The Sky is the limit for Essex Army Cadets.
On Friday the 2nd August 24 Cadets and adults from Essex Army Cadet force headed out on coaches from Pirbright to head to Netheravonm, the home of the Army Parachuting Association, Their mission, to Jump out of an airplane at 4,000 ft for the first time.
Our Brave cadets had volunteered for this trip and had been mentally preparing for the challenge for some time, One of our Volunteer adults was equally as prepared Our Public relations Officer SMI Stephen Davis was slightly less prepared having only been told the day before that he was to help cover the story and that ‘Immersive journalism’ would be the best way for this happen!
Armed with his Camera and sense of humour as well as quite a few bags of sweets SMI Davis Joined the brave youngsters on the minibus. The group had been told that Friday would be a day of training and that the jump would occur on Saturday, However on arrival at the Parachuting School the rules changed!.
The Chief instructor pointed out that the flying conditions were perfect with a land wind speed of about 20M.P.H and that if the students could listen well and learn fast they would be able to jump later that day! Well that is exactly what happened!
Despite the gruelling week that the cadets had already had which included for a 72 hour Field training exercise which had ended only hours before leaving Pirbright, the plucky youngsters got straight into the feel of Parachute training.
Suits were issues and classroom lessons ensued cadets saw videos of how it was done and then even more videos of how it should not be done! After seeing some of the films 17 year old Cadet Lilly Smith of Basildon said “it’s been a yoyo of emotions I was sacred and the start of training gave me confidence but now seeing some of the mistake films I’m scared again”.
This theme of Mixed emotions fear anxiety elation and confusion ran until lunch for the group of 24. After a good meal it was time to get physical, there were inspections of the ‘Drop Zone’ to make, lectures on wind and wind speed, conversations about altitude and then mock up training.
Using ‘fake planes’ the cadets started to practise their drills from getting into the aircraft on the runway up to exiting the aircraft in mid-air. The cadets where drilled in a good ‘exit shape’ and practised the drills for a ‘safe normal drop’ they were repeatedly chanting the four big rules for a nice ‘normal’ jump:
- Is it big?
- Is it rectangular?
- Is it damage free?
- Can I control it?
Scenarios and practise continued and eventually practise of less then perfect situations begun. The cadet where taught about kit and equipment and how to use emergency ‘chutes. Then came Landing drills.
Jumping of a ramp there was practises of ‘good landings’ and then practises of ‘hard’ Landings, the cadets where shown how to roll and how to ‘safely’ crash!
When they had the landings practised time and again it was time to talk about when to leave the plane, the discussions at first involved the drop zone but then led on to talking about emergency exits in case of aircraft failure. This again was a cause of great nervousness for our students.
Finally there came a chance for mock harness sessions, again skills where practised and emotions mixed from fear to joy and getting the drills and right being told they had landed safe!!
A pause for thought a last minute ‘anxious wee’ then it was written tests. Every one passed, some joked wishing they had not passed, humour it seemed was now the order of the day to quell or to hide everyone’s nerves.
The first ‘Stick’ got their packs, helmets, Altimeters and made last minute checks. Some phoned their mums! One phoned a local radio station to give an edgy interview, then we loaded up on the first of three planes that would see the 24 falling from the sky.
The engines rumbled too late to back out. The mix of fear, excitement and anticipation on the plane was so tangible it almost felt like an extra person! We were up, the ground fell away, an so soon did we! As each Cadet moved to sit in the door of the plane, with their legs hanging over the edge at approaching 100mph, the ‘Load Master’ made last minute kit checks then after a ‘Parachuting handshake’ (and there were some very shaky hands!) the first Cadet ‘Jumped’ there were squeals from everyone else in the plane as they watched the first of us deploying a bright canopy and descending gracefully towards the ground on a flight that pattern of approximately 5 minutes that was under the control of the individual who was being spoken to over the radio by Air Traffic Control in the hope of following the correct path.
On the ground below the 16 who had not yet taken to sky watched with mouths gaping. One by one the first stick touched down. Some closer to the intended landing site then others, Every one landing expressed the same thing. With comments like “wow”, “that was amazing” “I was so scared I did not think I could do it but I’m so glad I did”.
This cycle repeated it self twice more with the 2 other sticks flying jumping landing. Many landed perfectly a few took stumbles left of right and had to roll as per their training.
When we had all landed and the suits where off it was high fives and excited scream all round. A through de-brief of the days actions where given and the cadets all concluded it was the most amazing experience of their lives. The day had been a long one starting at 0600 with reveille in Pirbright and now pushing 2100 in Netheravon, there was really only one thing left that cadets needed to conclude a perfect day and that was food, the consensus was MacDonald’s where over burgers and cokes the ‘invincible’ feeling cadets discussed their escapades, and looked forward too seeing all their friends at camp so they could tell further tales of their glorious flight.