Unfortunately, taking photos in freefall isn't that easy, and for some reason the instructors thought I had enough to think about already without trying to take snapshots as well. I think I should have got a video made of one of my jumps, but I didn't (or haven't yet) so the upshot is that I haven't got any pictures of freefall. But hopefully the difference in my facial expressions before and after my jump will tell the story.
Here, Mike is looking pretty relaxed in the run-up to his first (and so far only) tandem jump. He's wearing the light tandem harness, which buckles onto the instructor's parachute harness, but there's a while before takeoff so he's still smiling. He was definitely getting nervous as they were about to go.
You can also see the plane in the background, and as you can see, it's not big. It's a Cessna, single prop plane with just about enough room for four people plus pilot. At a squash.
This is my third jump, so you can understand me looking a little thoughtful. Just a few last minute checks, running through what I needed to remember.
Allen and Cindy, my instructors, are on the left, and Chris the daredevil pilot is just fixing his buckles on the right. If you look into the plane, you can just make out the sparse furnishings in there. In fact there's only one seat, and that's already taken!
Also note the fantastic Texan weather (we were roasting at ground level, but it gets cooler in freefall), and the immaculately prepared runway surface.
Here is Mike and his instructor Allen just after leaving the aircraft. Allen has intentionally thrown them forwards into a roll on exit, so that's why the legs are flailing for a little while, until they settle down to a stable position. He does this to amuse himself, but Mike seemed to like it too.
Here you can see Allen on top, with his extra large tandem canopy, and Mike below waving his arms. The ground's an awful long way down...
This is me steering myself into a landing pattern in Texas. Yes, the canopy is rectangular, not round any more - it's like a small paraglider. The yellow blob trailing the main canopy is the 'drogue' chute - a small bag which quickly inflates and pulls the main canopy out of the container.
One of the commonest questions that first-timers ask is "how hard is the landing?". Sometimes it is said that it's like stepping off a chair, which is a reasonable answer, but it didn't mean much to me. If you've watched old films where paratroopers under round canopies hit the ground like a bag of flour, relax, it's not like that any more (thankfully!). With the rectangular canopies, you have much greater control over the shape of the aerofoil, so as you approach the ground, you can pull on both toggles to translate your speed into lift. This is known as 'flaring'. In this picture I've got the timing about right, and the canopy is stalling at just the right height for me to step back to Mother Earth. Almost all landings, even those of beginners, should be stand-up landings.
In the background you can just make out my instructor Cindy, who has already landed and is heading off for her next jump, and the plane also just landing. Chris must have been taking his time on the way down.
While I'm still stowing my lines and collecting up my canopy, the beaming Cindy has already sorted her 'handkerchief' canopy and is off for a whirlwind repack.
So those are a few pics of us in Texas. Now you can check out my skydiving diary, or follow the links to the drop zones and official organisations, or check out the Ways you can learn yourself! Or you can go up to the main Skydiving page.