Pilots have a favorite expression: “There is no good reason to jump out of a perfectly good airplane.” I’m sure you have heard that before. But for some reason there are a lot of people that DO jump out of perfectly good airplanes, every day, in Southern Arizona.
Take a look at your Phoenix Sectional, or ForeFlight, if that is what you are using. You will see that little parachute symbol next to many airports in S. AZ. That doesn’t mean that sky diving is going on constantly at all of them, but some of them rank among the busiest sky diving locations in the U S. California and Florida rank high in sky diving locations also. In fact, there are only two states that do not have jump zones; Wyoming and New Hampshire. Even Alaska and Hawaii offer some adventure for those that want to log lots of jumps from lots of places.
The only time I ever had a parachute on was during my check out in a T34 Mentor at Centennial Airport, south of Denver. Since we would be doing aerobatic maneuvers, such as rolls and loops, regulations require that you wear a parachute. I remember the instructor, a retired Air Force Fighter pilot, telling me “if it is necessary to bail out, just open the canopy, step out on to the wing, drop backward, and pull this lever.” That sounded easy enough while sitting on the ground in calm winds. This was all assuming that the airplane would still be flying straight and level, which, of course, it probably would not be. Well, we never did need those parachutes, but we did comply with regulations.
Here in Southern Arizona, the weather is a big factor for bringing those ‘crazy people’ that want to actually jump out of an airplane. Who would want to do parachute jumping in Chicago in February? OK, don’t answer that.
Some of the jumping is military training. Because of the good weather, military or sport jumpers can get as many as 10 jumps in one day. Sometimes, when the weather is not so good, we still see military jumping, because they may need to jump in any kind of weather should our national defense require it.
Eloy, Arizona probably ranks as the King of jumping (sky diving) locations in Arizona. They operate year-round with very few days of weather that they will not jump in. Located about half way between Phoenix and Tucson near Interstate 10, they stay busy. They also host competition events. And, if you have ever seen a TV commercial that features sky diving (yes there are some), it was probably filmed at Eloy. When on 122.8 in AZ, you will, sooner or later, hear the words, “Please do not fly over Eloy, jumpers away.”
If jumping out of a perfectly good airplane is not really your ‘thing’ there is SkyVenture at Eloy that offers an indoor skydiving wind tunnel. You get to experience the feeling of skydiving without actually jumping out of an airplane. There is another kind of sky diving called “base jumping” where the jumper goes off of a bridge, or a cliff that is high enough to get a chute open before hitting the ground below. I have watched some of this. There is a very high bridge over a river in West Virginia that allows jumping one day a year and draws a good-sized spectator crowd. Watching that did not inspire me to want to try it in any case. There is parachute jumping done from hot air balloons also, although I have never seen that. Hot air balloons operate North West of Tucson. Since balloons go with the wind, there would be no designated landing place, so if you did jump from the basket of a balloon you might have a long walk carrying all your gear before being picked up.
There is also a sport called Para Sailing. I watched that on the coast of California north of San Diego. The elevation is high above the Ocean level. The adventurous ‘pilot’ must face into the wind, get their sport parachute to rise up, then with a running start, jump off of the cliff. If the winds are just right, they can float back and forth along the coast line for quite a long time. That looked interesting, and like the participants were having fun, but still a NO for me.
We, as pilots, have an obligation to avoid the parachute jumping areas we see depicted on our Sectionals if active parachute jumping is taking place at that airport. Be sure to monitor the local frequency for that airport and stay well clear of the area. Some jumpers may not be as skillful as we would like and can stray away from the landing zone. I have seen a lot of sky diving here in S. Arizona, but none of it inspires me to want to try that. I think it may be just fine for a lot of people to do that but I am one of those pilots that say: “There is no reason to jump out of a perfectly good airplane.”
The Arizona Pilots Association will host several safety seminars at the Copper State fly in at Buckeye this year. Be sure to attend a seminar there or at your area, and don’t forget to ‘bring your wingman.’