107 Aberdeen Squadron Air Cadets
Location: Past & Future -> Cadet Personal Stories -> Parachute Course - Sgt Stuart Whitehead

Parachute Course - Sgt Stuart Whitehead

After applying for the ATC Parachute Course 2009 in April, I was delighted when I was offered a place.  Out of the hundreds of applicants, only sixty cadets were offered this opportunity to experience a static line jump from three and a half thousand feet.  We were to be given instruction by a physical training instructor (or PTI) on the correct techniques to be used, then after sitting an exam, we would be flown up in their plane and jump out.

When I arrived at St Georges Barracks (an isolated transit base in Oxfordshire) I was shown to my room, which, compared to some other bases I have been on, was rather nice.  I was sharing this with seven other guys from the UK, which gave me a good chance to meet other people.  Sunday night was very relaxed, too - after getting a quick briefing from the camp admin officer, we all mingled and had a few games of cards before going to bed, ready for a tiring day of training.

Most of us were up at 0630 hrs to have breakfast at the mess before boarding a coach to travel to RAF Weston-On-The-Green, where the course was being held.  When we arrived, a plane full of professional sky divers were falling from the sky, before opening their parachutes and floating to the ground.  It was a spectacular sight, and we all cringed at the thought of doing this later on in the week.  We made our way to the hangar, where we were split into five groups, each with an instructor.  My PTI was called James, and he had been teaching parachuting for the last two or three years.

James began by showing us the equipment to be used - the parachute and container, an altimeter, helmet and a radio.  He pulled the parachute out of its bag and deployed it on the floor, explaining to us how it will deploy in the air.  We were also shown where the cut-away pad and the reserve handle were located.  The parachute had an automatic device included in it, which opened the reserve canopy if we were traveling too fast at 1000 feet, which gave us all peace of mind.  After this, we were given a jumpsuit so we could begin our practical techniques.

The practical instruction felt a bit silly, but it was important for the jump.  We all practiced our exits and the position that we needed to assume, while shouting “One thousand, Two thousand, Three thousand, Four thousand, Check Canopy.”  We were promised that we would practice the ‘compulsory count’ so many times that we would be reciting it in our sleep.  Once we had perfected this on the ground, we were taken to their mock plane doors.  Here, we practiced jumping out of the plane as if it was the real thing.

Once the parachute opened, it was important that we knew how to check the controls and canopy, and if there was a malfunction, what the correct reserve drill was.  Therefore, we moved into a classroom for a few briefings by the instructors.  This was followed by some more practice, this time using the ‘reserve drill harnesses.’ In unison, we were all to ‘jump’ out of the plane, complete the compulsory count and check our canopy, only to find a malfunction.  Cue the malfunction drill, “Malfunction, Look, Locate, Cut, Away, Pull Reserve, Arch.”  We all became experts at this. We needed to be, just in case the main canopy did fail.

The final instruction we received was about our landing patterns, and how to land the parachute.  There were three main heights that we needed to worry about - 1500 feet, 800 feet and 500 feet.  These were the heights that we were to begin our downwind, crosswind and upwind legs of our landing.  At fifteen feet we were to half flare the canopy (bring the steering toggles down to your hips) then at five feet, full flare (bring the steering toggles to full arm extension.)  We practiced this by running about a grass area, pretending that we were flying the parachute.  To make sure that we had grasped everything that we needed to know, everyone was required to sit an exam.  We were now ready to jump.

After another relaxing night at the barracks, we had to get up bright and early to leave for 0700 hrs which meant, unfortunately, that we missed breakfast.  Upon arriving at Weston-on-the-Green, we were all split into six lifts for the day - I was the third lift to go up.  There wasn’t much time to relax, though.  After a quick refresher, the first two groups were kitted up with their parachutes ready to jump.  The first group was loaded into the plane - a twin turbine Dornier G92.  They were flown up to three and a half thousand feet and the first guy jumped out, which gave us a fright.  His parachute didn’t open when it should have, but it turned out that it was an instructor free falling for a bit - phew!

Slowly, the cadets were released over the drop zone and floated to the ground. When they returned to the spectator’s area, they had grins stretching from cheek to cheek.  Now that their parachutes were freed up, it was my turn to get kitted up.  Up until this point, I hadn’t been nervous at all, but that all changed.  We were loaded into the plane, and flown up to the jump height.  As I was the third person to jump, I was sitting on the bench looking out of the door when the first two cadets jumped.  The rush of a cold air made me even more nervous, but there was no turning back now.


As the plane circled to get into position, I sat against the wall opposite the door.  I was then told, “In the door.”  At this point, I had one of those “What on earth am I doing?” moments, as I looked down at the ground.  That was a long way down...  The next command was “Look up” - the last thing I would hear before I jumped.  As the instructor shouted “Jump,” I pushed away from the door.  This was the scariest part to the whole jump, feeling the rush of air as I fell away from the plane.  I made it to “One thousand” before I became silent with excitement - that short moment was the most thrilling thing I have ever done.

As the parachute opened, I looked up and checked the canopy - It was okay, so I could continue flying.  It was quite an experience floating about and looking down at the ground.  I was only at three thousand feet so I had time to turn and twist with the parachute.  At 1500 feet, I made my way to the edge of the drop zone for my downwind leg, then crosswind at 800 feet.  After turning into my upwind leg, the parachute started moving very slowly - perfect for landing.  Many other cadets had landed flat on their face, so I was determined to have a good landing.  As I approached the ground, I flared the canopy and landed very softly on my feet.

So that was it, one of the best experiences of my life.  Not only did I get the chance to jump out of a plane, but I also met many new people from all over the country.  If you are lucky enough to give the opportunity a go in cadets, it will be one of the best decisions you’ll make.

Sgt Stuart Whitehead