HIGH JUMPERS OF THE SKY
DOROTHY G. BELL
In this, the third and final article of her series on the Royal Canadian Air Force, Miss Bell relates some amazing stories drawn from the experiences of men who have accustomed themselves to “hopping off from a speeding aeroplane into 20,000 feet of space with only the “skirt” of parachute between them and a hideous death.
FLIGHT-LIEUTENANT A. CARTER, of the Royal Canadian Air Force, climbed into his fur-lined flying suit, climbed to the rear cock-pit of his D.H.4.B., climbed as high into the blue as it would go, climbed out over the fuselage again and dropped into 20,000 feet of space. Falling with a downward velocity of 6720 feet a minute and a forward speed of eighty-five miles an hour, he spun, hurtled, somersaulted and twirled like a brokenwinged bird dropped from a sportsman’s gun. Then, suddenly, a great white umbrella snapped open above him; he was jerked right side up and began to sway gently to and fro and drift calmly and slowly earthwards. Seventeen minutes later he landed with a none too gentle thump on the frozen edge of Frankburg Lake, Alberta, six miles from the High River airdrome from whence he had made his ascent. He bumped along the ground for a few feet, rolled over three or four times, picked himself up and unconcernedly began to loosen the harness of his parachute.
“Were You Ever Alraid?” “Always,”
FACE to face with this airman whose 20,000 foot jump without the aid of oxygen, has been unequalled in any other .country, I gave him the question uppermost in my mindr ““What were your sensations?”
I crumpled mentally like his collapsed parachute when he shot me a pitying glance and replied coldly, “I didn’t have? any.”
“^lerë you unconscious?” and my question was put in all seriousness.
In" spite of his contagious chuckle I took no further issue with him. It was just possible, I thought, that he might suggest a live jump as proof. Instead, he began to explain calmly his lack of emotions.
“At that height,” he said, “or at any reasonable height of
there is no sensation of falling. The ground is too far away to give you the idea that it is coming up to meet you. Everything loses its, sense of trueness and you’ do-not know./., whether yöü are upside down or right side up.
There is no consciousness of speed—in fact the only impression you have is that you are quite stationary. Then you open the ‘skirt’ and there you are—on top of all your troubles!”
That one of the male species should deliberately choose a “skirt” to keep him out of trouble was something new. I faced the flier more squarely.
“Will you be quite frank?” I asked him.
His eyes which looked quite beyond you sometimes as if searching their accustomed distances, sparkled a bit.
“Yes,” he promised.
“Are you ever afraid when you make these jumps?”
Apparently this amazing man was going to spring one surprise after another. When one ex-
pected him to have sensations he denied them. thoroughly convinced through his lack of them that he wasn’t even human, he admitted fear.
“There is always one terrible moment just before I go over the side,” he continued. “If you swim you’ll know what I mean. It is like that moment of awful hesitancy just before plunging into cold water. I don’t mind admitting that in my high altitude jump last summer I climbed out over the side three times before I could bring myself to the point of jumping.”
Considering the fact that his fingers were so cold that he was unable to feel the rip cord of the parachute—his one slim hold on life—it is rather astonishing to a layman that he could force himself to make the plunge at all.
His First Jump
FLIGHT-LIEUTENANT CARTER was the first Canadian to make a parachute jump from an aeroplane and in his first training school jump at Rantoul, Illinois, he confesses to another and greater fear even than the one that grips him just before he jumps—the fear of being afraid. Day and night it haunted him so that before he had finished his training he began to bother the officer in charge to let him jump. When at last he gained permission he was the first of his class to go up—and down! The story of that first jump, in Carter’s own words, is onè of frank confession;
“It was a bright, sunny m^m&^äifd the boys were all gathered around the machine t"o watch me take off. I don’t think l am any more afraid of material things than anybody else, but I suffered tortures that morning and several days previous to it, throf^gji another kind of fear. I was afraid I would be afraid when the actual time came to make the jump. Every student making the jump was supposed to hold the rip cord of the parachute in his right hand and fall several hundred feet before
pulling it and opening the parachute. Knowing myself better than anyone else could know me, I couldn’t imagine myself holding the rip-cord very long after I had jumped, so while I girded on my harness, fussing with the buckles and straps more to hide my nervousness than anything, I formulated a plan in my own mind which I hoped would keep me from pulling that blessed cord too soon and making a fool of myself. Just how near it came to making a corpse out of me I don’t know, but it seemed at the time a narrow escape.
“With everything ready I climbed into the rear cockpit, and the pilot, an experienced man in giving jumpers the air, took off and climbed 3000 feet. When he gave me the signal to climb out on to the specially constructed jumping step on the side of the plane, I was too busy putting my carefully concocted scheme into effect to feel any fear. Snatching my handkerchief out of my pocket, I slipped it through the rip cord ring. When I got the final signal to jump, I jumped, but it was army discipline and nothing else that pushed me off that plane. As I cleared the side I seized the handkerchief which held the rip cord in my teeth and fell with both hands empty. That, I felt sure, would prevenLme from the disgrace of opening the ‘skirt’ too soon. ~
“It did, for when I reached for the cord I couldn’t find it. Owing to the fact that I was somersaulting rapidly, everything was out of true and I. could not even find my mouth. For a minute—or I supp'ose it was only a second, though it seemed an hour—panic had.agjq/and the pilot following me down told me afterwar&fethat my face betrayed the fact. Then ^without anÿ reafji|ation of what I was doing I found myfeelf patting,zrjÿsèif all over from my heels to my head -itt/a,fife'nzied^e’ajeh for the one all important part of nfe. . TThe sqewgjd any hand encountered the handkerchief that-held ti» precious ripcord I yanked it with all my remaining strength:’ When a sudden jerk told me’Yhât'^he parachute had ' opened
instead of repeating again the silly phrase ‘Good morning, Peter,’ which had been running through my muddled brain, I breathed a loud ‘Thank God,' and landed with a splash a few minutes later in a shallow pond.” Flight-Lieutênant H. R. Harris, an American pilot, who was forced to take an emergency jump while flight-testing a new machine, had a similar experience to Carter’s. After jumping from the plane he looked down at his feet to locate the rip cord, which he had failed to seize. In reality he was looking up, for his feet were pointing skyward and he was spinning like a top. He found what he thought was the ring. Nothing happened. Three times he did this before he realized that he was pulling the leg strap. Even in those moments of terror, however, he kept his head. Realizing his mistake, he allow-ed his hand to travel upwards along his body until he found the ring.
Until the completion of Flight - Lieutenant Carter’s training two years ago at the Technical In-
structional School of the United States'Air Service at Rantoul, Illinois, parachutes had never been used in the Royal Canadian Air Force. Since that training it has been Carter’s job to prove to his Canadian colleagues the value of the life saving device and the sanity of making it a part of the standard flying equipment.
Strangely enough, it has not been an easy task, for up until a year or two ago a Canadian air pilot would as soon have gone up with the proverbial “white feather” attached to him as he would have gone up clad in the life saving contrivance. It would have been considered a distinct slur on his courage and flying ability. Thanks to Carter s persistent and frequent demonstration jumps in every Canadian flying station, his lectures and his own convictions, fool-hardiness is no longer considered necessary to bravery—even in the flying corps The day of indiscriminate flying is past and it has become as safe as it is possible to make it.
In his demonstration work Flight-Lieutenant Carter makes two types of jumps. One is the more ordinary free jump where the jumper leaps clear of the machine and opens the parachute on his way to earth. The other is what is known in flying vernacular as a “pull-off” and the jumper in this case opens the parachute before he leaves the plane. When the skirt catches the wind he is jerked off.
It was during a “pull off” demonstration over Jericho Beach, Vancouver, that Carter gave one of his most daring exhibitions of skilful parachute jumping. The only place where it was possible to jump was over the Jericho Golf Course, just behind the air base. As it was a small course and bounded by the city at both ends, a fringe of heavy timber on one side and English Bay on the other, it meant that the jump would have to be made with exceptional precision and care. In order to do this the demonstrator took the air at an exceptionally low, and consequently dangerous, altitude. Jericho golfers are so used to sea planes flying over their heads that a whole fleet of them wouldn’t cause them to take their eye off the ball for a minute, but when Carter descended from mid-air and landed in the middle of the first green, making his hole in one with accuracy, they were put decidedly off their game.
Airmen know, through technical training and in many cases through war experience, that anything dropped from a plane in motion will carry the speed of the machine itself for several minutes. Yet when Carter in the course of his parachute lectures told the Canadian airmen that a jumper is in no danger of being hit by the plane even when jumping in front of it, they developed a decided “from Missouri” attitude. In order to prove to them the truth of his contention he made a sensational leap at Lulu Island, Vancouver, when he jumped from the front cockpit of a flying boat. The plane was traveling eightyfive miles an hour when he made the jump. The most difficult part of his feat was holding on to the plane in the eighty-five mile gale. The wind was so strong he was unable to jump against it and he rolled off into the air!
There is one type of machine, however, from which it is difficult to take a “pull-off” jump in safety. A.D.H. 4 is so constructed that the pilot has to flip the tail of the plane at the exact moment that a jumper is pulled off by the open “skirt.”
Both Flight - Lieutenant Carter and Corporal Anderson, who trained at the same time, jumped from this type of machine and collided with trouble. The pilot had never given jumpers the air before and as Carter jumped, he was a second late in flipping the tail. The result was that Carter hit the tail plane, tearing his clothes, bruising his shoulder and carrying away the leading edge of the tail plane. Anxious that he would not make the same mistake again, the pilot swung the tail too soon for the next jumper and Anderson was shot out over the wing into space. He narrowly missed coming down on some high tension wires and escaped only by using the only method of guidance at his disposal. He dropped one side of the parachute and side-slipped to safety.
After listening to FlightLieutenant Carter talk of jumping from an aeroplane, pulling rip cords to descend, side-slipping to avoid house
tops and live wires and landing ten feet from a lake or a forest, one is almost inclined to believe that parachuting is almost as simple as stepping into a street car, dropping a ticket in the box, pushing a stop button when you come to your corner and walking down the street to your house. But unfortunately accidents will happen in the most carefully regulated jumps.
As an illustration of how careful a jumper must be in clearing the side of the plane as he jumps, Carter tells the story of a fellow jumper who slipped as he climbed over the fuselage to the jumping step. The rip cord was accidentally pulled, opening the parachute. As the jumper was pulled off a buckle of the harness caught on the control wire and he dangled helplessly. His weight on the controls caused the machine to climb suddenly, which was fortunate, for it enabled the buckle to slide to the tail piece, giving the pilot control again and the jumper a chance to free himself.
In connection with the large commercial and civil flying programme being put into effect by the Dominion Government it is difficult to over-estimate the value of the parachute to the Canadian Air Force. It is particularly useful in the hazardous work of the Forestry and Dominion topographical survey work. In the long flights made over the Rocky Mountains, it is seldom, if ever,
that a safe emergency landing can be made among the rocky peaks and the heavily timbered valleys. Another added danger in this particular flying area which makes parachute equipment valuable, is due to the treacherous air currents of the prairie foot-hills which give rise to holes in the air and cause planes to “bump.” Severe jars will occasionally damage a machine so badly that forced landings have to be made.
To the sensible thinking civilian, whose job it is to keep both feet on the ground and his head out of the clouds, it may seem that a parachute would affect a pilot’s judgment in an emergency and tend to make him eliminate danger to himself by abandoning the plane before it is absolutely necessary. The theory does not hold good among men whose job is sky-larking. A pilot must necessarily be a trained man with a cool, quick-thinking brain and one whose attitude toward the service would not permit him to leave his aeroplane to crash while there was still a chance to save it without loss of life.
Complete engine failure, breakage of some vital part of the control surfaces, loss of control under stress of rough weather and fire are probably the only emergencies that would give justifiable cause for jumping.
Fighting Fire in the Air
WHILE fire is the least frequent of these accidents, it is usually the most dangerous. There is, however,, one outstanding case of successful fire fighting in the air. A year or two ago Squadron-Leader Tudhope was flying an insurance statistician over English Bay for the purpose of rating aeroplane insurance. The motor failed suddenly and a spurt of flame burst from the engine. While1 Major Tudhope calmly planed the boat to the water, his mechanic left the cockpit, climbed over the pilot and the passenger and extinguished the fire. Later the insurance man wrote to Ottawa declaring that he was glad of the experience as it proved to him that if all flying men handled their emergencies as Major Tudhope and his mechanic had done, flying was not as dangerous as he had rated it.
Part of Flight-Lieutenant Carter’s work at High River, where he is stationed, is to test out all the parachutes for use in the Air Force. Each parachute before it is passed for service is dropped with a 200-pound weight at a high rate of speed. That the parachutes will carry a greater weight than this was proved by an amusing incident narrated by letter to Carter by the participant himself. A man of six feet, seven inches and weighing 250 pounds, Van Dorresen, is probably the biggest man engaged in flying work on the continent. When making a jump at Rantoul he girded himself with two parachutes. Jumping, he pulled the rip cord of one and then the other. The first, on opening, carried him at such a slow rate of speed that there was not enough velocity to open the second one. It flapped about him and then bound itself securely about his legs, rendering him helpless. In writing to Carter he explained in his broken English that the parachute bent his legs “backwards up.”
Parachutes are now being issued to all pilots and crews of the Royal Canadian Air Force and they have become a compulsory part of flying equipment. The aviator who values his life is ready to acknowledge its worth and has no scruples about wearing it every time he leaves the ground.
The Airman’s Life-buoy
IT IS there, of course, to save the life of the pilot should emergency occur, but the mere fact that he knows it is there will do much, it is claimed, to relieve the nervous strain of flying and to increase accordingly the useful flying years of the airmen and extend the service of many of Canada’s most brilliant, daring and experienced pilots.
With this the writer must leave the Royal Canadian Air Force. Seven years ago, all it possessed was a name. Today, by their accomplishments in aerial surveying, forest protection, fisheries protection, law enforcement and exploration, the men of the corps have proved beyond all question that Canada has other than wartime uses for a flying service.