|Twisted at the Casa Boogie - A First Cutaway Story|
By Kenneth Murphy - email@example.com
My daughter thinks it's ugly, but to me the Casa is a beautiful bird. I got to the DZ just in time to get on the next load. No time to put on my jumpsuit, so I do a freefly solo. Run off the ramp of the Casa in a superman exit, then roll over and watch the plane turn and bank away. Flip back over and see some towering industrial haze below. The sun is right so I get to see my rainbow-ringed shadow. I drop into the valley between two billowing clouds. I go into a stand with my arms over my head and punch down through the air slowly turning and enjoying the view. Once below the cloud level, I flip onto my back and just fall, thinking how unbelievably fun this sport is.
My third jump of the day was decided to be a cross-country. It was fun because the excitement of the two guys who never did one before was contagious. The uppers were light so I asked the Casa pilots to drop us six miles out on a 330 radial. I was third out. I jumped out backwards, waited three seconds and dumped at 14,000. I felt it open, looked up, and saw about eight line twists with the slider stuck above. By this time the Diablo, which is twitchy with the brakes stowed as it is, was accelerating into a high speed diving turn. I started kicking in the direction of the turn, but was having no effect. I knew I was burning up my 'get back' altitude in the spin, so I tried kicking for about 20 seconds then stopped.
I really didn't want to chop six miles out and 12,000 feet up. I looked up to study the twist. I've heard about canopies spinning so fast that it's hard to cutaway. However things seemed to be stable in a twisted up, fast downward spin. Just hanging there looking I started to untwist (I had been kicking in the right direction). I helped it along and finally spun out of it. I checked the altimeter and found myself around 10,500. I looked around and found the DZ. I was further out than I wanted to be. I could see that between me and the DZ was a big field by a road that I could easily land in, then several miles of trees that I would probably land in trying to make it back.
Having had some experience landing in trees on my level 7 AFF dive (which I passed!), I chose to make use of the large hay field that the farm workers were so thoughtfully cutting for me. I knew the wind direction so the landing in the short grass was uneventful. Before I could walk to the road a big truck filled with hay bales pulled up and the nice lady driving gave me a ride back. The others had all made the DZ.
I was glad I had the altitude to deal with those line twists. I wonder what caused them? I've had some minor twists before. On a Sabre they are no problem. You are just hanging there and can kick out of them. On the Diablo, line twists often mean a spiraling canopy. If the spiral is in the direction you need to kick out it can be difficult. I burned up 3,500 feet clearing these. I was thinking that if I dumped at normal altitude that would have been a cutaway. It was almost a premonition.
On my next two jumps I demo 'd my friends Stiletto 135. Flew nice, no line twists, packed it the same way I packed the Diablo.
For the last jump of the day (jump 744 for me) I packed my Diablo back in and worked on my headdown. Dumped around 2,500 right into the same line twists I had last time. My Protrack showed me open at 2,100. It only had about three twists, so I kicked my ass off. After about three revolutions I realized they weren't coming out. Remembering my severe altitude loss on the last jump, I checked my altimeter. Holy shit! - 1,100 feet. My next reactions were automatic. I pulled the cutaway handle and tossed it. I thought 'I should have held on to that' as I watched it float away. I pulled the reserve handle (and held on to it). When I felt the pilot chute launch I thought 'I maybe should have waited a second to get stable', but it was over before I knew it. Once I made the decision to cut away, it was almost like I was an observer watching and commenting on my own actions.
Before I knew it I had a nice Raven I reserve overhead. I had sometimes wondered what color it was. I would say it opened fast because two people said it looked like I was doing CRW for a second. After I landed, someone asked me how high I was open under the reserve. I thought about it and was disappointed to realize I never checked. As soon as I was open, I was watching my gear descending, setting up my approach, and checking the other canopies above me. I don't remember seeing my main, but I watched my freebag land in someone's front lawn across the street from the DZ. It was cool to see my cutaway handle in freefall about 10 feet from the freebag.
As I was landing among the faster descending traffic, I realized I should have done a controllability check. It seemed that the reserve had a built in right-hand turn. I played with the balance, finally landing with about a one-foot pull difference between the toggles. Before I could get ungeared and was done getting congratulated (I think condolences would be more appropriate!), Charlie was back with my main, freebag and cutaway handle. He even straightened out the main! Thanks Charlie!!!
Charlie doesn't say much. He always jumps in to lend a hand untangling chutes and dispersing terse packing advice in his gruff and lovable way. When he speaks it is with authority and experience. He says that line twists are 99 44/100ths % pure body position. Ok, but what about my other 300 jumps on the canopy? Or on the Stiletto? Someone said it might be line trim, so I'll have that checked. For the reserve, Charlie said one leg strap was probably tighter than the other and that is what caused the turn. It seemed like more than that to me, but I suppose one leg strap could have shifted while I was spinning. The Raven opened great and landed me fine so I have no complaints.
I'm sure there's a lesson in there somewhere. I just thought you might enjoy the story. Thanks to all my well-wishers, my rigger, and especially Charlie. I will enjoy any comments, may ignore any criticisms, and look forward to seeing you all in our beautiful blue playground.