|Move to Colorado, get a job at Lowry AFB,
get a house in Arvada and move to Golden after your divorce... That
covers 2 years on the ground.
Life for most Viet Nam veterans in the 70's meant work was hard to get. Part of the reasons I lost my wife. The one job I did get in my field was low paid (despite my degree) and was 6-7 days a week. The boss, now deceased and in hell with all the other greedy Republicans, was pocketing all of our tax deductions and not paying into social security and unemployment insurance. The hours and the money problems made me loose the woman I loved.
But a divorce also gave me a "certain freedom" I didn't have when I was married. I moved to Golden and tried to find a DZ again but no luck. East Colfax and Columbine DZ/airports were desecrated by housing developers and I refused to drive 90 minutes plus to a possible DZ in Ft Collins. I got totally sick of that when I had to drive from Santa Barbara to Perris Valley in California.
While doing some volunteer work for the Colorado RR Museum 1974, I met Skip Egdorf. We struck a friendship and one time when I was over to his student flat he noticed two rigs in my car's trunk.
As it turned out he had made the first student jump at a new DZ called Littleton. I had heard of it but couldn't find it and in fact originally thought it was at the old Columbine Airpark which was in Littleton. It turned out that "Littleton" was miles south of Littleton just north of Sedalia on the duel lines of the Denver & Rio Grande RR and the Colorado & Southern Ry. The Columbine owner, Bob Clark, had moved the Columbine DZ. Skip was interested in getting back up so we went down in early June to check it out.
I had been having trouble with my weight due
to thyroid damage from Agent Orange. My weight went up 100 lbs. between
when I got back from Nam and 1971, but in 1973 it had dropped 85 lbs. in
13 weeks so I wasn't bad again but still at 185 lbs. my 28' 4-line Hustler
and 24' foot reserve was just too much for a 5700' above sea level DZ.
I managed to sell the B-12 rig with 24' reserve and the yellow Hustler
for more than I paid for them, to Jim Anderson and the white Hustler and
sleeve went to Ron Rhodes. I then picked up a 32' Navy HiPo with
a Dbl-L modification and put it in the MT-1 harness and container used
for the white Hustler. (I have to admit that I hated to see those
two canopies go considering where I had been with them) I still
had the 28' reserve I made up at Altus and had Karl Wolf put in a pilot
chute and high mount risers. After a lot of grunts and gowns closing
the extended B-12 container on the 32' canopy I was airborne again!
Skip, though shorter, was in my weight class and we couldn't find another 32' Navy so he ended up with a T-10 from Karl Wolf who cut a Hustler into it. It was probably the only T-10 ever to wear a Hustler modification. The 9-TU or eliptical TU was the norm then. I did some rel work with the T-10 once just to see how a T-10 Hustler handled. Ron Rhodes needed a target to fly in on (RW student at the time) so Doral Erml and I went up with him. I pinned Doral at 7000' (I was very good and fast at sub-terminal flying) and we just plunged till Ron docked. The opening was slower than I was used to and at one point I was getting ready to cut it away as a streamer but I was in the saddle at 1900'. It set me down like a feather but even at my weight the forward speed was nothing like a Hustler in a 28'. The funny part was that I touched down at the edge of a steep grassy gully, lost my balance and rolled down about 10' wrapping myself in the lines and canopy.
About his T-10, Skip did say that "the Hustler went forward a bit faster than a TU (well... as if any one could tell) but the BIG difference was in the turns. The turns were twice as fast, but the most important thing was that the turns were absolutely FLAT. I can credit a bit of the faster turn and the speed with a brand new tight weave canopy, but I credit the modification with the flat turn. Under the 9-TU, a turn swings out quite a bit with the concurrent swing back to center with toggle release. With the Hustler, I always felt that the canopy was just pivoting on the vertical axis. It made for very safe near-to-the-ground flying. Hook turns just had no hook!"
I probably introduced the Hustler to the Rocky Mountain area. I had the two that I brought, I cut one into the 32' and I talked Skip into one for the T-10, one in his soon to be wife's (Zora) 29' C-9 quarter panel and another in Bill Meine's' C-9 4-color. And that was it! Remember we were west of the Mississippi and that was Security country in the "round days". Still people saw me open up next to people with TU's, out run them and land after them.
The next two jumps were low winds but the 4th on the Navy Dbl-L I was blown all to hell and if I had my 4-line Hustler it would have been a much shorter walk back, so the Navy went to Karl Wolf, the local rigger for a Hustler cut. The canopy only lasted on my back 3 more months and I sold it to Lora Hood (stationed at Ft. Carson at the time) after I bought the best canopy on the market at the time, the THUNDER-BOW. By that time I had the 32' and a used Cross-Bow (paid $50 for it) with only 107 jumps on it. I only made one more jump on either canopy and that was just to show someone what they looked in the air a couple of years later. The final jump on the Cross-Bow set me down so softly that I barely knew I was on the ground. A good combination of good design and perfect winds creating lift off the top of the canopy. It was far a far better canopy than the PC but its size and weight killed it in the market place.
Paracommanders in X-Bow pigs and 26' reserves were becoming the norm but Dan Abbott and Security weren't satisfied. More and more serious relative work was being done and jumpers wanted lighter gear. Ted Strong in New Jersey and Pioneer in Conn. put out lighter conventional harness and container sets but then Security did it again! The THUNDER-BOW!
Dan Abbott was probably the best parachute designer in history, but Security didn't have the advertising skills that Pioneer and others had. The superior Crossbow canopy was upstaged by the smaller PC but Pioneers' attempt at a pig was a failure. They tried to copy the X-Bow pig with the added feature that you could take the reserve off the back and use it in front. Security was selling fewer X-Bows but tons of X-Bow pigs and 26' reserves. Pioneer even copied the 26' Security LoPo but it was a commercial failure compared to Security. The CrossBow was a superior canopy but it was also bigger and a bit heavier at 28' vs the 24' for the PC. The 1965 US Team tested all the gear secretly (couldn't let the "Evil Empire" know what we had!) and chose the X-Bow pig/reserve combination with a Pre-Mk 1 PC (The Mk-1 was made from the same material throughout, while the pre-Mk1 had a high porosity apex panel and was only made in Red/White/Blue). One team member told me years later that even though the X-Bow was better all around, the style runs were easier with the lighter canopy because of less inertia to overcome.
Left to right: Dave Cameron with a Security Mini-Pig, myself with my C-9 28' reserve on high mount risers and Bill Meine with his B-12/C-9 28' rig and a 24' T-7A reserve in a nylon container on high mounts. The black harness I have on was part of Ron Rhodes' Sierra conventional rig. I was giving his rig a try because he wanted to take some photos of the rig in the air. I had jumped Sue Nicholes' Sierra the previous weekend. I was coming out of a brief skin-head period and growing the hair and mustache you'll see in the next photo of me.
About this time all the manufacturers, mainly Pioneer, Strong Enterprises and Security were releasing very light gear for the RW trade. It got so frantic that advertisers were actually bragging about cutting their rig weight by a pound! Some jumpers bought into this and spent far too much money on every ounce of innovation while most of us realized that the weight difference could be accomplished by "relieving yourself of lunch" before the jump! It was crazy, some of these folks would even take everything out of their pockets and even their watches off to cut weight! Taking the lines out of the insides a 28' cheapos was another way they were cutting weight at Littleton and in Arizona some people were jumping 26' Security LoPo reserves as mains! All these guys cared about was RW and didn't care where they landed as long as it was safely and not to far a walk back to the airport. I sold one of them a new bias cut 26' Security LoPo made from Orange and Black 1.5oz material. He recut the "T" into a "Gary Gore" and he just loved it! (The original 26' LoPo was block cut but Dan also produced a bias cut version for use in the 250mph rated bail out rig. The block cut was for 150mph and both models were available for sport use.) Pioneer caught onto this trend and brought out this little 23' diameter RW canopy with a tiny Hustler modification in it and sold it as part of the "Gerry Bird System". My wholesaler in Lincoln, Neb. (the late Shorty Jennoseck, of Lincoln Paracenter) had one he couldn't move and sold it to me dirt cheap which I sold to a customer who just had to have this Bird System. He didn't take into account the DZ was 5700' above sea level or his weight and after the first jump was seen limping away muttering dark and gruesome things about Pioneer! There was nothing wrong with the canopy but it was just designed to get you to the ground safely with some accuracy at near sea level drop zones.
Security led the race for weight with pig and conventional versions of its SIERRA. The Sierra pig was 20% lighter than a T-Bow Pig. The 24' PC/X-Bow like canopy was half the weight of a PC and the 26' LoPo Sierra reserve was lightened up slightly mainly by putting new thinner lines on it.. The Sierra Main was a much improved daughter of the CrossBow and made from 1.5 oz zero porosity ripstop nylon vs the 2.25oz material in the X-Bow, PC or T-Bow. The canopy didn't have the fine accuracy capability of the X-Bow but it was light, fast, let you down like a feather and I never saw one malfunction. Sierra sales were much better than T-Bow sales even though the Bow was a better canopy.
Just before this Strong Enterprises released a new conventional reserve container called the "POP-TOP". Rather than the watermelon shaped containers, it broke ground by being square and flat and the pilot chute was outside the contain in its own little pouch. This appeared to be a direct copy of the US Air Force B-5 bail out rig which had the pilot chute outside the container. RW workers liked it. The flat under body surface of the pig made forward and lateral movements easier but many wanted the reserve where they could get their hands on it but still have the body flying surface of a pig. It did have a problem though. At Littleton we had two jumpers in one month that did good cutaways, pulled the reserve ripcord (which was on the top, not the right side) and found a pilot chute in tow! The canopy was packed so tightly in the container it had trouble being pulled out except at terminal velocity and both jumpers had to yank the canopy out by hand. The factory worked on the problem, cured it and modified the older containers to new specs. No more problems were reported.
The riggers also disliked the Pop-Top because it took longer to pack and required much more physical effort to pack and most charged 30% extra to pack a Pop-Top. Some charged $7-10!
Pioneer, Greene and the Chute Shop (North American) stayed with watermelon reserve containers but two other developments soon hit.
The Sierra reserve looked just like the Pop-Top but had the pilot chute inside and was very easy to pack. Almost the exact same container was used on the pig version of the Sierra and for the first time pig sales at Security passed conventional sales. The Sierra pig/main/reserve was probably their best selling package ever and I must admit that it was the first complete rig I ever sold as a dealer. I also sold a couple of complete conventional rigs too.
In the mean time, my Denver rigger, Karl Wolf, designed an RW reserve container for Gerry Bird who had a hot RW team out of Utah. There were no cones & pins and the container was kept closed with velcro. Gerry and some of his team were not into into the cutaway procedure and preferred hand deployment. As designed you ripped open the container and could grabbed the entire canopy and either throw it in the proper direction or hand feed it out. I saw one of his team at Littleton flying a Strato-Star with a bad problem, "rip it out" and hand deploy the reserve behind him and it worked OK for him.
By that time I was totally into cut-aways and had an MA-1 pilot chute (from the USAF B-5 bail out rig) in my 28' reserve for over a year. I went to the Wolf Rip-Off container for my 26' LoPo but I also wanted to have a pilot chute. (Note: Pioneer started to market the rip-off as the "Gerry Bird Container") The container was originally designed for hand deploy but I had heard that someone had put a pilot chute in one so Karl and I put our heads together. Before the MA-1 pilot chute made its appearance in the B-5 bail out rig, the military used what was called an A-3 Pilot chute. I had one in my first rig, the Yellow Hustler. The head diameter was twice that of the MA-1 but it was small enough to fit in the Rip-Off and because of its large diameter head (11") it didn't create the ugly pointed bulge the MA-1 did or shift around in the container. The MA-1 in roll-pack reserves and chest bailout rigs used a metal disk called a launch plate. I tried the MA-1 and launch plate in the rip-off but it looked like hell. Karl found a near new A-3 in a box in a corner.
Karl sold me the pilot chute for $1.50, made me a set of high mount risers for $10 and sold me a red ripoff container for $15 or $20 (I forget). He took my 26' LoPo and put a diaper on it. The diaper made sure that no matter how the canopy came out of the container it would open only on full line stretch and open cleanly. No diapered reserve ever had any kind of malfunction.
Next was how do you use it with a cut away? Skip Egdorf also got a black Rip-Off and in the training room, Myself, Skip, Bob Clark and Scott Hamilton worked out what turned out to be an excellent procedure, which I actually used twice myself in the next couple of months.
Skip feel like a stone with the T-10 and 28' reserve and even though I was heavier I am also much taller (more drag) and I couldn't easily catch him if at all. He sold the T-10 after 40 jumps and got a PC we called "Black Death". He also got a 26' Navy reserve from an ROTC instructor at College and the black rip-off container from Karl.
Just before he got the used PC he took an interest in a used "Baby Paraplane" owned by Dave Cameron. At that time you had to have 200+ jumps before anyone would let you jump a square but some how he talked Stan McGrew into training him on squares at around 50. They gave him about a month of military-style training. He later said that "With the serious training, the jumps on the Baby Plane were the safest, most predictable jumps I ever made. Stan, in particular, made sure that I was drilled and comfortable with absolutely every step of each jump. This certainly colored my thinking on how to train jumpers from then on."
When the jump came he said that "I will never forget the rush of getting the canopy open (at about 5000' AGL), pulling off the brakes, and feeling the acceleration, wind noise and HUMMING of the lines. Remember that the Baby Paraplane was a bit faster than the Paraplane Cloud, and a lot faster than the later Strato Star." Skip, and to a lesser extent myself, had the big advantage of being pilots and we understood issues of flying landing patterns and setting up your landings. This gave me an early edge on accuracy (I was doing an average of 20 feet in my first 19 jumps).
Skip listened to some bad advice and after
the jump decided to buy the used black PC rather than the Baby Para-Plane.
He soon caught a freak wind, was blown up the side of the hills that surrounded
the DZ and broke an ankle. In the hospital he decided to get a Strato-Star
with the belief that forward speed made you eat dirt, downward velocity
broke your bones. After he got out of the cast, he hobbled down to
Karl Wolf and bought a gold Strato-Star, Serial Number 349. He put
the "Black Death" canopy up for sale. The card read:
He sold it to one of the jump masters who put
over 350 jumps on it without incident. A Japanese fellow bought it
from him and bounced! I wouldn't cover a car with that damned thing
much less jump it!
The 28' reserve and Strato Star combination was as ridiculous as my T-Bow and 28' combo. He had his rip off ready just before mine and I had been jumping Bill Evans' 26' Super Steerable for a month or so while he was grounded with a sinus infection. We actually did the testing to work out a rip-off cut away procedure with Skip's rig, not mine. Skip was most impressed with his new reserve setup and wanted me to see what it was like to fly without a watermelon on my chest and said to try his rip off. As luck would have it, on opening my right steering line broke away from the riser and wrapped around the center lines and put me in a mild turn I couldn't stop. The procedure we developed was to put your legs out in a sitting position with ankles wrapped, which would put you in a back or butt to earth position when you cut away and stable. Next you open the covers on the shot-and-a-half capewells and insert your thumbs in the rings. You yanked both at the same time and in a follow through of the motion grabbed the rip-off handle (see photo below) and pulled it back up as high as you could. Once the container was limp, the top flap covered the exposed capewells so no lines would snag on them and your face was covered up to your eyes! With the back to earth position you could also watch every second of the deployment and take quick action in case of a reserve malfunction which never happened with a diaper. It was very elegant indeed. Fun to watch too!
Skip walked out of the hanger and noticed people watching and remarked about how well someone's 26' Navy was doing and Bill got a real big kick out of telling him it was his! The dudes got some laughs at Skip's expense because he forgot he loaned me the rip-off and though I was jumping Bills' Super Steerable!
The 26' Navy canopy with the 4-line release, was very good to me and I was told that from the ground it looked like I was just hanging there some times and not descending. Skip told me that the jump so impressed one guy that he later bought the 26' Navy based on that jump, when Skip sold it to get a pig and a pair of 26' Security LoPos (one for his wife Zora). My landing would have been OK but a sudden wind blew me off the peas and 50 yards away (remember it only had a 4-line release modification and an 8mph forward speed) and I landed going a bit backwards right onto a yucca plant! Those things are sharp!
The poor DZ master got freaked from the incident. When I landed, he was walking my way to help out and be sociable but he soon noticed I wasn't getting up and started to run up the hill. I wasn't moving because of the yucca spears in my ass! If I moved, I rolled onto more or aggravated the ones already in me. When he got within 50 feet of me I tried to roll over and let out with an annoying yell of pain and rolled back where I was. I was hoping that he would help me up but he though the yell was because I was hurt and he ran back down the hill yelling to get the truck because I was injured! I had also cut my lip on the quick ejector snap on my chest strap and had blood on my face that I didn't even know about. You can see what the poor guy thought.
Finally everyone there had a good laugh and
helped me up. They got the biggest kick out of pulling these yucca
spears out of my butt! I didn't know if there was anything on the
spears that could cause an infection so after the day was up I went to
the VA Hospital to get some shots just in case and when the nurse saw my
butt and found out how it got that way she near fell off the chair laughing!
I was the "butt" of the joke for weeks.
A couple of months later I had an equally successful and clean deployment of my own rip-off. My T-Bow had over 500 jumps on it by then and unlike today's F-111 type material the 2.25oz ripstop was very susceptible to UV rays and deteriorated. The material in the apex gave on a very common jump and blew out the roof. Basically I was jumping a wind sock! I cut away and rode the Security LoPo down and steered it into the sand creek next to the pea pit for safety but found it wasn't necessary. I made an accidental stand up landing! I was ready for a PLF but just landed standing up and the decent rate was so slow there wasn't the momentum to bring me down to the ground. (Thank you Dan Abbott!)
I was lucky and quickly found a Mk 3 T-Bow with less than 100 jumps on it up for sale. Ned Cronnin bought it new, put some jumps on it and moved to a square when the rest of his team got matching Strato-Stars. I got the canopy from him for $50 with POD (my Mk 2 used a sleeve).
In late 1976 Gear in general got damned hot! Pioneer came out with the RW-PC (a Paracommander made from the 1.5oz ripstop) and a funny and unsuccessful pig to go with it. They also had a little 23' reserve called a Tri-Conical and also produced a 26' conical reserve called the "26 foot Super Steerable". They also produced the Jerry Bird RW rig which had the rip-off reserve with your choice of canopy and a long thin main container that opened from the bottom. The canopy was a strange little 23' zero porosity canopy with this little Hustler modification in it. It was commonly called the 23' Hustler. They also produced, in small numbers, a 19' PC for little jumpers. One lady at our DZ, Debby, who was 5 foot nothing, did well with one.
Green Star, out of Ohio had two pigs, Strong came out with a conventional pig and a pig with the pop-top reserve and a little 22' main canopy called the StarLite. Strong was also producing the French designed Pappillion or French "PAP" which was the best accuracy canopy in the world. It was made from a very glossy 2 oz very low porosity material and it too showed up in 1.5oz material. There were a couple of short lived small companies out of California producing trendy niche rigs too.
The Sierra, StarLite and RW-PC's far out numbered all the others for new gear but there were plenty of PC's, PAPS, cheapos around plus the odd T-Bow, X-Bow and early squares about. (Many people managed to pick up Para-Planes, Jalbert Foils and Para-Sleds and modify them to more recent square specs with sliders or "rings and ropes".)
Para-Flite brought out the Strat-Star 5-cell square and followed with the 7-cell Strato-Cloud. The Star was basically the 5-cell Para-Sled design with a non-painful opening system called Ring & Ropes. The Cloud was an improved Para-Plane Cloud, again with Ring & Ropes. They actually used cotton ropes in the system so there would be no burns on the canopies.
The Chute Shop was also turning out the excellent
Jalbert Para-Foil square with a new deployment device called the X-Ring
Slider and soon came out with a 5-cell RW version. The foil was then
and remains today the best accuracy square in the air.
In the west a couple of hang glider looking goodies put out by Irvin, called the "EAGLE" amd the "HAWK" were replaced by a newer version called "The DELTA II". Pioneer had a commercial failure called the Rogolo Wing but it and one other factory near Perris Valley produced the similar looking "Paradactyle" which was small, light and opened reliably. A couple of years later in the late 70's, Guardian produced an excellent canopy called the "Double- Dactyle" which was a single surface triangle like the rest but twice as big. It solved all the opening problems of the previous Rogolo style wings but it was a good system that came too late. I last saw a DD being used for students at Perris.
On our DZ two people originally jumped squares. Dave Cameron had a Para-Plane and Stan McGrew jumped a Para-foil. Poor Stan wanted to make it to 1000 jumps without a malfunction amd we went up for 998 and it mallied! I'ed never seen a cutaway from the air before.
The 5-cell Srato-Star and "5-Cell Foil" changed the look of the air and within 2 years squares were soon one out of five or six canopies in the air. The 7-cell foil with X-Slider and the Strato-Cloud with rings and ropes came out and was used by the heavier or more experienced jumpers, both changed the face of accuracy jumping especially after short lining the first Strato-Star.
In late 75, early 76 I was looking at some older designs and how the new 1.5oz material might effect them. Zero porosity would change internal pressures and the imbalance of pressure within a canopy is what gives it its forward speed.
I had long been a Security Dealer by then and had an excellent working relationship with Dan abbott. I basically set up my own company called GOLDEN PARACHUTE SYSTEMS to look at these issues and sell any canopies I could. The Thunder-Bow was still the best design in the air and even though I knew the squares were the future if they could work out the opening shock and pack volume problems, I figured there was still some life in the design. I figured that with material changes there must be pressure changes and unlike conventional canopies where the internal high pressure was in the front, the T-Bows' was in the back because of the triangular shape. The roof of the canopy was kept flat with "center-lines" (Common on Sierra/PC type canopies) and the canopy actually got lift from the airfoil this created. Pressure, forward speed and decent rate were controlled with slots in the roof called "Evelon Slots" and were set "open" to lessen opening shock. When you were open you yanked the toggles much like taking the breaks off a square today. You flew the canopy for least decent rate with the toggles around the level of your mouth. You could also change the glide ratio. The T-Bow, unlike all the other high performance non-squares of the day, did not swing you out off of axis when you turned and these flat turns made it an excellent accuracy canopy. The Mk1 and Mk2 T-Bows also had a reverse flight mode if you were over shooting the target and wanted to back up a bit. This was made possible by the fact the pressure bubble was in the rear as I said earlier. Reverse flight was also a feature of the CrossBow but you had an extra set of toggles for that.
It turned out that Dan and I were thinking
along the same lines at the same time and a canopy I commercially called
the T-3 INVADER (T-3 stood for ThunderBow-3) arrived at my door in late
January 1976. It was orange and blue with bright orange light weight
risers. When packed in a factory Strato-Star container (which
I had to use because everything else was too big)
it only filled 70% of the container!
Things were changing all around me. Skip sold his T-10 after 40 jumps on it (the guy ripped him off and never paid him) and bought a used solid black PC that he got from an estate sale. We named the thing "Black Death". Its original owner died, Skip broke his leg using it and the forth owner bounced. Skip put it up for sale and the card on the board said
He actually did sell the thing and got a Strato-Star (number 349) from Karl Wolf with one of Karl's' custom harnesses (super comfortable) and later sold his 26' Navy and bought a pair of Security LoPo's from me for him and his wife Zora. She had a yellow T-Bow conventional container, a Wolf Custom Harness and a T-Bow conventional reserve container, all in yellow. That didn't last that long either and he got a Strato-Cloud (number 1892 and the second in Colorado) and a Strong Pig. The first one in Colorado arrived a week before Skip's and went home with a guy who jumped at the old Longmont DZ (which was off I-25 and no way near Longmont or the present Longmont DZ). He came to Littleton for its first jumps and went up in high winds. The concept that you jump and spot for your reserve escaped him. On one jump it malfunctioned and he rode his round reserve into "east bumfuck" while the near new cloud landed by Hwy. 85 and was scooped up by a passing car, never to be seen again.
For Skip this was true sky god stuff and light shined out of his butt. I too decided I needed to eliminate the world from my southern most orifice and found a near new blue THUNDERBOW pig on a Wolf custom harness for $100 (58 jumps on it). Both my main and reserve canopy were made for the rig so I was in business and the harness was made for a guy my size (6'2") which is why he had trouble selling it and I got it cheap. A new complete pig system harness/container/ripcords was about $225 to $250 then. I had it till December 1997.
My first jump with it was a surprise. I opened normally and when I went vertical and my head went down from the opening shock I could see my feet and I head myself saying "where the hell is my reserve!?".
A month later I was on an accuracy final and got caught in a rotor and was slammed into the edge of the pea pit and broke my back in 3 places. (A rotor is like a dust devil except you can rarely see it and it involves currents rotating up and down in a circle rather than tornado style.)
I was lucky and didn't need a body cast but had to use crutches for several months. I was out of the air for 15 months mostly because the impact tore muscles in my body cavity and I spent a long time in the gym building them back up and I still have a gut and back problem today. Of Course I was given membership in the "Broken Bone Club" and inducted into the "LOYAL ORDER of the CRUTCH".
The third member of our little click was Bill Meine. Bill was a friend of Skip's from college (Colorado School of Mines) and the Rev. Billy Skip brought Bill unto the path of righteousness and weightlessness. We got Bill's sky cherry in Summer 75. In fact we got 11 people from his fraternity house to take the course that day.
Bill's first canopy was... wait for it! A Hustler cut in a cheapo. He jumped surplus and sportorized military gear till he bought Skip's Strato-Star. He was more into RW than gear and was jumping more than Skip and I combined. We did some jumps, packed student rigs to pay for jumps and generally had a good time but Bill was much more into it hard core. He finally burned out after committing marriage in 1979. Marriage is the great killer of too many sky diving careers!
There's some good stories about Bill too. Bill wasn't a pilot (yet) and the concept of density altitude or how fast a cheapo comes down at a 10,000 foot density altitude (hot day, high DZ) and bruised both feet on a jump. We also put the sunday paper in his B-12 container once and after he opened he had plenty to read to pass the time on the way down no matter which way he turned.
In 1979 I started a project to build a new tandem container that could be used for students and put onto the common B-4/12 harnesses. There was some work being done by manufacturers to use their pig systems for students but the initial resistance was the cost. I designed a pig system container that could be used with a standard military or sport conventional harness. The pig was built for my by Scott Brady who also built an inexpensive harness to go with it. My rational here was to sell the container system first and when the DZ recovered from that cost they could upgrade to the more conformable harness.
The system also had a very unusual reserve that didn't use a cone or Velcro to stay shut. The system had two ripcord cables and housings, one connected to the risers of the main and the other to a standard ripcord. The cables were then connected inside the reserve container. When we put the system in a standard student training frame for cut aways, 8mm movies taken of the tests showed that the reserve was so fast opening, the pilot chute was completely out of the container before my butt hit the pads on the ground.
Scott Hamilton gave me a 26' "Joe Smith" LoPo conical reserve to test jump for the USPA and I put it in the "CASCADE" as I then called it. Dummy tests with the reserve consisted of drops with a static line attached to the riser ripcord. During the TSO test drops not a single malfunction of any kind occurred. The system was a bit too late and I lost out to the use of commercial pigs on students. Some elements in the USPA thought that we could increase the number of first jump students if the centers had colorfull trendy gear and sales of student pig systems based on experienced rigs jumped.
During that time, Dan Abbott retired from Security when John Maggie sold it to GQ of England who eventually moved it to Florida and named it GQ SECURITY. Dan was immediately snapped up by Guardian which had been bought out by FXC, the AOD maker. Dan had seen the Cascade and asked me to come to Santa Ana to work on the FOX program. We mainly dealt with developing student emergency procedures while live jumps were being conducted in California City. The FOX is the civilian version of their Mach12000 military assault system.
A few months later I planned my normal business tour of the States and they asked me to bring the Fox with me and show it off to the DZ's I stopped at and get as much feed back as possible.
I needed sunglasses when the boxes arrived with the toys! The FOX was bright orange with some black!!! Guardian was also manufacturing the 228' Comet and I had one of those plus my T-Bow rig. I had 26' LoPo's in both rigs.
The highlight of my trip was being back at PI again though painful. I was talked into jumping a Cruiseaire at Lakewood which malfunctioned and I hurt my leg landing under a 24' reserve. I was told it was a 26' Navy and I was just too heavy for the 24' even at sea level. By the time I got to Orange, I was still sore and didn't jump there. I regret that.
The great event of that day in Orange was to find the Norseman that I made my first jump from sitting in the PI hanger. It was good to see the ole girl again and I gave a prop blade a big kiss.
After I got back I had a Black and Red Fox (seriel number 008) made for myself. I still jump it today.
MOVE to NEW MEXICO
The summer I was running around the country for Guardian (1980) both Skip and Bill had moved to Los Alamos, New Mexico to work at the National Labs. Bob Clark had sold Littleton Airport to the resident mechanics, Mort and Pat (forget their last name) who eventually closed it for industrial development. The DZ was operated by Bob Vance after Bob Left and opened a new DZ at Ellicot along with Ray Nellor who had been jumping at Littleton for years. Ellicot had the biggest pea pit I have every seen to date and probably the best in the country.
Bill moved back to Denver in Spring 1981 and I rented Bill's townhouse and moved down there in summer 81. Skip still lives and works there.
After I moved to Los Alamos, a new DZ was opened
at a small town east of Denver along I-70, called Straussberg. There
was a small gravel runway and the DZ operation was run from a couple of
white tents. Many of the Littleton jumpers from the Denver area moved
their jumping there, including Bob Vance who became their chief instructor.
The DZ was in a very wide open area and has a very soft plowed student
field. For experienced jumpers it had a very decent pea pit.
Their aircraft was a 206 and the first jump course was actually given in
a nearby motel.
Back in New Mexico, I'm afraid the jumping was pretty bad. The Santa Fe area DZ closed and we investigated opening a DZ ourselves at Espanola airport, 20 miles north of Santa Fe. It was little used, in a safe area and had excellent paved runways with gravel taxiways and a cross runway. The one big problem was that the area was covered with those prickly burr things that attach themselves to you with every step and the damage to canopies would have been too great. It was also surround by an indian reservation and mis-landing there might have been a problem. To top it off there were rattle snakes in the area and I accidently stepped on a dead one on the gravel cross runway. Remember the brown stains from Nam?
We finally found the University of New Mexico Club. We found them accidentally when the club did a demo into the shopping center next to my business and one of the jumpers was a friend of ours from Littleton, Frank Holcomb. He turned us onto the DZ at Coronado Airport on the north end of Albuquerque, but when we got time to go down there they had moved to an abandoned strip out in the desert south of Boskie Farms. It was over 2.5 hours drive and they only jumped on Sundays. I didn't make it down there very often and when I did I would go down and camp on SAT. night to be there early enough to beat the mid-day summer heat. There were no facilities and in fact when the 206 arrived in the morning it carried jerry cans full of AV-GAS for the days loads. It was very hot in the summer, no water, an old outhouse but it had a good pea pit (excellent n fact) and good people.
While there, the USAF put out a specification for a new bail out rig for ejection seats and back packs and I started work on an ejection seat system that could successfully use a square canopy without blowing up on opening or killing the pilot. Called the CAAPS System (Combat Area Avoidance System) it was only slightly larger than a standard B-5. The Navy was fighting a loosing battle at China Lake with its square system and refused to look at my system even though it worked. I took the system to Wright-Patterson AFB and they claim they lost the papers and never asked for another look. Little guys don'ty get much of a chance in the American military industrial complex even though I had the backing of Dan Abbott and Guardian as production space.
In 1985 things got bad with business and I had to sell my 228 Comet canopy to meet bills and later I moved back to Denver in June. I worked retail for a while and then took a job with the US Navy as a claims investigator.
1985 was also a sad year. I was living in Wheatridge and I went to see a demo put on for the town's birthday. Two former Littleton jumpers, "Elmer" and Bob Vance, and an Air Force type from the UNM/Coronado club did some demo CRW and got in trouble. Only "Elmer" cut away in time (800') and lived.
In 1988 the Australian Government became interested in the CAAPS system and gave me a residency Visa to live and work there on the project. At the same time the Viet Nam International Reunion asked me to be the American Coordinator in Melbourne. CAAPS died again soon after I arrived but I did work the Reunion. I bought a new Laser-9 292' main and a Laser-250 reserve for my new life. The two cost me $1400 new. The T-Bow's remained in the States in storage.
The week before I moved to Australia, Bill, Skip and I went down to the Great Sand Dunes National monument with Skips' Cloud and my new Laser-9 and we attempted to paraglide off the dunes. The slopes just weren't steep enough for my weight but Bill got one 10 second ride and a face full of sand and that was it for the weekend. He was still the lightest of the group. Skip and I were both storing a lot of nuts for the winter in various places around our bodies. :-)
|We camped the weekend and in the morning climbed the mountains shown in the photo above till we got to the top and found a road.
|Left to right: Bill (with the banana in his mouth), Thom and Skip
|Two hours of climbing only to find a road at the top!
|Its amazing to think than canopies you loved and honored would suddenly just become rags when something better came along. We did put them to good use though in the winter of 78-79 and 80. I took a sewing machine to the Hustler that I damaged in California and borrowed an "old" Starlite from Karl Wolf. Bill, Skip and myself went up to Lake Dillion in the mountains to use the cheapos for sails!
|The winds could have been better that day and with my weight I gave up before the rest but it did pick up before the others packed up. Bill and Skip decided to try and cross the lake and I drove the van around to pick them up. Half way across they ran into a watery weak spot in the ice but managed to get around it and before coming to the head waters of the lake they made the first Para-ski sailing 2-man hook-up! One for the record books but the argument now is whether it was RW or CRW (which didn't exist then....) Judge for your self.
|Bill tried it a few more times with the lady
of the day but at the Georgetown Lake. He said something about his
girl getting dragged into a fence which was a problem unless you were tacking,
you couldn't see where you were going except through the modifications!
Longmont & Canon City DZ's
Skip, Bill and I didn't always jump at Littleton. Littleton was a good DZ but it was students that kept the doors open. Variety is the spice of life too.
Rich Rooney's "Longmont DZ" was about 20 minutes
drive north of the top end of Denver. He had a Cessna 180 and a WW2
Beech AT-11. The AT-11 was a C-45 with a glass nose for bombadier
training. (Photo below
is of an AT-11 at the US Air Force Museum)
For all other purposes it was just a "Twin Beech".
Rich and his AT-11 were originally at Columbine DZ. Rich had only 5 jumps himself and depended on other jumpmasters. His DZ was located on a small private airport on the east side of I-25. It was a very California style DZ with few rules and popular with college age jumpers especially from Boulder and North Denver. It was located in a very flat, clear area but it had quite a few oil wells in the area (including one on the airport) that could present landing problems at times. There was no near-by eating facilities though an occasional "roach coach" visited the DZ.
We wanted to try different DZ's and do more relative work than we had at Littleton. In fact, Longmont was the only DZ where anything serious was happening because of the AT-11. It carried ten jumpers and in formation with the 180 you could get a 15 way.
We went up for the first time on Dec. 21, 1975 with Ron Rhodes (jumping the Sierra I sold him), Skip and Bill. I don't remember why but the first run was a simple three way with Ron and Greg South from 7500'. I pinned Greg at 7000' and Ron got us at 6700'. Oddly enough it was my first three-way! Its such an odd number that it was sorta by-passed over the years. It was kinda boring just hanging there and we broke off and were in the saddle by 2600'. Just to the south the 7 way that followed us out opened up and I suddenly realized that I wasn't the only Thunder-Bow in the air! The red one pictured above was there and a black one with a white arrow, both were Mk-II's. I had didn't get my Mk3 till May 76.
We tried Longmont for another two months and the last jump there was a simple one and another three-way. Even Scott Brady was there that day. We couldn't get on the Beech, the loads were booked a day in advance so it was all from the 180. The last one was a simple jump, I pinned Ron Brown, Eric Welty was in third and poor Ron Rhodes (who was light and thin) couldn't get down to us no matter what he tried. Those were my last and only three ways. The next weekend the Beech lost an engine on take off and bellied into a field. Everyone was OK. When my stuff gets in from the States, I'll find Longmont photos and post them.
Oddly enough I did get in one Beech jump at Littleton on Dec. 16, 1976. A regular Beech 18 was at the DZ when Skip and I pulled up one day. We got there late and I don't remember if it was a jump plane there for the day or was just passing through. I walked in with all my stuff and Skip disappeared off someplace and I just looked at the plane. I asked, and was told its leaving. I looked around and saw Eric Welty there with his gear packed and I started to suit up and yelled to him to gear up fast! Stunned, he just did and I yelled to follow me. "Where the hell are we going?", "FREE JUMP!" I yelled. That was it....
The 180 was in the air on a load and the Beech was getting ready to taxi we ran out to the run way and put our thumbs out. The pilot thought this was so funny he stopped and asked if we wanted a "lift". He said he was heading south (take off was to the north) and he would drop us off at whatever altitude he was has when we circled back over the DZ. Because it was nearly empty we were at 6500' when we passed over the DZ. We pulled a 2-way out the door and just fell. In the air I noticed some canopies opening up below me and about 200 yards away, it was the 180 load. I don't remember if the 180 took 4 or 5 jumpers but when we all got opened there were 2 more jumpers in the air than there should have been! :-) I don't remember who was running ground crew, might have been Bob Clark. He did some quick counting and asked us where we came from? I told him the 180 load! :-) Eric said he sat on the pilots' lap and I held onto the strut!
CITY (pronounced Canyon City) DZ has a varied history with
multiple operations over the years. The DZ is actually at Freemont
County Airport and is actually located closer to Florence than Canyon City.
The historic narrow gauge (3' gauge) Florence and Cripple Creek RR ran
thru the current property and the old grade can be seen from the air..
It is due west of Pueblo on Hwy. 50 (see map) and is currently in operation.
As you can see it has an excellent runway and the red star on the photo marks where we landed or were supposed to land. The airport, though in the mountains, is actually at a lower altitude above sea level than Littleton or Longmont.
There was no DZ per say. It was a satellite
of other DZ's between 1972 and 1973 when the Meadowlark DZ (west of Colorado
Springs) used the airport along with their own DZ. There was no shade
even for packing but there was an airport lounge and a greasy spoon.
In 1975 and 76 two pilots operated a Lockheed Loadstar (C-60 or transport
version of the B-18 Hudson Bomber) out of Freemont County Airport.
The DZ is located quite a distance from both Denver and Colorado Springs. In order to attract jumpers the owners flew the Aircraft to Arapaho County Airport (now called Centennial) and the jumpers got a free ride down and back for the price of a jump. They then had to make the jump into the airport without a streamer run. Frequently the mass load landed way off the airport. Such was the case the first time we flew down on Nov. 2, 1975. The pilot flew right down the runway going west at almost 18,000 AGL and the spotter wasn't in good shape. We were at altitude for too long because we had to cross some mountains behind Pikes' Peak. Everything was funny from the thin air. Smiles were funny, toes were funny, altimeters were funny and farts were hilarious!
I was 5th out for a 14 man that went OK and we tracked off to open. I had a hard opening and found my sleeve had blown up! We landed over a mile from the runway and it took over an hour to get back. I was finished for the day because of the sleeve which was blown at both seams! It looked like the Shroud of Turin! Only the apex held! I've never seen a blown sleeve since.
I was jumping my Black with red arrow Mk-3 T-Bow by then and I went to a Security POD when we went back. Karl Wolf had a brand new green one which he was desperate to get rid of and I got it cheap.
It was funny but the Mk-2 liked a sleeve for easy openings but I found the Mk-3 the exact opposite. Openings got damned softer with the POD. Security's POD were also made from Irish Linen, not nylon and never burned a canopy.
The last time we went down in January 1976, Skip and I agreed to fly base for 6 new troops. We got an almost instant base (it was naughty to fly a base out the door then... very uncool and unmacho) but the 3rd guy out the door tripped in it and two more people fell over him. We were long gone before they got out and we could both see they would never catch us, so what do you from 11,500 feet?
we have here Skip"
If there was ever any speculation about the T-Bow vs the Strato-Star this jump settled it. Granted I'm heavier than Skip, but we flew side by side the whole time, same forward speed and same decent rate (even thought I was heavier) and we landed together. The cheapos and PC's landed way out past the dirt road (left of the runway in the photo) even though they opened lower than we did. Skip's Strato-Star was the only square I ever saw at Canon City and may have been the first.
One lady from Golden, who was number 4 out the door on that load, was all bummed out because she caught her new C-9 cheapo on a fence and put a small tear in it. I figured, there's always another weekend to jump, why's she sweating it. She died less than 2 months later of Leukemia. No one knew then that every day was special and precious.
The Loadstar ended up in Kansas to fly jumpers for the summer and we heard it went in but I never heard the exact details and if its flying again.
Ok, time to click on the next link and we're off to Australia. By the way. The Coronado DZ is open again and is doing quite well I hear. They are on the NET.
Last modified on 27 Dec 1999