R.I.P. (Reenter Intelligently Program)

Avoid O.F.F. (Old-Fart Frap) ... Support R.I.P.!

Full text of my article in Parachutist, August, 1993

by Pat Works, SCS-1


"Naw ... I haven't jumped since belly wart and PC days. There's just no way us old farts can get our knees in the breeze with all the BMWed Yuppies and their mega stuff. Those kids see my gray hair and their eyes glaze over. How long has it been for you? You ever think about getting back into the air?"

I was walking and talking with Don Lambdin, a friend from work--a relic from the `60s. It had been nearly 13 years since I'd last jumped. I got stopped from jumping by a car accident at the 1980 National Parachuting Championships. Recently, I had surprised, my family, many of my friends, and myself by making it to my 50th birthday. I had entered graduate school, sold my motorcycle, and taken up shooting trap and attending the symphony and ballet with my wife Jan.

R.I.P. ... A Concept You Can Live With

Come with me and we'll go up there
Where the wind blows cold and there ain't much air.
Where clouds are ice and your blood runs thin
But--no sweat, buddy--we're coming down again ...
Like an eagle. A screaming eagle.

Almost 13 years after my most recent jump, I got back into the air over California City Skydive Center on May 14, 1993. I had never liked being stopped from jumping by the car crash that broke my back and put a dent in my life--not to mention my skydiving career.

With something over 2,800 jumps made between 1961 and 1980, I had witnessed a lot of changes in the sport. Coming back to it, I see more similarities than changes. Today's skydivers are no different from yesterday's, except that now they progress faster. No ... 300 jumps today does not equal 2,000 jumps from the old days. However, 300 jumps today does give skydivers a solid platform upon which to build and refine the broader and deeper freefall skills that longer experience provides. Good skydives come sooner. Great skill continues to be elusive. Flying perfection is still the goal.

After a long layoff, how does one intelligently reenter the sport of skydiving? Hop and pop? Tandem? Go up on a small RW load? Maybe just me and the wind ... bomb out and reintroduce myself to the sky. No ceremony, no frills ... just skydive. But how? Where? What about gear? Contact some friends and borrow some? Borrow what kind of gear? Which main with what kind of reserve?

Uncurrent skydivers are Number Two on the fatality list, and I wondered if there was a way to help reduce the statistics. I decided to see if I could find out the best way for an old fart like me to minimize the frap factor upon reentering the sport--and have fun doing it.

Neither getting into nor returning to parachuting is easy. Skydivers are like black widow spiders; we have a tendency to eat our mates. Actually, we eat our young and old. What I mean is that, in many ways, skydivers as a group tend to malign and isolate two groups: those who are new to the sport and those who are the sport's "old timers". Both groups often find it difficult to be part of the mainstream in the sister/brotherhood of fellow freefallers.

Having won their wings, old timers object to this treatment; many stay home. Although they may feel uncurrent, they do not feel incompetent, believing that you are never an ex-skydiver ... even though you may not be a current one. You either are a skydiver... or you aren't. Period.

Also, whether current or noncurrent, skydivers have large egos. This characteristic makes it hard for skydivers to either give or take advice. This means that knowing how to reenter the sport, have fun, and survive can be a quandary for all concerned.

Planning an Intelligent Reentry

Drinking a beer with Al Frisby at Bob Butt's place last January, an answer emerged. Al is a pro when it comes to knowing what kills jumpers. He advised two things: 1) Get professional help in planning the first dives and selecting the gear; and 2) Keep it small and controlled. Pat Moorehead and John DeSantis, both USPA directors, agreed with Al.

Next I talked with Jim Wallace of "Wally's World", but his operation at Elsinore is drowned by the lake. I put my plans on hold. (Jim is presently operating out of Murietta). Finally, while attending the wedding of Richard and Stacy Giarrusso at California City's DZ, I checked out Bob and Judy Celaya's operation and was impressed.

In the `70s Bob had been one of my advanced RW students. Looking around--at people, equipment and atmosphere--I liked what's going on at California City. Bob has been putting out a lot of returning old timers using a sensible program and his student gear. They've happily assimilated into the DZ and everyone seems to benefit.

Calling ahead, I made arrangements to try his method. Later, to verify my results, I encouraged my old friend, Philip Yzarn de Louraille, to repeat my experiment. Philip, who had made his most recent of 1,200 jumps over four years ago, went to Cal City and made three jumps. His findings match my own. After our last jump, a friendly 16-way organized by Vic Logan, Philip said, "You should tell people that I had absolutely no anxiety. The recipe jumps are easy but comprehensive. The friendly atmosphere and good vibes make the difference. The way everyone is treating each other made even the 16-way go well."

Like my friend, having tried it, I like Cal City's recipe. The program begins with a modified Level 4 AFF--one instructor and using Cal City's excellent student gear, an automatic opener, and a radio on a big canopy. Subsequent jumps are planned with the instructor. In my case, the second jump was a gear familiarization jump with contemporary gear. For my re-entry jumps, Bob chose Richard Giarrusso, the son of my buddy and teammate, Dick, as my instructor. (Yep, they are a lot alike).

On the big day, I arrived at 9:00 a.m. to sign the waivers and show my USPA membership. After a thorough briefing based on his excellent course material, I ground practice with gear on. The one-on-one refresher course was thorough ... what to do about malfunctions, water hazards, trees, and high power lines ... aircraft emergencies ... high-wind landings. And yes, it was helpful. It put my mind in gear to consider possibilities I hadn't thought about for years. After all, safety is a religion. Survival is an art.

The airplane takeoff and ride to altitude was a kick. I settled in behind the pilot, and quickly discovered that something new is mandatory seatbelts and helmets on takeoff. As the Cessna 206 started takeoff roll, waves of fond memories came flooding back ... memories of the symphonic sounds the engine makes on take-off and climb ... the sight of stuff flapping ... how carpet, lifted by the wind, moves a leg ... the clean, dusty smell of the jump plane. These happy sensory loads made me smile and feel good. Yessir, Ready to Sky Dive!

I surveyed my emerging domain, there was snow on the mountains, and wispy clouds drifting above us. Looking down, another memory hit my consciousness: at 500 feet over the desert, the terrain looks like 3000 feet does over "normal country." Bushes masquerade as trees and paths look like roads.

As we climbed, the sky began to eclipse the earth. All around was blue, clouds, and crisp air ... lots of it. The air's cold wind tugged at my hair, reminding me to put my hands in a warm place.

Back on the ground, when the whuffos ask "How Come?"
And you really don't know and so feel sorta dumb ....

Well, you may wonder, but I know why
You're a screaming eagle, and you love the sky.

Jump run. Exit. Everything is automatic, but things happen faster ... much faster. Time is collapsed instead of expanded. I'm behind the jump instead of ahead of it. I open my mind's eyes in order to see better, and things begin to happen more like they are supposed to.

Turns, altimeter and ripcord checks, back loops. Richard says "Another backloop." The altimeter zooms toward "pull time". I pull. Opening shock is normal--just as I remember it. Crisp, but no threat to my spine.

Canopy check. Brakes. Test the stall point; try some turns ... WHOOPS! Forgot about the Gs ... Arrgh! Three turns and my stomach complains. It's a long canopy ride, but that's fine. There's scenery to appreciate and turns, stall points and various brake settings to play with.

I approach the landing zone with some brakes and then flare. Landing is a piece of cake ... much softer than I remember it. The smell of the canopy as I gather it in my arms is like being with a lover from long ago. I bury my head and sniff. It's nice to be back.

Out into the blinding sky
Soaring, floating figures fly,
As a silent plane falls up.


Author: Pat Works (Madden Travis Works)