Level 3 is a good jump because there isn’t much of anything you have to do besides staying stable. The JMs wait for you to get in your arch, and then slowly let go of you if you are stable enough. If you become unstable they reattach until you stabilize, and then let go again. Your assignment is to pick a point on the horizon and to keep facing that point. If you begin to turn, you stop the turn and then pick a new point to face.
Initially, I felt confident about this jump, because I had done well with my level 2 jump. This jump seemed simpler and easier than the level 2, so I thought that I’d be OK with it. When I got to the jump school, it seemed somewhat deserted. Corinne was there in manifest and told me that she’d have to check about whether I’d be jumping but that it looked pretty good. It was about 50 degrees on the ground — cool enough that I had a jacket on to keep comfortable.
When I got into the hangar, Dino, the head JM, was there along with Hanne. As I approached he stared at me, almost a glare really, and said, “I hope you like f—ing cold.” He seemed annoyed, almost angry, that we were making the jump in this temperature. This put me on edge almost immediately. Hanne came out and she mentioned that we’d be jumping from the Cessna. I had thought that might be the case when I saw that there was no one else there. I didn’t know what the Cessna would be like, and with Dino’s attitude I was getting more tense by the minute.
Hanne took me to the Cessna demo to drill me on the Cessna exit. Instead of taking position in the door, you climb out on a small wing strut, holding on with your hands, and leap backwards. I was confused about it, and took a few tries to get it right. I didn’t like the change, in that it was more for me to remember. I also didn’t like the Cessna. I bumped my head on the wing, and just didn’t think that I’d have a good exit. I knew for sure that it wouldn’t be as easy as leaping out the door of the Otter.
We did final preparation for the jump, and Hanne had me assemble my own equipment. I did a terrible job and felt clumsy and stupid. Hanne kept correcting things and seemed annoyed with me. She let me wear my own gloves for the jump, since it was so cold out. Dino was being overbearing and making me feel intimidated and nervous. Before we even left the ground I was feeling down about the jump.
We all packed into the Cessna and it took off. Dino was starting to relax a little and even pointed some scenery out while we were in the air, but I was completely tensed up and relaxation was nearly impossible. I didn’t know what the Cessna would be like, or the cold at 13,500 feet, or what Dino would be like as a JM. Finally the plane was at 13,500 feet and Dino opened the door. A blast of cold air came into the plane. He looked around for a little while as we changed position, getting ready for the jump. This jump probably tied the first for nervousness at the door of the plane. Dino put on a full crash helmet and told me to climb out on the wing after him. The wind was strong, but not as bad as I thought it would be. I put my right hand out to hold on, and my right foot on the little step. He motioned for me to come all the way out, and I crossed my left foot over my right and put my left hand out to hold on. I shifted a bit and arched, trailing my right foot in the air as instructed. I was thinking, “at least I’ve done this part right!”
I did a quick hotel check, went up, down, and back I went, into the air. The position was radically different from the Otter, which threw me off. It was cold, which stiffened me up a little. I was very tense, which stiffened me up a lot. As a result, my third jump was just like my first. I couldn’t arch, couldn’t get control of my body, and was unstable. My first COA lasted a long time, and I blew off my practice ripcord touch, just whacking my waist a little. I didn’t think it would be noticed — but it was. The second circle of awareness, like the first, had lots of “relax” signals, which just made me more unstable. The JMs had to hold on to me the entire time, and even then I buffeted in the wind. They gave up trying to correct me at around 9,000 feet, which I was very frustrated about. I kept looking at them, waiting to get a signal on my arch, and got none. Freefall is less than a minute, so every second counts for practice, and giving up on me like that made for a lot less practice. I resolved in the air to complain about that.
At 5,500 feet I gave the signal, and popped my chute at 4,500 feet. The sun had been warming things up, so at this altitude, with my gloves on, the cold wasn’t really too bad. I knew for sure that I would be repeating level 3, but I decided to at least try to enjoy the canopy ride. I flew around for quite a while, doing more daring sharp turns, before my radio finally came on. The radio man guided me in well, but for some reason I panicked and began to flare at about 25 feet. The radio man was watching and yelled “TOO EARLY!” into the radio, which was fortunate and probably saved me a serious injury. I backed off on the flare, putting the toggles most of the way back up, and re-flared at about 10 feet. I banged the ground pretty hard. My ankles and knees tingled and hurt. I didn’t want them to know that I had screwed up my landing, so I guffed it and walked back to the hangar without complaining about it. The radio man mentioned that if I did something like that again the more proper course would be to leave the toggles down at my shoulders and then pull them as hard as I could instead of bringing them back up. He said that bringing them all the way back up would tend to make a harder landing, and in fact if I was low enough, it might bang me into the ground hard enough to do serious injury. I felt a little scared about the landing, and walked back for my debriefing.
When I dropped my gear, much to my horror, I didn’t have the ripcord. I remembered holding on to it, and felt that I must’ve dropped it on the field. Dino asked me to go find it with an ominous tone. I searched for it, didn’t find it, and was turning red. The radio man came to my rescue because he remembered exactly where I had landed. Sure enough, the ripcord was right there on the ground. I hadn’t let it go in the air.
Dino did the debriefing. He mostly restated the obvious, that I was dearched and unstable, and didn’t really listen to my explanations for why it happened. He nailed me for the failed practice touch, which I almost laughed about. I admitted that I had purposely been lazy about it and resolved to do the touch correctly every time after that. The comment I remember most from him was something like, “Oh, yeah. You’ll have to do this one again. Yes, definitely,” as he wrote “repeat level 3” in my logbook. I would say that Dino has not mastered the teaching skill of encouragement. I left for work feeling pretty down, and in a lot of pain. My legs hurt all the way from my hips down, and walking was even a little difficult. I was hoping that this would get better quickly; I had a jump scheduled for the next day.