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Archive for May, 2009

So, we had a day off yesterday (Sunday) and went to Chena hot springs.  It took nearly an hour to get there but was well worth it.  Soaking in the hot water, relaxing and enjoying the scenery was a nice contrast to the rigorous long days of training filled with stress, anxiety and fear (fear of being “washed” from the training program mostly… the actual jumping is mostly just adrenalin filled fun with a touch of fear mixed in for good measure).  The spots have been getting tighter and we have begun jumping two people per “stick”, which means someone else leaves the plane with you at virtually the same time so you have to contend with them in the same airspace as you.  It makes things much more complicated once you not only have to worry about the ground coming at you and having to find a good landing place in the midst of all the trees but you also have to make sure that you don’t have a mid-air collision with your buddy.  The height in which a mid-air occurs usually determines whether it is career ending or life ending… usually one or the other.  Other than that the only thing excited going on around the jump base is that it is “Mustache May!”

Oh yeah, trucker stash baby!

Oh yeah, trucker stash baby!

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Ok, Ok, So I haven’t been keeping up on this quite like I said I would but hey, all of you that know me know that I’m a bit of a procrastinator.  Anyway, not too much happened the end of last week… We had our units test that consisted of let down procedures, MTV (Malfunction TV; it’s a simulation of all the different malfunctions that are possible and you have to react to each of them accordingly), and tower exits (simulated aircraft exits, but off a 4o foot tower instead of a plane).  I actually did pretty good, I was one of two guys that wasn’t asked to do anything over again.  They did remove one guy from the program that couldn’t get his exits down just right… even though he made little mistakes they weren’t going to have it.  Poor guy, that would be awful to go back to your home base to let everyone know that you failed.

Anyway, yesterday was our first jump.  I was pretty nervous but everything turned out pretty good.  It’s a strange feeling exiting the way they do.  I am used to the traditional “jump” out of the plane.  Here they sit in the door and do somewhat of a violent scooch out of the door.  It’s hard controlling your legs when they are out there dangling in 100 mph plus winds but other than that I think that it is an easier and cleaner exit.  Another main difference from the rounds that I’m used to is that instead of your chute opening (or beginning to open anyway) immediately upon exiting, here there is only a small chute about the size of a beach ball that deploys above your head.  This chute is only used to steady the jumper and keep his body in a good position for the deployment of the main (ie. not tumbling head over heels or anything).  It does slow you down to about only a 90 mph free fall though.  You ride this pilot chute for 5 long seconds (doesn’t seem that long until you have experienced 5 seconds of free fall, believe me, it seems like forever) then pull your drogue release which pulls out the main. The main deployment is somewhat violent but very reassuring.  From there we have about 3,500 ft to play around and get into a position to land.  It would be easy if winds were light and constant but that is rarely the case.  We jumped twice again today and have been jumping a large field but from here on out the spots will continue to get smaller and more challenging!  I’m missing the Jordan Valley Big Loop rodeo back home and that makes me pretty sad, just so you know…

Oh, also, sorry about no pictures, I was going to put in a bunch but I realized that I didn’t bring my camera-to-computer cable with me to Alaska so I cannot import any pics to the computer for now… oops.

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Today we started out with a good stern talking to.  We were told just what was expected of us, and that if we do not constantly meet their high standards, they will have no problem washing us out of the program- which for me would mean termination of my employment with the BLM Smokejumpers.  They are serious too, last year they “washed” two guys (out of about 12 total) who had been jumping for nearly 15 years a piece.  Today I got the first sensations of nervousness, nothing like being threatened with your job to make you pay attention.

We then dove into learning all the detailed parts and components of the parachute harness.  Main container snaps, main release handle, reserve droop risers, cable housing, medium ring of 3-ring release, drogue release cable, Detiker clamp, ring terminal, upper and lower RSL snap shackles, main lift web, cobra click locks… etc…. These are a few of the many intricate parts which are found just the harness!  We have to have these and many, many more terms perfectly memorized in order to continue in the program.  Tests are administered often and the pressure is high.  Today was a definite wake-up… this isn’t going to be the laid back, Alaska vacation that I was expecting.

After that we learned just how archaic some aspects of the Forest Service jump system truly are in comparison to the BLM.  We jump with friggin’ computers!  These devices, when activated, measure barometric pressure the entire time that the jumper is falling and if he falls more than 1800 ft. and is still moving at 78 mph or greater, it will automatically deploy the reserve chute.  That’s pretty nice I guess.

Next we learned the procedure to do the detailed 26 point equipment check on our jump partner (person who you actually exit the airplane with).  It was stressed that if a single point was missed it would almost certainly lead to your buddy having to result to emergency procedures in order to save his life.  Did I mention that this was stressful?

Lastly we practiced our suit-ups.  Suit-ups are the act of dressing ourselves in all 70 lbs. of our jump gear.  This includes knee pads, jump jacket, jump pants, harness, two parachutes, helmet, gloves, and an attachable gear bag that hangs at our hips.  It is required that this all happens in two minutes or less in order to pass the program.  I got it done in about 4 minutes… good thing I have some time to practice before the test.  Well, I better start studying for tomorrow-  keep reading!

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So, as you may or may not know, I recently started my new job with the BLM smokejumpers in Boise, ID.  The overall job is essentially the same I’ve been doing for the last four years employed by the Forest Service Smokejumpers, with one major difference- completely different parachute systems.  Now some may think that if you know how to fly a parachute then it shouldn’t be that tough of a transition… Well, they are so different that it basically requires one to start over from the very beginning.  One-thirty this morning I arrived in Fairbanks Alaska, to the only other BLM Smokejumper base in the country.  Here I will complete 3 weeks of jump training on the new parachute system.  Imagine that the only thing that you have ever driven was a tank, then they put you in a Maserati.  Now consider that the consequences of making an error could be fatal… needless to say, this is going to be a very arduous and stressful couple of weeks, but hey, that’s basically my whole job in a nutshell.

Forest Service "Round" Forest Service “Round”

BLM "Square"

BLM "Square"

Today we had orientation and went over all of our jump gear to make sure that we are ready to go.  I’ll do posts regularly throughout training to keep everyone updated.

fairbanks tp-07-2071-036

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