I took this photo from beside the landing target at Thruxton airfield; a small sand pit. I do not know the parachutist’s identity. I recommend parachuting as a simple aviation activity.
Note the un-aerodynamic simple geometry of the ’round’ parachute canopy. Modern parachutes are rectangular and they resemble paragliders. (Paragliders were developed from ‘square’ gliding parachutes.) These round parachutes were, according to my instructors, originally emergency aircrew parachutes left over from the Korean War. You steered them by pulling on ‘toggles’ that distorted the two L-shaped slots in the canopy.
I made most of my parachute drops, including my first, from a Cessna 206 – a fairly beefy single-engine monoplane with a high wing. Parachute lift modifications include removal of all the seats except the pilot’s seat and also the big cargo/passenger side door is absent. As a parachutist, while holding one hand over the deployment handle (rip chord) of your emergency reserve ‘chute to prevent its deployment handle snagging on anything, you climb aboard and kneel on the floor. Your main parachute, if you are a beginner like me, does not have a deployment handle. It has a chord connected to a shackle on the floor of the aircraft so it opens automatically when you are a fixed distance away.
I made my first jump at Shobdon airfield, Hereford, in 1979. It was the inaugural jump of the Polytechnic of Wales (now Glamorgan University) Parachute Club, which I founded. I did some more parachuting at Thruxton in Hampshire in 1982.
For my first drop at one of those fields, I do not recall whether at Shobdon or Thruxton, I and my fellow parachutists were treated to the sight of the blue flashing lights of an ambulance, which show up really well at dusk, picking up someone with a broken leg!
The airplane lifts off in a roar of cold air and that big space of nothing by my right side where the cargo door would normally be and, at 300 feet above the ground, the jump master (next to the pilot) holds up three fingers and yells “Three hundred feet!” which you cannot hear because of the din. Below that, if the aircraft suffers a dire emergency, you stay with it because it is too low to jump safely. Above that, if the wings break off or something similar happens, you dive out the side. (See this video of just that happening.) Anyway, the kneeling position is OK for the first couple of minutes or so, but after the climb to over 2,000 feet and after several high-G turns, which the airplane has to do to get into position for the next person to jump, it is excruciating. (However, after a few jump lifts, I found I no longer noticed it.)
Fortunately, for my first jump, I was the nearest the door, that is, where the door would normally be, and therefore the first to jump. I could not wait to get out and relieve the pain in my knees. We had made a couple of high-G turns already while the jump master tossed out streamers to gauge the wind, which if too strong or variable could cause him to cancel the jump.
One bright morning at Thruxton, which occupies a slight rise in the landscape, the land around was covered in fog, although the airfield was clear. Tree tops and church spires protruded up out of the sunlit white layer, like something in a fanciful postcard. Only, a postcard is less exciting and does not cause your ears to pop with the reducing air pressure as the airplane climbs.
Here is a snippet from my still un-published novel:
Grassland, some of it flat, surrounded two thin grey lines crossing at an obtuse angle with tiny buildings clustered near them–the latter bearing no obvious relation to the enormous hangars and other structures that had surrounded him on the airfield–and white frost in the deeper hollows shone in morning sunlight. As best he could with the 5mph forward speed afforded by the old round parachute, he steered towards the target, a windsock in a sand pit with an army truck standing beside it. One moment he was slowly descending towards a flat expanse of pale green and the next moment frosty grass rushed up and he hit hard. His legs absorbed most of the energy of the impact – he missed the sand pit – and he rolled on the ground.
On another light airplane flight (not parachuting) again in sunshine, we climbed into haze, which momentarily thickened around us and we were flying by instruments because of ‘white out’ – we were climbing towards a low winter afternoon sun. Suddenly we broke out into the clear and in front of us and all around was an alternative universe consisting of an infinite sheet of rippled snow. As we climbed above it, it became translucent grey and, looking down, you could see the green and winter brown-grey semi-urban landscape of Surrey below.
The perimeter track of Thruxton airfield is the famous motorcycle racing circuit. It was then used for racing about one day a week. However, glider towing, light aircraft and helicopter training were all carried out at the same time as parachute training. Some years later a woman parachutist was killed there by the rotors of a manoeuvring helicopter.
In the summer of 1987, after a long period of unemployment, I started work (computer programming again) in central London. Travelling home to the south coast on Friday after work, if the weather was clear, I walked from whichever tube station to Waterloo main railway station. My route took me through the Barbican.
A week after I started work in London, my mother suffered a semi paralysing stroke (a blood clot in the brain). She was unable to walk or to speak properly thereafter. I spent my Saturday and Sunday afternoons (and holidays) wheeling her around the local area. I took this photo of a vintage boat with a 110 format camera that I carried with me.
The 3 000 ft high ridge at Ager, Catalonia, Spain, creates its own weather. There is a plateau at the 2 000 ft level used for paraglider training. CIVL is the hang gliding committee of the international aviation federation, but the abbreviation here is that adopted by the local hang gliding business.
I worked as a contract developer of computer-based training for a navy software house near Port Solent during the first Gulf war.
The De Haviland Sea Vixen was eventually vandalised and moved into safer accommodation.
After another attempt at self employment (see Aviation computer-based training) failed, I obtained temporary work programming hydraulic rams on a ‘simulator ride’ to be used in a marketing scheme for a pharmaceutical company. It seemed to me (and still seems to me) that the effort could have been more profitably directed at flying training. However, my definition of profit doubtless differs from the economic definition.
When it rained, not only did I get wet, so did the computer. We moved into a drier office soon after I took this photo.
In 2003, I bought my first new hang glider since 1974. It was made by Aeros, originally part of Antonov, in the Ukraine. I collected it from Sywell aerodrome, home of Flylight.
Hang glider art
In this photo the red star is almost complete: Made of sticky-back sailcloth from a sailboat chandler, the result of this effort on my Aeros Discus was dramatic. It had a plain white upper surface and leading edge and a plain red under-surface.
(I had previously added pre-WW2 US stars to my UP TRX 160.)
This insect, photographed in 2009, had a 25 millimetre span and was 14 mm long. (I do not recall how I measured it.)
This monster was in the back garden in July 2012. I thought at first it was a prank by one of my hang gliding friends who also flies radio control helicopters…
After it landed on the fence, I took this photo from a safe distance. Likely it is a Southern Hawker (judging by this dragonfly identification web site). I assume that any hawk it encounters dies of fright on the spot.
I took this pic of the moon with a Fuji Finepix HS 30 EXR through a break in cloud cover during its close approach on August 11th, 2014.
Off-road bikes (spun off from this page in June 2015)
Powered flight (spun off from this page in January 2015)