Long Flight that!

Everything went wrong at the last minute.  My arrangements for storage of my stuff fell through but the day was saved by a piece of basement from Jean Riley, not to mention a ride to the airport just in time.

I met an old girlfriend at LAX and we sat in a pub down the access road for several hours till my flight left.  The QANTAS flight was quite good (I think they have the best service of the lot) till we got to Fiji when it got very strange.

Col. Rambuka had staged a coup because of friction between the natives and people from India who controlled too much of the economy (Fiji returned to democratic rule and non-racial bias in June 99).  We were asked to leave the plane and found ourselves surrounded by these guys wearing fez's, funny shirts and dresses!  Their major fashion accessory was a Madson 9mm sub-machine gun!  They went through our stuff and then herded us into the transit lounge.  It was a tiny place, the money exchange was open and a total rip off and this little duty free place run by Japanese was all the room there was for 360 people.  I bought a set of Pentax extension tubes that turned out to be defective.  Last time I do duty free in a transit lounge. 

Eventually, those destined for Fiji were allowed to leave and we had some breathing room.  After 3 hours we were put back on the plane and a group of Aussies being held by the army at a local hotel filled out the 747.  Oddly enough it was a convention of travel agents!

I came to Australia to work on the Viet Nam Veterans International Reunion as the American co-ordinator.  I also wanted to do volunteer work at the Viet Nam Veterans Counciling Centre.  I had being doing counciling for 3 years.

When I got my Visa I was working for the US Navy at Lowry AFB as a travel expert and claims investigator.  I sold what I could and since I was heavier, I needed a big square so I ordered a 292 sq. ft LASER 9 and a Laser-250 reserve.  Both fit nicely into my Guardian Fox, in fact the main had room to spare even with the 3' long hot dog pilot chute.  I wanted a whole new start in a life and what better way than with a new rig. (of course!)

I arrived in Australia on August 1st and was at the DZ the first weekend.  I walked from the Pakenham station, 20 minutes to the DZ.  The weather was awful, overcast and the clouds 1500'.  My first contact was Dick Ryland, one of the old guard of the club and in the air longer than myself by a year.  The CSO was another old jumper from the 50's, Billy Kenny.  The club was actually started by the Third Commando Company of the Australian Army, hence the name.

The third day I was in country I got a call from the Royal Air Force asking me if I'ed consider joining the RAAF as a direct entry office in the photo field.  I told um about working on the reunion and they said they could delay entry.  It seems that they had only one officer left in the photo field with real combat experience.  They promised me my choice of posting as a teacher at the photo school at SALE or to the recon lab at Laverton, commission at the rank equivalent of Captain in the USAF and promotion to Major in 2 years.  I took it.

Meanwhile at the DZ, I was down there every weekend cussing the weather and finally on Sept. 4th the sky opened up but only to 4000'.  Since I was a new kid in town, I had to do a square conversion program.  Dick put out some students and the two of us climbed to 4 and I did a hop and pop.  I did a perfect arch and pull and he mentioned that he felt like he was back in the 70's!  After he saw a full canopy, Dick jumped to follow me around.  I was to land at the Student DZ (which was muddy) and got a big surprise when I flared.  The toggle lines were too long and though the downward speed was nill, I was moving fast and did a feet, knees, hands and face in the mud landing!  It was a soft landing and of course I was really so glad to be in Australia that I was kissing the ground!  What the hell, the Pope does it!  (Wonder what he jumps???  A CLOUD?)

We got the lines properly set in the loft and was ready to go up for the next jump but poor Dick got a bit of a fright.  My canopy is black and red on the bottom but red and yellow on top for visibility.  Dick didn't know that....

He was on the ground for this part of the conversion training.  I did a hop and pop from 4000', made a soft landing 4 meters from the disk.  Dick was looking for the yellow and black canopy and was waiting for the aircraft as it taxied up.  The weather was closing in and he thought I had ridden the plane down because he hadn't seen my canopy!  He got to the Islander and "Pitch" the pilot told him everyone got out and poor Dick thought I bounced!  I was at the manifest window when he ran in to get a search party going.  The look on his face was worth having to do the whole conversion program!  We got a good laugh out of it.

The last conversion jump was a hop and pop at 6000' and it took weeks to make this jump because of the rainy weather.  It was the wettest winter in 50 years!  I got out, opened and started to move around but noticed that no matter what I did I was moving rapidly north and wasn't descending!  Over Pakenham the dog leg moved me east right over the electric power lines over the railroad!  I had been in the air 20 minutes and only lost 1000'!  I turned down wind so I could maneuver off the RR line and when I turned back into the wind I was blown right back over the rail line, but at least I was descending.

I got out of the wild currents at about 3000' and could go where I wanted.  I  landed in a paddock 2.5 miles from the DZ!  The landing was feather soft and the farmer gave me a ride back to the airport.  He was very friendly.  Last time I landed in a farmers' field in Oklahoma he damned near ran me off with a shotgun!

Billy Kenny bent over backwards to get me my Australian licenses and my A, B and C are all issued the same day.  I couldn't get a D right off because there were some differences in the requirements from the American D-License.  It only took 3 weeks more to get the D (on Dec 4th 88).  I got my Demo ticket (Called a DEMO-D here) 8 months later when I was asked to make some demo jumps, mostly at the airport at Berick.  I actually missed the one demo I wanted to do.  It was a POPS jump at Berick.

As corny as it sounds, I have a great feeling for my Australian "D" license.  Its not something that many Americans have and when I finally hang up my pilot chute I'll have it sealed in a plaque.

The Display-D License is another story and a bit of a shock.  #1313!  I am not superstitious, but 13's again?  I broke my leg and ankle on my 13th jump on Sept. 13 so the last 13 was not good.  Good so far?

Jumping in Australia is nothing but fun except for the flies.  The government stopped the dung beetle program and the flies are back in force in the country.  We share space with sheep and cattle and their shit. 

Anyway, the DZ has excellent peas and I shot a lot of accuracy.  The Islander is 10-place and although I'm not an RW person I did more REL on average than before using new techniques.  The younger guys were much better than I except sub terminal.  In the old days we had to learn to do a lot of flying sub terminal so that you could be in a perfect and legal position for your judged style runs.  I can still fly circles around any of the younger guys sub terminal but after that, fat ass here flies a great base!  I have to admit that pulling a fully formed 4-way out of a 206 is a trip in itself for someone in it as long as I've been.  I remember when two ways were a major event.  I'll never forget the first one of those!

For a while I organized several mass cross country jumps but was usually the only one to get in the peas.  Its not that I'm a sky god or anything its just that people like me and Dick Ryland have a better feel for it because of our fixed wing flying and the issues of toggle trimming the canopy for minimum decent and maximum glide.  Dick being a glider pilot is especially great at this.  Jumping the Thunderbow also was a big help since it had what's called "Max-flight" where you pulled toggles 1/3rd down and it closed the evelon slots in the roof and your forward glide went to the same level as squares of the day with a lower decent rate. (2.5-1)

I also just had to join POPS DOWNDER! TOP POP Bernie Shaw signed me up the first time I met him at Pakenham.  I'm number 187 so there's not many of us left.  Its funny though.  Australia has the highest per capita number of jumpers of any country on earth and a population of 17,000,000 but that 187 is higher per capita number than the USA!   It would be 2,794 active jumpers over 40 years old.

There's more than a few memorable jumps down here.  On time "the blokes" pushed me out of the aircraft at 7500'.  I was doing my usual "sit in the door and sight-see" trip but we were miles from the DZ!  We were also down wind.  They hung from the door waving good bye as I fell.  I judged the angle of glide (the winds were about 5) and opened at 6500' and made it into the peas!  I got the last laugh because they landed across the road from the DZ!  I knew I could pull off a high opening and cross country back safely because I was on the opposite side of the target as the spot.
I guess in certain countries this would be called the "cheap seats"!  In the lower right hand corner of the photo is the east end of Pakenham.  The white spot in the photo in the very lower right hand corner is the railroad station (trains from the city every 20-30 minutes).  The club has cameras on the Islander and the 206 to record jumps, mostly for the students.  I shot this one scraping the bottom of the clouds at 5100'.  We couldn't get any higher that day.  Winters are wet in Victoria.

Probably the most interesting jump was in clouds.  It was spring 89 and we had 80% cloud cover but not the usual flat overcast.  These were low cumulous clouds.  I was in the door as we flew through and there were these huge cloud canyons, just incredible looking.  We caught a hole now and then but the pilot said he'se landing.  We got down to 5000' and were in a cloud canyon could see the ground.  The guy behind me wanted to do a hop and pop and play in the clouds which was exactly what I was thinking!  We told "Pitch" to go around and we got out when we could see the ground.

It was amazing!  We spent 25+ minutes in the air, going up and down and the best part was flying and maneuvering through these cloud canyons!  Occasional we had to go through a cloud but it was safe because our DZ has a permanent no fly zone over it and we report people who pass through it even  accidentally.  Sometimes the insides were cold and wet, sometimes warmer than the surround clear air and one was so thick I couldn't see my own canopy.

I broke through the bottom at about 3100' and the other guy was 500' below me.  I rode quarter breaks most of the time and have this 292' canopy so I came down slower.  We made it back to the airport safely.

My first and only square malfunction in Australia was on Feb 18, 1989 and the whole right side of the canopy was out but the cells were flat.  It put me in a fast spin and I gave it 3 good tries to inflate the cells, then cut away.  The Laser-250 is a wonderful little canopy but flies differently than my 9-cell Laser-9.  I made an approach on the peas but when I floored the toggles, the lines were too long and I overshot and did a feet and knees landing.  We had to shorten and trim the canopy's lines before a repack.  Still it was a soft landing.

I had been having end cell closure problems for months after and decided I had to find a different way to pack.  I went back to the original roll pack method from the 70's and it made all the difference in the world!  No more burns, all cells fully opened and no line twists.  The club was having a problem with that too, especially line twists on student 300' rigs and I made some test jumps with a roll pack and all the problems stopped.

With warmer weather the jump suits come off.  This shot shows me pushing off with my left arm for a style jump.  Pakenham, the rail line and the race track are easily seen.  I'm still jumping the Bell helmit I bought at Lowry AFB in 1964 and my 1980 Guardian FOX Pig system with Laser 9 main and Laser 250 reserve.

The next jump up (after the mally) four of us went out and two mallied and cut away, and I had a pilot chute in tow for 5 seconds!!  I figured that it was in a dead space of air caused by my size (I'm 6'2") so I just sat up and it took off.   The 4th guy said he was at 1500 feet before he was fully convinced he was OK!

To top off the day, a student doing a 20 seconds delay had a mid-air with a pelican just as he was getting line stretch! Killed the poor thing and feathers everywhere!

I did get some notoriety in June of 1990.  A local magazine with a 25,000 distributing did a human interest story on me.  The publicity was great for me and the club but the local female groupie thing still didn't happen??  I guess I never will get that right?  Pity....

I've blown up the three photos of me.  The one with the red, white and blue canopy is so staged its sickening.  Below, Left to Right: cornball shot but its also of fellow POPS Dick Ryland; "lets see... just enough wind to put my worst enemy out and never see them again and finally this shot of me fighting with a student rig. Bloody students!

You will notice I still jump a ripcord for both the main and reserve and there's that International Parachutist Insignia on my chest.  Old habits die hard and if it works well why change.

I tried to get the photographer up in the plane but its like trying to get Peter Reith to go to a union fund-raising dinner! If your outside OZ you won't get that, so don't try!  :-)  As it turned out the winds were 20+ all day and I took the big photo on the magazine page the week before.  The lady on the left is "GIPP", the only female POPS member in the club at the time and the other figures' name escapes me.  He took off for Africa last I heard.

Other than these few weird times it was all good!  Best jumping of my life including the last jumps at Berick Airport before it closed for good. (Bloody Developers!)  The only bad times were when Billy Kenny had a stroke 50' off the ground and hammered in.  He will never jump again but he'se full of fire and can drive again now.  My good mate Vickie Smith broke an ankle and didn't jump much again but that was mostly because she married.  She complained her mother in law hounded her to stop jumping and be a good wife.  She met the mister when she did a demo jump into an event he was sponsoring.  She is missed at the DZ.

Pakenham is an excellent DZ with the best facilities in the State and worth the visit if your in this area. 

In 1993 I was forced back to the States by family problems and I went back to college for a computer science degree. 

In march 95, I ended up living with my X-Wife in that same house in Arvada that we bought in 1971.  Three years later in July 97 she was struck with cancer and I lost her 89 days later.  I promised her I'ed come back here and it has helped dealing with loosing her.

Honeymoon pictures in Disneyland and Travel Town 

Six weeks after I lost Pam I was again on a QANTAS flight home.  Terrible flight to begin with though.  At DIA (the awful new Denver airport), UNITED took their time trying to get my extra baggage checked in and I missed my flight by seconds.  They put me on another flight that broke down and I arrived at LAX 35 minutes before my QANTAS flight which left from TOM BRADLEY Terminal at the other end of the airport.  I finally made it to a flight that left an hour later.  As usual, United damaged my trunks and someone tried to break into another bag which had multiple seals on it.  Whether this happened at DIA or LAX is unknown.  On the original flight down in 1988 I had my Altmaster stolen out of my bags.

The original flight was to have gone through Auckland, but this one went through Sydney which is horrible!  If your coming down for the World Meet try like hell to get a California/Hawaii or Fiji/Melbourne or California/Auclkand/ Melbourne flight.  Anyway, friends in Auckland made the trip to the airport for a visit for nothing.  Once on QANTAS, the world got much better.  I know I'm Aussiecentric but they have better service, better people and better food than all the rest that fly here.

I got back to Pakenham on the third weekend back and things had changed a lot.  A NOMAD was added to the stable with the 206 and Islander.

A new hanger was going up, a jet fuel pump installed, new bunkhouse and latrine building and lots of new shaded area were built.

Not much of the old gang left but when I got to the airport.  The few I knew came over for a welcome in true aussie style.  Of the POPS oldies, only Dick Ryland was left that I knew of and he was just packing now.  He hurt his knees in a glider crash.

Australia is an incredible place with mostly incredible people and in many ways the DZ at Pakenham is pure Australia.  The DZ goes back to the 50's and someone I'm sure was living my adventures at Pakenham.  The canopies, the modifications, the daring jumps and experiments and its own cult of famous jumpers.  When I got back from the States the few people I knew that were still there treated me like I never left.  Now that's Australia isn't it, once a mate, always a mate.

There's new aircraft and modern gear most of which we never would of thought of jumping ourselves with out weeks of training.  Now students are jumping things like squares and pigs, the domain of only the best of the best in the 50's, 60's or even the 70's.

I have heard more than a few of the older jumpers say they quit because it wasn't a challenge anymore.  Everything is too easy and even yuppies can jump now.  Maybe they're right, but each jumper and each jump is a world unto itself.  You, the earth, the sky and the wind..... (and maybe the occasional Pelican....RIP).

Pakenham is away from the city lights and all the stars, even the Milky Way is visible with the naked eye.  I remember one night there was a party in the hanger.  Music was playing, people were dancing, singing horribly off key,  telling lies or generally, in the finest tradition of skydiving, making a two way from 4500' into a 50 way from the Space Shuttle!  I was outside looking at the sky and stars through the Telemetre.  The universe, or at least the southern universe was at my feet.  I walked away from the hanger a bit and looked to see the airport, the idle planes and the jet black sky, all under the shinning SOUTHERN CROSS.  I had hoped some day to show my Pam all of this and the Cross but that can never be now.  I kept my promise to her to come back.  She knew I would be happier and better off here. 

When I look back at the hanger and see the lights and hear the people it could have been 1963.  The people are different, the gear different and the attitudes of the day are different but one thing will never change.  The next morning, somewhere between the ground I stand on and the stars above there will be a group of people who will do something totally unnatural, defying gravity and fate, but most of all choosing to live life more passionately than the average bloke.  They will reach out and live in a realm, however briefly, normally only populated by the birds.  They will smell the air and feel it on their face and live a life most never consider. 

Some like myself will sit in the plane quite calm, looking out and enjoying the scenery while others sit there scared witless but ready to jump.  I can still remember those feelings and in a small way miss them.  I felt more alive than ever before in my life in those early days at Lakewood and Ft. Sill and Frederick, and I'm sure that being able to function with the fear got me through Viet Nam alive.  A part of me envies those students for their feelings and the challenges facing them.

I hope this website helps anyone who reads it to understand how the sport developed and why this furry old Yank chooses to live so far from the Rocky Mountains.  My experiences are unique but there are thousands of men and woman like me with their own stories to tell.  I hope some day they tell them.  If not then their lives and experiences will be lost forever.

Advance Australia Fair.....

Student Class watching the Student X-300 (Comet 300) canopy

Experienced Pea Pit

Last modified on 17 January 2000

Australian Parachute Federation
Commando Skydivers