Exercise Freefall Venture Zero to Hero in 5 days!
RAF Weston-on-the-Green, home of the Joint Parachute Centre, is responsible for delivering Adventurous Training and Force Development through the medium of parachuting. As well as the weekly courses run at the Centre, they organize an annual Accelerated Freefall (AFF) Course in California which provides novice students with the opportunity to gain the knowledge and skills required to hold a British Parachute Association ‘A’ Licence – from zero to hero in a under a week!
Individuals from across the RAF were given the opportunity to take part in this fantastic course as part of Exercise Freefall Venture 2015. From RAF Benson, Wg Cdr Mark ‘Biggers’ Biggadike and SAC Vicky Hocking were lucky enough to attend the 1st week of the exercise, followed by Fg Off Stacey Clews and Cpl James Wathen on the 2nd week.
The primary goal of the exercise was to conduct two 1-week AFF courses for 9 RAF personnel per week. Each individual was allocated a minimum of 18 jumps over a 5-day period to complete the AFF syllabus and achieve their licence.
Prior to escaping the dark and damp British weather for sunny California, all students participated in a day of ground training at RAF Weston-on-the-Green. There they learned all of the necessary skills and techniques to undertake their first jump, not to mention the vast array of malfunction drills so that each student was prepared in the unlikely event of something going wrong!
For the total novices to those who may have completed a static-line jump or a tandem skydive, this was without doubt a big step into the unknown. Reassuringly, highly qualified British Parachute Association (BPA) and United States Parachute Association (USPA) Accelerated Freefall Instructors teach the course. They deliver all the essential daily briefs and provide world-class instruction both on the ground and throughout the jumps – from a height of 13,000ft down to the ground!
In order to progress through the 8 levels required for the licence safely and effectively, students start the course jumping with two qualified instructors, practising everything they were taught on the ground prior to the jump. Hand signals played a major part in these early jumps as communicating when reaching speeds of around 120mph is very challenging! As the students reached level 4 (jump 4), they would jump with just one instructor. By now the students had a positive feel for the airflow and how to maintain a stable position in freefall, which enabled them to build confidence as they progressed to the solo stages.
By Level 6 (jump 6) students were exiting the aircraft solo with an instructor close-by and combining different drills and manoeuvres in the air (including back-flips, 720° turns, tracking and various unintentional acrobatic manoeuvres!). The final level prior to the 10 consolidation jumps was the dreaded ‘hop and pop’. This consisted of exiting the aircraft at 4500ft, stabilising promptly and pulling the parachute as soon as possible, thus simulating an aircraft emergency. The students had become very comfortable jumping at 13000ft, giving them at least 90 seconds to get themselves sorted. The prospect of jumping so close to the ground increased the focus of most!
On completion of the 8 levels, students were required to develop what they had learnt during a further 10 mandatory consolidation jumps where they may have been solo or filmed by an instructor for further correction and guidance. Throughout these jumps, different aircraft exits were encouraged including climbing to the outside of the aircraft, somersaults both forwards and backwards or various dives at different angles – amazing and very exciting! The ‘falling off the ramp of the Skyvan while saluting’ became a particular favourite!
Once the minimum 18 jumps had been successfully accomplished, students were awarded their BPA ‘A’ License enabling them to continue jumping as a qualified skydiver anywhere in the world. Although, just like flying, the learning never stops and this simply provides the students with the opportunity to take their skills to the next level. After 5 days of hard work and a huge amount of determination from the students (and staff), everyone felt a massive sense of achievement, safe in the knowledge that all had completed what they set out to do.
As part of the exercise, a staff ride was organized to the USS Midway Naval Ship Museum in San Diego. Here, all students were able to glean a fascinating insight into the role of an early aircraft carrier and its significant influence on the development of Carrier Enabled Power Projection. The students were all tasked to deliver a ‘stand’ during the day to promote the group’s wider Defence knowledge.
Exercise Freefall Venture 2015 was a unique opportunity. Whether it was to gain confidence, start a new hobby, gain an insight into the world of skydiving or simply just for fun, it was a fantastic and life-changing course. It goes without saying that the groundwork the staff put in was phenomenal and led to a wholly successful result. All 4 students from RAF Benson left California with a BPA ‘A’ License, a positive attitude to skydiving and ready and willing to move on to the BPA ‘B’ License! Bring it on…