by Kirk Wennerstrom

"Don't scare the skydiver!" I'm riding in Jeff Hersom's Cessna 150, "Gremlin", as we take off from Clinton Municipal airport. With the crowd watching Jeff performs a somewhat sporty departure that, frankly, unnerves me. For I am simply sitting on the floor of his plane, the copilot's seat and yoke removed, a seat-belt across my lap. 

A trained pilot can no longer be a blissful passenger,  and directly in front of me an empty hole in the instrument panel reminds me that I literally have no control. Hence, the scolding. "You can scare a skydiver?" Jeff asks, somewhat amused. "Yes!" I reply. "Below 1,000 feet I'm just a passenger along for the ride, too low to bail out. Above that I can save myself. So please fly nice until we reach jump altitude." So here I am planning to skydive into the Cessna 150/152 International Fly-In, and Jeff is already having fun at my expense. It takes a while to climb to the planned jump altitude of 4,000 feet AGL. I pass the time by carefully turning around so that I'm now facing backwards and kneeling on the floor. I spend more time preflighting my gear, checking to make sure nothing has become snagged or exposed, that all the straps are tight and handles in place. A few more minutes of circling pass while Moline Approach warns us of traffic passing underneath. Finally, we're lined up on jump run, headed into the prevailing wind. Our groundspeed thus reduced, we have plenty of time to check the exit spot and make corrections. Show time! Jeff puts the plane in a right slip and I pop the door open. Immediately it gets noisy and windy in the cockpit. A look straight down confirms we're right over the 'X' of runways and upwind of the hangar ramp, my intended landing spot. Another glance to check for any stray aircraft underneath and I begin climbing out. I stick one foot outside and the slipstream immediately tugs at it, grabbing it like I dipped my foot into the water from a fast-moving boat. I force my foot against the wind and onto the step, put a second foot outside, then slide sideways so I'm sitting on the doorsill, facing backwards. A final nod to Jeff. He announces "Jumper away!" while I extend both arms outside, tuck in my elbows and roll out the door. Woohoo! Freefall! I end up on my back and looking up, I notice that Jeff keeps Gremlin's belly pretty clean. Plane and engine noise recede quickly above me. I roll over and face the ground. There's no feeling of falling, but rather of floating on a cushion of the air that roars about me. Relaxed in a slightly spread-eagle form I'm nice and stable, able to adjust my position with slight movements of arms and legs. I feel like Superman! Alas, I am falling. And fast. The audible altimeter begins a frantic beeping in my ear to signal I'm at 2,500' AGL, a mere runway-length from terra firma.

Unless I do something now I will firmly meet terra in 15 seconds. Right hand reaches behind to grasp the pilot chute handle while the left hand extends forward, balancing the aerodynamic forces and keeping me from tumbling headlong during deployment. Right hand makes a quick toss of the pilot chute to clear air alongside, left hand mirrors the motion as I resume my stable freefall position and wait for things to happen. Within seconds a tug at my shoulders, I'm stood upright and feel a bungee-like deceleration as 170 square-feet of nylon vigorously shakes and snaps above me like a flag in a hurricane and then sudden quiet as the wind rush dies and I'm seemingly stopped, comfortably suspended 2,000' above the green fields of Iowa. I reach up to the steering  toggles and give both a quick yank to release the deployment brakes. The canopy surges forward and I'm now a glider, zooming around the skies over Clinton. A few turns and spirals to lose altitude, and then, just like any airplane, I'm at pattern altitude and entering the  downwind. I fly a right-hand pattern to keep me over the grass and away from the crowd and hangars. Like any glider, I play the base and final turns to land on target. Line up into the wind on final, then wait, wait, and pull both toggles down to my waist to flare for a tip-toe landing.

Welcome to Clinton! Thanks for dropping in!

Kirk Wennerstrom

The Cessna 150-152 Club and Cessna 150-152 Fly-In Foundation are 501(c)3 non-profit organizations. Chicago, Illinois

Copyright 2024 Cessna 150-152 Club. All Rights Reserved. 

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software