team in Florida. You’ve just exited the door of the “Tico Belle,” a World War II Veteran C-47 aircraft. A non-profit organization, RCPT pays homage to those who went before us by introducing people both veteran and civilian to static line parachuting. The three-day course that concludes with a vintage jump is an experience that lasts a lifetime. After all, there’s no point in living if you’re not pushing the boundaries of dying.