Tandem freefalling from UAE skies
Fear is an excellent emotion.
It tells you in no uncertain physical and mental terms when something which may hurt is about to happen. Your throat goes dry, you may need to lick your lips, your stomach contracts. The need to perform certain bodily functions also becomes more pressing. You start breathing faster. Your vision narrows. Things seem to happen slower.
The thing about fear is that it invariably also precedes the accomplishment of activities that make you feel really good once you've achieved them. Activities like skydiving.
Mention jumping (or being pushed) out of a perfectly serviceable aeroplane to most people and you will get one of two reactions. Either 'I'd never do that – it’s too dangerous', or 'that's something I've always wanted to do'.
One of the best places in the Middle East or for that matter in the world to take the plunge into skydiving is at the Umm Al Quwain Aeroclub dropzone. Less than an hour from Dubai, it is a leisurely drive on the Emirates highway, taking the well signposted turnoff at intersection 93, through the new industrial area, then right onto the old coastal road towards Ras Al Khaimah.
A large four engined Russian Antonov jet permanently on display marks the airfield. A walk into the office reveals the club secretary, and after some form filling it’s a stroll to the hangar and main rig packing area. There you'll meet your tandem master, an experienced professional skydiver with years of experience and thousands of jumps.
The safety briefing takes about 15 minutes, in which time the participant is given a rough idea of what to expect during the tandem skydive as well an overview of his or her responsibilities as a tandem passenger.
Tandem skydiving is a mature sport which has stringent equipment and safety requirements. The actual skydiving rig (as most skydivers refer to it) consists of a harness and container inside which is packed the main and reserve canopies (parachutes in layman terms). This is worn by the tandem master. The passenger wears a harness with quick release attachments, which is clipped onto the front of the tandem master's harness. The rig is stringently tested and certified and has a number of safety features, one of which is an automatic activation device which will open the reserve canopy in the unlikely event that someone forgets to deploy the main chute.
Most people elected to have their experience recorded, so another experienced skydiver armed with a video and a still camera on his helmet follows and records the passenger’s journey from the briefing through to the landing back down to earth.
After the briefing it is out to the waiting aircraft, either a Cessna 182 or the larger GA8 Skyvan.
The climb to altitude takes about half an hour, during which time you are free to contemplate your fate, lick your inexplicably dry lips as well as enjoy the view, which on a good day is spectacular. About a thousand feet before reaching the drop altitude, the tandem master will connect the back of your harness to the front of his and do a few final checks - ensuring you are securely attached and that your goggles are properly in place.
The run in for the drop at 9,000 feet takes about a minute and the cameraman 'spots' by sticking his head out of the open door to look at the ground and make sure the aeroplane is correctly positioned. Then the pilot throttles the engine back to slow the plane down, while the cameraman climbs out and holds onto the outside of the aircraft as he waits for the tandem master to position the two of you in the door.
The noise and physical force of the slipstream will take your breath away. The view at the edge of almost three kilometres of space is guaranteed to make your heart beat a little faster, in case you have been unusually calm up until this point.
You will feel the tandem master rocking you back once then forward and then into space....................
Most people, during their first skydive, experience a certain degree of sensory overload for the first few seconds of freefall, but once you are stable in freefall, this subsides. After the initial tumble from the door, your tandem master deploys a small drogue parachute which serves to slow your freefall speed to that of a normal skydiver (about 120mph) as well as stabilise the two of you. The cameraman will be falling in formation with you and the most important thing to remember at this stage is to smile for the cameras - you need to look cool when you show your friends the video!
You will experience a few turns to the left and right and after about 20 seconds of freefall, at about 5,000 feet, the main parachute is deployed. The sudden deceleration pulls the two of you out of windswept freefall into quietly floating under the large canopy. Many first time jumpers have difficulty in deciding whether they enjoy the freefall or the canopy ride more - both are unique and very different experiences.
It will take a few minutes to reach the ground. Just before landing you will be reminded to lift your legs parallel to the ground to avoid tripping up the tandem master. The parachute is flared much the same as an aeroplane and in a light headwind, you will touch down with virtually no forward speed.
Congratulations are in order from the tandem master, cameraman and all your friends and family spectators! And maybe now is the time for a quick change of clothing!