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Scary Stories from the Old Days

December 23, 2006

I 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.


Does '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 from disengaging.

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 I did.

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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