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Crazy Skydiver

Stories

The skydiver that was too good

by Bill Newell

On a warm Sunday afternoon a few years ago, a tall swarthy slim muscular stud by the name of Trim Tabs showed up at the local DZ to make his first jump. Trim, appearing on a $20.00 bet made the night before over a pool game, was his usual calm unruffled self as he breezed through his PLF's and pre-jump training.

Worried? Why should he be? After all, he'd always been the best at what he'd done. Tops in all the high school sports, an All American in college, lifeguard, expert scuba instructor, champion skier, etc. You name it; Tabs had excelled in it. You see Trim was one of those unique individuals who were blessed with the gift of perfection.

Trim Tabs was soon on jump run at 3500 feet for his first static line jump. When the time came to go, Tabs really stoked his jumpmaster by making a perfect exit off the strut. Then a straight in approach for a dead center in the pea gravel with the most beautiful PLF ever witnessed by a ground crew. What really dumbfounded the DZ staff was that Trim insisted on completing the rest of his static lines and his first clear and pull that same day. He chalked up 3 perfect dummy ripcord pulls; a clean 10 second delay on his first freefall and made all dead center stand up landings.

"Aw shit," exclaimed Shufty McBlutts, chief jumpmaster in charge. "It had to be the most phenomenal stroke of luck I've ever seen. I'll take him up next week if he ever comes back and see if he can repeat even half of what he's done here today."

Sure enough, the following week Trim appeared at the hangar bright and early anxiously awaiting the next lift. McBlutts ambled over and said, "See here kid, you really torqued some heads last weekend. Howja like to go up with me an I'll give ya your first hook up on your second freefall? Think ya can handle that, huh?" Tabs replied he thought that would be fine, because he, being near perfect, wasn't a smart ass either.

Well up they went to 4500 feet. Trim sailed off the strut like an American flag followed by Shufty who greased through the sky like a slick turd. Trim miraculously saved the jump by grabbing Shufty's sweaty hands as he smoked passed. Then, by doing some super tucking, managed to create a smooth hook up. While on the ground field packing, Shufty's facial expression resembled a guilty cat caught eating contraband cheese. His mind badly blown, McBlutts was last seen chain linking his lines off into the desert.

As time went on, Trim Tabs continued to amaze his fellow jumpers. Never making mistakes, never missing, always being right on. Like breaking into a 3 man 3rd on his 3rd freefall, last on a 10 way on his 10th freefall and so on. It wasn't too long at all until Trim Tabs (Slim Trim as he became affectionately known as) became in popular demand by the top ten man star teams of the nation. His fame spread far and wide.

Since his 20th jump, Trim had been a regular on a team named Captain Superman and The Hog Backed Bellboys. Loyal stud that he was, he decided to decline the many lucrative offers from some of the other hot teams and remain with Captain Superman throughout the competition that year. Besides, he felt he kind of owed them something for their faith in him.

Captain Superman's Hogs had been wallowing low in the ratings, almost falling off the charts for months when they stumbled across Slim Trim who reminded them of Roger Daltery. In a single practice jump together their eyes got big and they grooved with a renewed stamina and vigor that could only be brought on by the magnanimous, magnificent magnitude of a magical marvel that never missed. The one and only Slim Trim.

To get to the meat of the story, Slim had been closing 10th on their 10 man speed star team in 10 seconds which in those days was unheard of, (incidentally, it still is.) On opening day of the Nationals the only team in real contention with the Hog Backed Bell Boys was a crack team from Orange juice, Massachusetts formerly known as The Intangible Wings Of Tangerines. Now, proudly called Jerry's Birds, their fastest 10 man up until then had been a 12.7. Jerry's Birds, seasoned that they were, knew full well of Slim Trim's hot reputation and even though not shocked or shook, was scared of their scores.

Moving along, the 5th round of competition had Jerry's Birds laying eggs in the sky. The pressure had come and gone as the Captain's Hogs had made a 10 second 10 man for 4 consecutive jumps and in the final round led their fine-feathered friends by 14 seconds.

At this point, Captain Superman, not noted for his mercy and somewhat of a pig himself took Trim aside and told him, "Look Tabs, I can dig your style, but you've come in 10th in 10 seconds in the last 10 jumps. Not to be griping but do you think you can crank it up a tad for this next leap so we can REALLY cram it down their throats?

Trim said he thought that would be fine, cause after all, due to his superior breeding he wasn't a smart-ass and not about to sass the fine Captain. But with chin held high and rugged profile squinting into the glinting sun, Tabs did say this; "Captain Super Hog Guts or whatever your real name is, let me hip you to something. Get the rest of the boys wound tight and if you're not late, you'll see me there in eight."

Trim figured a little pressure would be good for him at this point. After all for Christ sake, coming in 10th in 10 seconds for the last 10 jumps was getting to be a drag. Hell, he was becoming stalemated. Why shouldn't the rest of the team speed up for him? They could! They would! He would vibe it!

The next scene brings us to jump run for the Captain and his fine-tuned swine oinking and grunting pagan victory chants. "SQUEE - SQUEEE, Squeal like a pig boys! Rape, pillage, kill- loot, plunder, grovel!" Quite a motley crew after having their confidence bolstered by the fantastic karma of Trim Tabs. In the meantime, Jerry's Birds nestled on the ground with a bleak outlook on the outcome coming out of the overcast.

The crowd was hushed. No one breathed a whisper. The Beech finally stopped moaning and took its crap. Ten small smooth forms were emitted in rapid succession similar to a peewee oyster jetty. How it looked in the air was a different story.

Trim had just nosed out the door to find a sub-terminal 9-man in the early 5's. "Way to go, men." Like a Flying Tiger, Dauntless, Corsairic even, Slim Trim slimmed his trim tabs and trucked. Wrists were looming large through the dim layer of ozone when all of a sudden for no known reason the star hit some turbulence, (probably left over by the prop blast) then with a lurch suddenly shifted about 6 feet to the left, and - DAMNED- if Trim didn't miss!

Now missing a 9 man in 6 seconds normally wouldn't have been that bad. There was plenty of time for another approach. The pity of it was the only thing poor Trim could do was just look back with a bewildered expression on his face and shrug his shoulders. What else could he do? Trim was so good; he never learned how to make a turn!

OIL DERRICK BASE JUMP

by Bill Newell

I was given published credit for this jump, but it was actually done by my buddy, Ken Barnes in March of 1963 on one of the old wooden oil derricks surrounding Taft, California. He was the only one to do it twice. Andy Anderson, Ken Barnes and Dave Bristow first did it a few weeks earlier.

I was present the second time. Anderson (in his mid 40's) declined this time. I accompanied Bristow to the top of the oil derrick to assist his launch. He was using a 26' conical for this his second jump because he weighed almost 200 lbs and busted his ass the first time.

The wind was gusting to about 15 mph up there. When Dave inflated the canopy it headed downward and started pulling him over the railing. I grabbed and held him while he tried cutting it away. I nearly lost my grip on him and after getting rid of the canopy, Dave was pretty shook. He blamed the downward direction of the canopy on the wind and the 26' conical's solid apex. He never tried it again.

Ken was up last with his 24' twill. He'd already had a few beers and took 2 bottles of Coors to the top with him. After downing the two bottles he swung his legs over the rail and dropped his twill below him. As it inflated, he tried to bring the canopy up higher than himself, but after a couple of tries the highest it would get was a little less than head level.

When Ken jumped, there was slack in the lines. He got line stretch just below the first catwalk and lifted his legs to keep from straddling a guy wire the rest of the way to the ground. He had cowboy boots on and busted his ass big time on landing, limping back to the car for another beer. That was the last time he ever tried it. He was 24 years old.

 

I told this story to Falcon's Disciples author Howard Gregory at the Pioneer Club in Arvin in 1965. I told him it was Ken that did it, who was at the bar with me at the time, but instead Howard printed my name in his book.

I asked Howard to correct it in his next book, Parachuting's Unforgettable Jumps, but somehow it never got changed.

hook LINE CUTAWAY

by Bill Newell

The only time I've used a hook knife was also the only time I've ever cut away - at Arvin, California in 1965 on my 300th jump. Don Bradley and Bill Stage came up with the idea of attaching a second reserve above our regular belly mounted reserve. 1500 lb test tubular nylon loops were tied to each harness "D" ring and then connected to the butterfly snaps of the second reserve riding atop the regular reserve. The idea was to experience what it was like cutting the second side loose while under a streamer. Our hook knifes were tethered to our right hand with 550 shroud line.

The cut away reserves were old worn out 24' twills and we just wadded them up and crammed them in the containers, dirt and all, not bothering to tuck in the end flaps. We went up to 4500' in Dave Keaggy's Cessna 195, exited a couple of seconds apart and dumped right away. I was last out and watched Don Bradley's reserve streamer for real right off the bat. Bill Stage's and mine opened normally. I watched Stage cut one side away and streamer and then it was my turn. Talk about second thoughts!

Before I cut the right loop I grabbed the reserve's left riser with my left hand so I wouldn't lose it in freefall. Good idea, because after I cut the right loop - ZING - all kind of bouncing and shaking went on. I was able to cut the left side away a few seconds later and then dumped my main. I think we all opened at a legal altitude, too, which in those days at Arvin was 1000'. Eight hundred would get you a warning and 500' was a grounding offense.

ROD PACKS CHUTELESS JUMP

by Lyle Cameron SCR #69

SKYDIVER JUMPS WITHOUT CHUTE the headlines blared and the television screamed.

When I found out Rod Pack had made the jump, I gave it no further thought. This was a fine example to prove to the average citizen that skydivers have maneuverability. Hundreds of people who didn't know Rod or the facts started phoning and writing.

Rod is a cool natural at everything he does. He has race drag boats, was a trampoline champion and had owned a trampoline center prior to his skydiving. He began skydiving and was a master relative worker in some 30 jumps (as is usual for anyone who has a gymnastic, high-diving, etc., background).

I've jumped with Rod at Taft and know him to be a good air worker. (If he had been an excellent one, only I would have been left hanging at 8,000). I hired Rod to jump with us in Ripcord and got him into the Screen Actors' Guild. He was cool, nerveless, efficient and did things right the first time.

Rod has remained active in stunting and appeared in many pictures. If you have seen the television series, " The Greatest Show on Earth, " starring Jack Palance, you have seen Rod. He is always working out on the trampoline in the background when not doing something more important.

For the present, the idea for jumping without a chute is not a new one. Cliff Winters was thinking about it before any of us could do relative work. It was done several times in the "Ripcord Series" with a concealed 26-foot conical. There never was any doubt that it could be done . It was a simple baton pass, just more serious.

Why now? Well, Wolper Productions has started a new series to be released March 13. Bill Friedkin is producing; Van Heflin is narrating. It is entitled,"Bold Men" and covers all kinds of stunts ... wrestling sharks, plane crashes, blowing out oil well fires, etc.

Rod is one of the episodes with this stunt. It was practiced many times with Bob Allen passing Rod a reserve.

The harness was especially made to take a load on either side by Harry Schmoll of Para-Systems. The "D" rings were made to stand out. An additional snap was added to a riser so a hookup could be made to one of the cameramen in case Allen got lost!

The actual stunt was done at Arvin from Schaefer's 206, flown by Harry Hanes. The loading and landing were covered by about 20 cameras. There were stills and movie cameras on the struts. The actual jump was photographed by Doyle Fields and Bob Buquor with 16 and 35 mm stills.

Life Magazine had the exclusive, as you have probably seen by this time. Saga had the first byline. Wolper Productions paid the tab. Rod's total take will exceed $10, 000.

The only thing that bothers Rod is the opening of a reserve. He had never aired a reserve before. Helpful friends advised him if he wanted to get the feel of one to try a head down opening on a Para-Commander with a loose harness.

Rod wore skindiving weights to compensate for the loss of parachute weight.

Everyone got out at 14,600. Once out, Rod knew he had it made when he felt how easily he could maneuver. Bob Allen easily brought in the reserve (a 24 twill T-7A). Rod took it at 10, 000. He spent about four thousand more hooking it on. He grasped the handle just to locate it, but when he looked at it, the handle was in his hand and nylon was streaming out at around 3,500. The news of the stunt was not to be released until the 13th of March. Some newspaperman got itchy feet and blabbed it to every paper and TV news. When it was suggested he do it again for better pictures, Rod said, "I've done it once and that is enough, no more."

It is less dangerous than the old plane changes or wing walking. Rod's stunt took personal skill and cool nerves. Rod has an abundance of both. It should be remembered that although Rod is a sport jumper and competitor on week ends, he is a stunt man during the week, just as other sport jumpers are steeplejacks, bridge painters, line men, pilots, and other more hazardous occupations. We all know we've lost more skydivers driving to work than from jumping, and yet the average citizen thinks skydiving is dangerous.

You must realize and point out to the public that sky diving is not limited only to "sports." There is not only competition and recreational jumping, but all kinds of professional jumping which includes combat, rescue, test, fire fighting, research, exhibition, demonstration, photographic and stunt, to name a few. Though sport and recreational jumpers have become more numerous and receive all of the benefits, you should remember that the PCA is a club which was founded by and for riggers and professional jumpers.

Legally, the PCA, of course, cannot touch Rod, nor can the State Aeronautics Board. As the FAA does not issue licenses to parachutists, they can only fine Rod. I am sure the studio will pay the tab. The FAA can lift Harry's license and fine him. This might not even stand up if taken to court. Want to try it? It has been done so no one would pay you for it. Although you wouldn't be able to read them, you might get a few headlines if you were the first to miss. I am available to film it and lead the chorus when they sing, " Sorry About That, " over you!

Golf Course Demo

by Bill Newell

On Easter Sunday in 1971 at Taft, California, I clued in the load beforehand and then asked the new Beech pilot if we could toss some Easter eggs over the golf course after take off.

The DZ owner’s son, Rich Armstrong, had his family at the golf course for an Easter egg hunt instead of skydiving with us, and we wanted to rub it in. The idea was to trick the pilot into dropping us over the golf course for an unauthorized demo.

I showed him a pilot chute attached to a sack which I had just filled with rocks, and he beamed, “That’s a great idea!”

The only problem was that the golf course was a mere 10 miles from the airport and we would barely have the altitude for a hop and pop while passing over. Hell, we wanted to do RW. So while spotting the first pass at 2000 feet, I gave radical right and left corrections before shaking my head no and motioning for a go-around.

We came back around at 4500 feet and I did the same thing with more emphasis. We were at 6500 feet on the third pass and noting his look of exasperation, knew we couldn’t get away with much more as I waved him around again.

As we came across at 8500 feet I wondered why he hadn’t figured out the “eggs” would never have made the target from even 4500 feet. But it was time to go. I called for a cut, tossed the pilot chute and sack in the baggage compartment and will never forget the pilot’s expression as we bombed out.

We got a nice star, but being unfamiliar with golf I picked the pretty green circle with a flag on it to stand up my Para-Commander. My cowboy boots dug into the soft turf, plowing up a fair amount of sod. I thought we would be greeted as heroes and couldn’t understand why our audience was giving us dirty looks and swearing.

Arriving back at the airport, my cohorts disappeared, leaving me to face the wrath of DZ owner Art Armstrong and the chagrinned pilot. We were all grounded for 30 days, but Art had to lift the grounding after the second week because there weren’t enough skydivers to fill the loads.