Some people look at an airplane and wonder how fast it will go. Others worry about how comfortable the ride will be. However, there is one group of people on the Virginia Tech campus who see an airplane and ask themselves one question: "Can I jump out of it?" They are simply the members of the Skydiving Club of Virginia Tech.
The club, which has been at Virginia Tech for 27 years, is currently made up of 14 members who try and quench their thirst for adrenaline as often as they can. "We go every weekend," said Jamie Sides, junior civil engineering major and Virginia Tech skydiving club president. Sides added that the winter weather hasn't put a damper on the club's jump schedule. "As cold as it has been recently, we have still been going up."
Skydiving is not simply a matter of jumping out of a plane; there are a few strict requirements that must be met before one can go up for a jump.
"You've got to be 18 years of age and weigh less than 240 pounds. As long as you meet those criteria, anybody can go up and skydive," Sides said.
"The club welcomes anybody," said William Gaddy, a senior communication major who has been jumping for over four years. "It doesn't matter if you have five jumps or 500, anybody can join us."
There is also some special training required before a jump can be made.
"Your first jump is done in tandem, which means that you are attached to an instructor, that involves about a 45 minute to an hour-and-a-half of training, followed by the jump," Sides said. "For accelerated freefall, which is what you want to do if you want to go and be a serious skydiver, there is a six- to eight-hour ground school, followed by a jump on which two instructors accompany you."
The altitude of most jumps depends on where the jump takes place.
"If we are jumping at one of the smaller skydiving centers that use a smaller aircraft, we usually jump from about 10,500 feet," Sides said. "If we are at one of the skydiving centers that have a turboprop aircraft we usually jump from about 13,000 to 14,000 feet."
Skydiving centers also host events known in the skydiving community as "boogies."
"A boogie is an event put on by a skydiving center, and what we do is have a whole bunch of skydivers get together and have a good time and skydive together," Sides said. "It's kind of like a social in school or a fraternity get together; it brings people in from other sky diving fraternities and helps you to make new friends and to broaden your connections."
This past December, the Virginia Tech skydiving team competed in the Collegiate National Parachuting championship in Lake Wales, FL, participating in a number of events including two-way formation skydiving, four-way formation skydiving, freeflying and sport accuracy. The event was a success for the team, as three of the members came away from the competition with individual medals. Gaddy and Nathan Chambers, a freshman computer engineering major, took home silver medals in the freefly and intermediate sport accuracy competitions, respectively, while Sides took home a bronze in master class sport accuracy.
How does one win a skydiving event?
"It depends on what type of event you are in," Gaddy said. "Events like sport accuracy require you to control your chute and literally land on a dime, while body flight events usually require jumpers to control their bodies relative to one another in the air. How well you can do determines whether you win or not."
So what could possibly possess somebody to jump out of a perfectly good airplane? Some jumpers do it for the memories.
"Well everybody remembers their first," Gaddy said. "One of my more memorable jumps was when my wife and I first started dating and we did what's called a kiss pass, which means that we were kissing in freefall."
For Jamie Sides, skydiving provides an escape. "It's the most free feeling that you can possibly have," Sides said. "When you're up there, you're completely thinking about your skydive, you aren't worried about your school work or anything else that's going on other than the dive and the moment. It's something that can't really be described, you just have to go up there and experience it."