Scary Stories from the Old Days
December 23, 2006
frequent a web forum known as DropZone.com where skydivers from around the
world meet to talk jumping, talk equipment, argue politics and religion
and tell stories from their jumping experiences.
One subject thread was "Scary Stories from the Old
Days" to which I responded with the following story.
'scary jump' cover reactions among the spectators?
In 1963 I was jumping in Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia, at a place
called the Troop Farm which wasn't an actual drop zone; it was just a huge
pasture the owner had allowed us to use. The location had no airstrip and
we had to drive 10 miles to the local airport to get on the jump plane.
At the time, I owned a business doing R&D in the pyrotechnic and munitions
field and was working on smoke grenade delivery systems for jumping. We
were working on devices to replace the military surplus M-18.
I had an old smoke bracket I made from bending and banging on a metal
strap from an Army bunk which allowed my boot heel to fit inside the U and
the grenade to be held without touching the boot. Because some grenades
got VERY hot we didn't want them to burn our boots. More than one jumper
learned that jumping with HC white smoke was a bad idea. I was
experimenting with a bracket and ignition system during a planned 4-man
exit out of a Cessna 182. [In the early 60s, RW hadn't evolved to the
point our group understood body flying. We were still trying to pass a
baton (an old broom stick with tire tape) and thought it was a real thrill
to see anyone else in freefall.]
This particular Sunday my mother, my sister and some neighbors came out to
watch. I told my mom that I'd be jumping with the red smoke and the other
guys were jumping green or blue. [Remember how lousy some M-18 colors were
for jumping?! My company, PyroDynamics, Inc. was working with Steve Snyder
Enterprises to develop ignition systems and color/burn mixtures that
didn't burn too hot or too long...specifically for jumping.]
When we got to the airport the pilot said he had overfilled his plane and
he could take only three of us to 12,500. Since cell phones didn't exist
back then we had no way to communicate back to the DZ that only three guys
would be jumping instead of the planned four.
On jump run I put my right foot out on the step and pulled the pin on the
grenade. Apparently, I hadn't flattened the pin well enough for it to
extract easily. I had to hank and pull very hard which loosened and
twisted the bracket so the grenade slipped to under my foot. Plus, the
grenade didn't light because something was hung up and keeping the handle
As I was screwing around with the grenade the other guys were yelling,
"The spot...the spot...where's the friggin' spot?!" I grabbed the
non-burning grenade and bracket assembly from under my foot and flipped it
into the plane as I moved out over the wheel. When the grenade landed
inside the plane, something--the jarring or banging--caused the grenade to
finally ignite and the cockpit filled with thick oily red smoke. The pilot
was screaming "Get that ****** thing out of here I can't see!"
As I fell away from the plane looking up I saw the other two guys and my
smoking grenade leave the plane. All three grenades were burning with mine
not attached to me.
Because of the 'situation' with my grenade on jump run we weren't even
close to the spot. Maybe a mile or two off...way off!. Remember: 7-TU
main...not a PC or a square!
Why is this a scary story? Because my mother and my relatives--expecting
four jumpers--saw me fall to my death beyond a distant hill while trailing
red smoke. For at least an hour my mom thought I was dead. She became
hysterical because the other guys got back to the packing area well before
Strangely, no family member ever came out to watch me jump after that.
If you have comments or question regarding this
document send email to me at the following address sayers at aicommand.com
by replacing the 'at' with '@' and removing the spaces.
© 2006 Bernard Sayers
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© 2006 Bernard Sayers