2 min read
First Jump

By William Thomas

Mike has a “good idea”. Since my weekends off from Marquette’s summer classes loom like purgatory, “Why not jump out of an airplane?”

     Depart a perfectly good flying machine? In mid-air?

     “Sure,” my tempter says. “It’s fun. Come out to our skydiving club next Saturday and… ”

     … find myself sitting on the floor of a clattering Cessna, so disoriented by the rapid progression of events, I barely register the wind roaring through the open fuselage, or the Wisconsin countryside distressingly far below. As the pilot circles for altitude, green fields tilt steeply, nearly pitching me out of the open-sided plane.
Isn’t that the whole idea?

     We seem to have levelled off. The instructor tosses out a bright-red streamer. Gauging its trajectory, he and the pilot nod.
Prop roar and wind scream fade abruptly as the driver pulls back the throttle and pitches the nose up.

     “Stand by!” my instructor yells.

     Operating on full-automatic, just as I’ve been “trained” for an hour on the ground, I watch my legs swing outside. My left foot finds the step and decides it will never let …


vWithout thinking, I pivot on that bracket, grab the wing strut with both hands, and step outside. Kicking my legs straight behind me like Superman, I belatedly realize I’m not.

     For one terrible moment, I hang in the hurricane-force slipstream tearing at my jumpsuit contemplating… nothing at all.
Since no retreat is possible, I let go of the airplane.

     Anyone who assures you “there’s no sensation of falling” when stepping into empty space 3,000 feet up should be made to try it. Though I’ve never exited a birth canal, I’m certain this drop is just as shocking. It sure beats hell out of any acid-trip. Wide-eyed with horror, spread-eagled in empty space, my flailing limbs grab for solidity that is not there. Is that me screaming, “ONE-ONE-THOUSAND...”

     If the static line hasn’t opened my main chute by “5”, I’m supposed to pull my reserve.

     If not, in another 8-seconds I will impact the ground.


     Sudden as rebirth, I’m seated in heaven’s easy-chair. Floating-on-air, I gaze in wonder at Earth’s verdant cloak spread below my dangling feet.

     Utter silence.

     There are no words.

     Looking up with delirious delight into the webbed arms of my “silken angel”, I pour love and gratitude into that white circular canopy with an intensity I have never shown another human being.

     Back to work.

     A frantic ground scan locates the big red arrow directing me across a breeze I cannot feel. Turn right. Reaching up for the wooden toggles attached to the chute’s two steering panels, I am jerked from ecstasy to italicized alarm.
I can only reach one toggle! The other steering handle is tangled around the right-hand main shroud high above my head!

     If I can’t steer into the wind, I am going to break some bones…

     No longer far below, a knot of onlookers presses close to the guy with binoculars. “Oh no,” he says.
Then he starts to smile.

     Because he’s watching me climb hand-over-hand up that webbing. Quickly untangling the offending toggle, I begin tacking the chute toward Mom’s unyielding embrace…

     Instead of smashing into terra-very-firma, I gently alight inside a small circular bulls-eye filled with the softest peat.
This improbable feat is greeted with the same stunned silence a tyro golfer would elicit after scoring a hole-in-one on their very first swing.

     Then I’m being mobbed by other jumpers, all shouting and slapping me on the back. The grinning safety officer is shaking his head. “What you did up there…”

     Back down here, I won’t be buying my own beer today.

Photo Captions:

The author bailing out -zazzle.com

The author landing safely -earlyyearsresources.co.uk