Skydiving with the Red Devils over South Cerney (with video)
This morning I fell out of an aeroplane from 13,000 feet without a parachute… …fortunately I was attached to an elite ‘jumpmaster’, Private Danny ‘The Tango’ Wood, from the world renowned ‘Red Devils – Parachute Regiment Freefall Team’, who did have a parachute, and what an amazing experience it was!
So why on earth would a person scared of heights and not keen on flying attempt this insane feat?
Well it all started back in July when Explore Gloucestershire received an email enquiry from Adrian Wilbrew from ‘Click and Jump’, requiring extra exposure for his company and the ‘Red Devils’ in and around Gloucestershire.
Instead of emailing back (usual procedure), for some strange reason I decided to ring. To this day I still don’t know why I rang, perhaps morbid fascination or maybe an underlying curiosity into why people do such mad things, but whatever it was, didn’t matter as I did ring and that was my first mistake.
Whilst chatting to Adrian about the various opportunities available with ‘Click & Jump’, it was good to hear that he contacted Explore Gloucestershire as we kept appearing top of many search engines with an array of searches he’d requested – nice to know we’re doing a good job!
Towards the end of the conversation I made the second mistake of offering to do an ‘on-the-ground’ review about Click and Jump and the Red Devils adventures in Gloucestershire, with the ‘no pressure’ option of participating if I felt like it. The next comment he made however did make me suspicious of this ‘no pressure’ option. He explained that when you’re 13,000 feet up in an aircraft there’s a lot of noise and when it’s time to jump the words “No!, No!, No!” sound a lot like “GO!, GO!, GO!”.
Prior to the skydive with 'The Tango' before being led (dragged) onto the plane!
Days flew by with a holiday in between, and before I knew it, the day of reckoning was almost upon me, but due to the great British weather (rain again), it was put back 48 hours - I had a stay of execution some might say. Last night though I was in bed by 8.30pm and quieter than normal (so I’ve been told) as there was still the slight chance of racing towards the ground at over 120mph!
D-Day (Dive Day!) – Thursday 7 August 2008
I awoke up this morning vaguely remembering the nightmare I had last night. I was travelling on a plane strapped to my tandem instructor. Just before jumping, I told him I couldn’t go through with it. The next scene was from the eyes of the parachute instructor (minus his pillion), looking back at the plane as it exploded in mid air – with me on board!
Was my sub-conscience aware of something I wasn’t? Did the fear of flying add to the apprehension, causing butterflies the size of swifts to fly a-mock in my stomach? Was the parachute going to open? Whatever was going on in my head, my mind was probably accepting that within a few hours my whole body was going to experience something amazing, something so special that it would stay in my memories for life.
On arrival at the 29th Regiment, based at South Cerney, near Cirencester, we were greeted by a young 'Red Devil', who checked the list of jumpers for the day. To my relief my name wasn’t on it. This second stay of execution was short lived - after a quick phone call I was told to proceed to the 'Red Devils' office and report to Lance Corporal Jimmy Graham, who’d take it from there.
The nervous smile was purely because I knew people would laugh at the headgear - well aren't you?
I found L. C. Jimmy in the office with two other very fit-looking 'Red Devils', and within minutes, we were joined by Adrian from ‘Click and Jump’.
“Ah, ‘Titch’ (nickname from his Royal Marine days), your ‘Jumpers’ here!”, exclaimed the 'Red Devil' behind the desk.
That was it! I was jumping. My protest was short-lived and my pathetic excuses dismissed. I could have backed out there and then and not lost any face amongst members of Britain’s finest armed forces, but I didn’t. Male pride stepped in and I signed up there and then.
A short introduction by Major Paul Blair about the 'Red Devils' was followed by an instructional talk from Private Danny Wood. All jumpers were told clearly and concisely what the tandem skydive parachute jump was about, with strict safety instructions and procedures to follow. Practising some of the positions used for the skydive jump on the training room floor proved too much for me, as my lack of fitness caused the back of my right leg to spasm with cramp. I was reassured that this wouldn’t occur during the skydive, as we’d be falling through the air – it was purely to make sure that the correct ‘banana’ position was executed properly. A trip to the gym was definitely in order after the skydive.
After the 30 minute briefing I was paired up with Private Danny Wood, with over 3,000 solo jumps and more than 600 tandem skydives under his belt, he’s worthy of the term ‘jumpmaster’, and I felt lucky that I was attached to him for the experience.
Ooops, I just fell out of a plane at 13,000 feet!
Squeezing into the ‘Trainee Red Devil’ jump suit, I was given a pair of goggles and a rather unflattering head garment, which not only made me look like a ‘conehead’, but something which would have been at home at an S&M party! No trainee skydivers were allowed designer helmets – accidentally knocking the instructor out with a backwards headbutt during the skydive wouldn’t have been the best thing to do.
Myself, Danny and ‘Titch’, (who was filming my skydive experience parachute jump), made our way with two other tandem skydivers to the grassy runway. As soon as the light aircraft arrived we were swiftly piled into the plane for our upward journey to the drop zone 13,000 feet above.
Although consuming a bottle of water before entering the plane, my mouth was drier than Danny’s sense of humour. During the fifteen-minute flight Danny’s calm persona and humorous banter, relaxed the anxiety running through me.
It was agreed we’d be the first tandem skydive out, and ‘Titch’ slid the door open and took position on the outside of the plane waiting for us to go. It was at this point, as I looked down towards the earth miles below, an unknown fear took hold of my body, a fear I’d never encountered before in my life - I was simply petrified!
The next bit seemed to go on for ages as we shuffled our way to the plane’s exit. With my head right back (as instructed) and my eyes shut (not instructed!!!), we left the plane…
Thumbs up if you're enjoying yourself - Danny looks petrified!
It felt like we were tumbling for ages before I got the tap on my shoulder (the cue for me to open my arms) and as we fell two words can only explain the emotions that I experienced for the forty-five second skydive - euphoria and exhilaration.
The freefall was pretty much a blur and the second tap on the shoulders told me to put my arms back in (although from the video they didn’t seem to make it all the way out anyway) and I saw ‘Titch’ who was capturing the moments of my skydive, move away from us - the parachute was released. From over 120mph we slowed down to a much gentler twenty feet per second, and it was at this point I noticed that my previously dry mouth was wet from the moisture of the clouds we had past though during the 6,000 foot freefall descent.
It took a couple of minutes for my body parts to return to their rightful places and my mind to settle after the skydive freefall, but at this point at around 6,000 feet, I took in the breath taking views which lay beneath me, over the lakes of South Cerney and the Cotswolds beyond.
Enjoying the magnificent views over the lakes near South Cerney
During this much more subdued and slower descent, Danny let me take control of the parachute for a short time. Pulling heavily to the left or right enabled me to twist the parachute like a true stunt professional – again a fantastic feeling and great part of the experience. Eventually after five or six minutes from exiting the plane, with both knees bent and feet right up, we landed with surprising ease and lightness.
As I took the ‘lovely’ headgear and goggles off my head, I realised that the changing air-pressure had impaired my hearing. By holding my nose and gently blowing, my hearing returned to normal after a few minutes. I made my way back to the eagerly awaiting family, grinning like a Cheshire cat and feeling on top of the world. The ‘doubters’, me included, were amazed I’d actually gone through with it.
I can laugh about it now - well wouldn't you?
The evening after the skydive
Ironically, prior to the jump, we were lucky enough to be invited to our friend’s holiday cottage situated at one of the new developments in the lakes around South Cerney, and it is here that I write this review.
Circling above me is the same plane that took me up this morning, with it’s new cargo of skydivers ready to plummet through the skies above to fulfil their ambitions, desires or dreams. I still can’t believe that was me a few hours earlier.
I’d like to thank Danny and all the other 'Red Devils' for making this one of the most amazing days ever, with a very special thank you to ‘Titch’ from ‘Click and Jump’ who made it happen. Their combined professionalism I’ll never forget and can only pass on to others who want to try different, fun and exciting activities and things to do in Gloucestershire, with the world renowned skydiving team.
I’d also like to thank my fellow tandem skydivers who included Ash Walters from Aldershot, whose skydiving experience was an 18th birthday present from his family. Also experiencing the day were a group of Luton Airport workers who raised thousands of pounds for the charity ‘Starlight Children’s Foundation’.
Skydive parachute jumps are a fun and fantastic way to raise money for charities and with ‘Click and Jump’ this could be a great opportunity for you to have a once in a lifetime experience as well as helping raise money for the charity of your choice. For more information visit 'Click & Jump'.
Jerry Davis Explore Gloucestershire 7 August 2008
Added 29 August
It’s been three weeks since I did the skydive jump and numerous friends and family have asked me the same question over and over again. “Would you do it again?” “Without a doubt – bring it on!”
Take a look at my skydive adventure over Gloucestershire...