C-130 Running Down The Strip,

by john harrison

It was the last jump in jump school. As a treat, we the almost airborne, would get to tailgate a C-130. For those NAPs (Non-Airborne Personnel) reading this, that means you walk right out of the back of the C-130, right down the aircraft’s wide open tailgate, and then step off into nothingness about 900 or so feet up in the air going about 150-60 miles an hour. Although the ending could have been better, it immediately became my all-time favorite jump, at least until I tailgated a Caribou, which was the same experience, except better.

TailgateJump

Unlike in a unit jump where everyone was usually stamping their spit-shined, black, Corcoran, jump boots on the plane’s metal deck and shouting: “Go!, Go!, Go!,” in jump school, while the aircraft’s jet engines roared, the men inside the plane were quiet, waiting for their jump. Even over the jet engine’s roar, you could actually hear the electric motors work as they lowered the ramp at the rear of the plane. When it was down, we could see the sun swept Georgia countryside of Fort Benning, below as the three planes lined up on the drop zone. We could also see the red light turn on beside the jump master.

       “Get ready.”

“Stand up!”

“Hook up!”

“Equipment check!”

“O-K. O-K. O-K. . . All O-K.”

The jump commands came loud and fast, but there was no command this time of “Stand in the Door!” because this was a tailgate jump and we were all already in the door. We were all looking out that huge, gapping, opening in the back of the plane looking at the land constantly retreating away, far below.

Then came the deceptively simple command:

“Go.”

I never had a feeling of height when jumping out of a plane, or with walking out of one as we did with tailgating the C-130. I think my mind looked down at the ground way below me and said to itself something like this:

“No, you’re not really dumb enough to do this, are you?”

“No.”

”We’re not really this high, are we?”

“No.”

“You can’t be serious?”

“No.”

“You’re not really going to just walk off the edge of this ramp?”

“No.”

“Are you fucking crazy?”

“No o  o   o   o!”

“One thousand.”

“Two thousand.”

“Three thousand.”

“Four thous.  .  .”

Opening shock felt.

“Chute open. Fully deployed. Panels all there. No tangles. Good.”

“God, it’s pretty up here. And, it’s so quiet.  So, still. Wow.”

And then you sort of sit in the chute’s webbing as you drift, seemingly slowly at first, down to the drop zone. The only thing that was important was to keep looking around to make sure that you did not run into another trooper in the air. But, it is so beautiful up there, hanging from the chute and the view is so incredibly unobstructed that you really do want to look in every direction at the same time, all the time even if you did not have to look out for, and try to avoid a mid-air collision with another trooper.

MassJump

Although it never happened to me, landing on another chute on the way down is always a risk as well. I saw it happen to at least someone during every mass jump I ever made. If you land on another chute on the way down, the training is to quickly run off of it before your own chute collapses around you or you get tangled up in the canopy below. If you do not run off quickly enough, the lower chute will “steal your air”. At that point, you will have a useless collapsed parachute draped all over you that you must get rid of in midair. Then, you must deploy your reserve, if you have time before you hit the ground, which you probably will not have.

If that happens you will not be able to make what the Army calls a PLF (Parachute Landing Fall). You will make instead a, SPLAT.  A SPLAT is not a good landing because it is not a survivable landing, and it can be messy.

If you go through jump school, you will never forget how to do a PLF. Several years ago, over 40 years after jump school, I fell off of my daughter’s horse and executed a perfect PLF rolling away from the horse’s hooves. The first two weeks of jump school are mainly devoted, not to teaching a proper PLF, but to inculcating it into your soul forever. You start by jumping off of one or two foot high platforms and progress from there. It is not as simple as it seems.

The main idea of a PLF is to ensure that you always land on your side, that you never land going forward or backward, and that you always land rolling. You do this by instantaneously twisting your body to put your side in the direction of the fall as soon as you feet make contact, or sometimes even before contact. It must be done absolutely automatically, or it will be too late. You must be able to roll right side or left side, equally well.

plf1

I think anyone that has gone through jump school could no more stop his body from twisting to land on his side in a fall and then rolling than he could stop his right foot from slamming down on the brake if a child ran in front of a car.  Even if he was not driving, the right foot would still stomp where the brake should be.  It would be automatic, exactly like doing a PLF is for anyone that was ever Airborne. After Jump School, you just can’t, not, do it.

Scarcely tree top height, about thirty-four foot tower height, is where I get a feeling of height. And, that is also where the land stops moving slowly toward you and begins rushing up fast. The thirty-four foot tower, not the 290-foot tower, not in the aircraft either, is also where almost all of the people that fail jump school, freeze. They simply cannot make their foot, make that step out of the tower. It is a psychological thing, and it is the reason for the thirty-four foot tower. It is much better to find out there than in the aircraft.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I was almost at that point, about 45 feet or so in the air, when the other jumper’s chute drifted under mine that day; it stayed under me, just out of reach; I could not get away from it even though I pulled one riser frantically trying; it stole my air; it collapsed my chute into a streamer. Bummer.

Being forty or so feet in the air left me plenty of time to realize that I must make the PLF of my life as I hurtled down accelerating at the rate of: 16 feet per second, per second. For those with a mathematical mind, that is the equation that expressed my rate of acceleration according to what we had been taught. More practically stated, with the drag of my streaming parachute, it was not quite the same as jumping off of a three story building—but it was close enough as far as I was concerned and the landing was coming up fast.

When you do a PLF they teach you to count off the parts of your body doing their job sticking the landing:

“Feet.”

“Calves.”

“Thigh.”

“Hip.”

“Shoulder.”

“YEA!” Perfect.

But, then I went right back up into the air. I bounced back up. They said that I did a belly flop the second time I landed. Not a PLF, but not quite a SPLAT either. My solar plexus was centered over my reserve chute; the one I did not have time to deploy; and the reserve was what probably knocked me out, knocked me out cold.

When I woke up I was laying face down on my stomach, another trooper was shaking my shoulder saying:

“God damn sir.”

“I never saw anybody bounce that high.”

“God damn sir.”

“Are you all right?”

“God damn sir. . .”

Slowly, carefully, I reached up and released my tongue from where it was stuck to some red Georgia clay. Then, I rolled over and pulled one of the two canopy releases holding one set of risers so that the ground wind did not drag me around. Finally, I just lay there for a while.

The funny thing is; although I always liked jumping out of airplanes and I made probably 15 more jumps, when the Army stopped paying me for it, I never did it again.

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31 thoughts on “C-130 Running Down The Strip,

    1. Neil C. Reinhardt

      C-130’S JET ENGINE? YEP, A TAIL GATE WAS MY FAVOTITE AS WELL. WHILE I NEVER WALKED ON SOMEONE ELSES’ CHUTE,cc, I KEPT HEARING SOMEONE YELLING, “SLIP” SLIP” SO I AM LOOKING ALL AROUND AND COULD NOT SEE ANYONE. THEN I LOOKED STRAIHT UP AND SAW HIM LAYING ON MY CHUTE,

      SO I PULLED MY RISERS WHERE HIS FEET WERE AND HE SLID OFF, THANKFULLY WE WERE STILL HIGH ENOUGH THAT HIS CHUTE FILLED WITH AIR AND WE BOTH LANDED SAFELY.

      B BATTERY, 321ST FA, ATTACHED TO THE 502ND, FT. CAMPBELL, 1959-1962

      Reply
      1. JohnEHarrison Post author

        Only a fellow parachutist understands how happy you probably were when you saw his chute refill with air. Airborne.

        A C-130 is a turbo prop jet, a jet engine with a propeller.

      2. Tom Basner

        Neil I was with 1/321st Hq Btry from 66-69 and attached to the 1/501st Inf. “Airborne All The Way”

    2. Tom Croff

      I just recently fall off a bicycle and after reading your story , I realized that I did a roll that was similar to a PLF. The mind, how quickly it remembers in panic mode how to act..

      Great story John.

      Reply
    3. Frank Gilbert

      I never jumped from an airplane when I wasn’t scared. I understand why seconds before the green light turned on, every paratrooper on the airplane yelled and screamed “Airborne” before we shuffled down the aisle headed to the door to jump into the skies. This Airborne spirit separates an Airborne soldier from a leg “Non-Airborne”. It wasn’t about the extra $55.00 jump pay we received. It was about the bloused jump boots, glider patch, and silver wings. Airborne.

      Reply
  1. hisiderftr

    Hi Lt. I had one of those experiences in jump school of landing on another persons chute. It still remains one of the most vivid 7 to 8 seconds of my life. I landed on a fellow privates chute by the name of Moony. I hit face down on the top of his chute and can still remember how soft and yet firm it was and the shock that this was not a sensation I should be feeling at 700 to 800 feet off the ground. Fortunately I did not see the ground. I remember in training that I was suppose to get up and run off the chute but before I could get up I started to slide off and ended up in Moony’s suspension lines. I was right at the very top edge and my head was actually just under his canopy. I could hear the Sargent on the ground yelling at me to climb down the suspension lines and grab a hold of Moony who seem to me at the time to be like a 100miles away. My chute which had been collapsing suddenly caught air and started pulling me away from Moony’s chute. I popped clear of the suspension lines but since my head was just under the edge of the Canopy the back of my helmet got caught. My only attachment to Moony at the point was the edge of his canopy was pulling my helmet down into my face and forcing my chin into my chest and my chute pulling at me with greater and greater force. With my chin forced into my chest I was looking straight down into Moony’s up looking gaze. His mouth was so wide open you could have parked a car in it. I’m sure my expression wasn’t much different. All the time this is going on the Sargent on the ground is yelling instruction which I am absolutely unable to follow. Suddenly there was a loud “Pop” and the rim of his canopy snapped lose from the back of my helmet and I swung back and forth under my chute for a brief time and then I made a good PLF and walked away from it unhurt and with one hell of a memory.

    Reply
    1. JohnEHarrison Post author

      Wow, that is some story for your kids. I do not believe that most people realize how routinely dangerous even peace time military operations can be. Every mass jump I was in sustained casualties, some serious. My father was a naval aviator and carrier operations were similarly dangerous.

      I think the best thing about my blog is hearing stories like yours. Thank you so much for taking the time to write, and welcome home.

      Reply
  2. nordrof

    Great story LT,I never tail gated before always out the side.Reading the your story I could feel the butterfly’s in my stomach I felt the same feeling last year watching my wife make a 13000 foot jump in Oahu over the Ocean I think I was more nervous than she was.She was pretty cocky walking with a strut that night ,slamming drinks loud I asked if she wanted to go to China town and get a tattoo she respectively declined.

    Reply
      1. Carlos A. Velez

        A prop jet is a bit confusing because we reserve the word “jet” for the engines that propel the aircraft by sending rush of hot exhaust rearwards. Those jet engines are turbines (usually, unless it was a ramjet engine). Another use for the turbine engines is to rotate a shaft that is connected to a rotating airfoil, aka a blade–whether on a C-130 or a UH-1. While these turbo-prop engines also expell hot air, it is not used to propel the aircraft forward. Technically, it’s more correct to call the engines in the Hercules, Huey, Chinook , and many others, turbo-prop rather than prop jet.

    1. Jerry

      Made 36 jumps 6 from rear exit Caribou’s in Dominican Republic & 4 from rear exit C141’s. The rest from side exits C-130. When I exited I used my risers to get away from everyone else, then I didn’t have to worry about walking on chutes or them wal;king on mine.

      Reply
  3. althompson101

    Due to an eye injury, I had to pull the second week twice. After countless exits, I froze at the door on the 34 ft. tower. My mind just went blank. The only thing that snapped me out of it was the weird look on the instructor’s face.

    In my mind…I said Oh shit!…then I jumped out that door. It was a weird freeze. It never happened again. The instructor eyed me next time, but I was crisp in responding properly. The mind can do strange things when a bit overloaded.

    Currahee Sir!

    Reply
    1. hall grimmett

      I jumped out of a bunch of C-130’s our’s had prop engines not jets? Never had the pleaser of tailgating one I bet that was nice! Glad to hear jumpers are still excited exiting a perfectly airplane…put you knees in the breeze!

      Reply
  4. Jim Lee

    Great story Lt. the first time I tailgated, was a night jump withe the 101st. I was jumping a PAE bag, and when the light turned green, the jump master pushed me right the edge. when I felt that chute opening jolt, I was so relieved, I almost peeded on myself.

    Reply

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