Saturday, June 23, 2007

Free Fallin'

I've been flying airplanes for 25+ years now and it has never occurred to me to jump out of one -- unless, of course, it was on fire. So when my wife and kids surprised me for Father's Day with a skydiving ticket I was, shall we say, less than enthused. They told me I could wait to decide whether or not I really wanted to do it.

"Yeah Dad," said my oldest (home from West Point with his first two free fall jumps completed and scheduled for his third with me), "we can just go out to dinner or something ... and you can wear your dress."

That was enough to put me over the edge -- literally. If you've seen previews for the reality show "Wedding Crashers" on NBC, my instructor is the guy who skydives into the wedding party and destroys the gazebo. He's a piece of work. While "training" me he covered all contingencies and added, "Now if there is a problem with the reserve chute, I need you to take a deep breath, relax and hold it for about 20 seconds ... that way you will be my airbag when we hit the ground."

Nice.

During the free fall from 13,000' to 5000', he seemed less concerned than I was about our situation. Is he really asleep while I'm checking our altitude?!

Anyway, it was the most exhilarating thing I think I've ever done. No way to describe it.

I have had an infatuation with flying since I was 5 or 6 years old. It's all I've ever wanted to do. But after 25 years of actually doing it, flying has become nothing more than a job to me ... with four exceptions. The first was my introduction to soaring with my friend Buddy Denham in a two-seat glider at Woodbine, Maryland in 1984. The second was entering "the break" (traffic pattern) at 400 knots, then stopping in mid-air in my first hop in a Harrier in 1986. The third was a Stearman (open cockpit bi-plane) ride in California's wine country with my best friend (and wife) as a 40th birthday gift in 1999. This was the fourth.

Each of them is burned into my memory forever. When I dreamed of flying as a kid these were what the dreams were made of. Quiet, peaceful, free from "the surly bonds of earth," gazing down at the majesty of the Creation. It is good to be reminded of what first drew me to the air.

My thanks and love to my wife and kids for an afternoon I will never forget.

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