If you ask most ‘normal’ people whether throwing themselves out of a perfectly working plane at 10,000feet and falling for 45seconds, entrusting that a random man whom you have only just met will pull a parachute enabling you to safely descend to the earth is a sane thing to do – they would probably think you had been recently released from the local mental institution. Well, what do they know!!With such excellent weather, excellent visibility and stunning coastal vistas the expat forum faithful decided the best way to appreciate the UAE would be see this stunning scenery from the air – naturally whilst falling through the sky at around 200Km per hour – so we went Skydiving!!
With some excellent research from ShinglePeak a Skydiving school was identified in the nearby Emirate of Umm al-Quwain (UAQ) which translates in English to ‘Mother of the Two Powers’. The school is attached to the UAQ Aeroclub and is right next to the famous Baracuda Beach Resort. It also has a large cargo plane outside the school so you can’t really miss it when travelling up the coastal road that stretches from Dubai all the way up to Ras Al-Khaimah.
We had booked over the internet to jump at 11:00am on a Friday so our regular drivers (Poseidon & Moneypenny) did the rounds picking us up all over Dubai at about 0700 (I think it was then, I was very very tired). DizzyIzzy also came along as our forum photojournalist. We then went in convoy up to UAQ. I like the roads once you leave Dubai, the craziness of the drivers seems to dissipate as soon as they hit the open road. Noone seems to be in a rush anymore and you can relax enough to enjoy the desert scenery and, if you’re lucky, see the odd camel or two grazing on the sandy plains.
Once arrived, we completed the obligatory disclaimers stating pretty much that if the parachute failed to the open and we plunged to our deaths, we wouldn’t sue. Trying not to think too much about the ‘what ifs’ I handed over the forms and the guy started asking us about photos. He told us that they were not included in the price and it would be another 100AED (we had already paid 1400AED for the DVD option). We told him that the booking company – Blue Banana – had told us that photos were included – despite the mixup he wasn’t for budging and so I personally decided to not take him up on the offer, optioning to just take screengrabs from my DVD instead – after all the only place they were going to be displayed was on facebook. So with that minor downer out of the way we made it across to the airfield where we would be taking off and then soon after hurtling back towards.
As we arrived we went into the parachute packing hall and the admin staff sorted us all into pairs to go up in the plane. Scofield and I had took the DVD option so we had to wait until last because they could only fit 6 in the plane (2xInstructors, 2 x Cameramen and us), after that we went outside to watch the other people who had come to jump. The airfield is situated right next to the coast and that managed to take the edge off what could be described as a typically hot UAE day. That said it was still quite warm as we sat waiting our turn to go up in the plane, how people survived here before Air Conditioning I will never know. As we waited our turn we had the opportunity to watch the UAE Skydiving team practice some formation jumps with their UAE Flag parachutes eclipsing the sun as they floated serenely up above.
The time then came for our first jumper – ShinglePeak!! Shingle also had the extra fear-factor of jumping alone due to our uneven numbers. Decked out in a harness that looked similar to the rock-climbing gear I’ve had the repeated pleasure of wearing, Shingle had a quick safety brief with her instructor and then disappeared round the corner. Moments later a small 6-seater single-prop took off and disappeared into the distance. Around 5-10mins later we could see the plane at the peak of its climb and shortly after that the dot-like silouette of a successfully deployed chute, next thing you know and she is on the ground beaming with a mixture of pride and excitement – Job done!! Next up was Poseidon and Moneypenny, no doubt feeling a lot more relieved now that Shingle had made it back safely to the ground in one piece. In pretty much the same fashion as before, they went up and soon after two more chutes deployed and another set of textbook jumps were performed with more of our forum members safe & sound on the short strip of grass outside the main hangar.
Finally, it was time for Scofield and I to jump. Shortly before we did, our instructors came out to greet us and talk to us about the jump. My instructor could only be described as a raving lunatic!! After finding out he’d spent a good couple of years in the RAF I quickly came to understand why. Now one of the things I like about the UAE is that they are not obssessive about Health & Safety in the same way we can be in other countries of the world and, with the kind of mentality I have to push myself to the extreme point of life and death, with this guy I knew this was going to be a thrill-filled adrenaline adventure – I was most definitely not disappointed!!
We got ourselves strapped in to the harnesses and then went out to meet the our respective cameramen. They start filming from the moment you do your safety brief and were really cool guys. We then all piled into the plane and within a couple of minutes we were airborne. As we were descending I looked out of the windows to take in the surroundings at a slightly more sedate speed. I could see the airfield below and the nearby racetrack. Out on the coast I could see small boats sailing inbetween a group of islands in what is a relatively untouched part of the UAE – far removed from the hustle and bustle of Dubai central. It took about 10mins more and we were now at 10,000feet. My instructor began the final checks and most importantly attached himself to my harness.
One of the main reasons I do things like this is because I think am addicted to that feeling you get when you are about to do something that you may not walk away from, that adrenalin rush is such an awesome natural high – I think maybe they should consider Skydiving as a new tactic to ween junkies of smack – get ’em in a plane a couple of times a day and push ’em out!! Anyway back to the jump. The instructors signalled me to move towards the door and the cameraman then moved out and hung off the side of the plane to film the first part of the jump. The next part happens so quick that you don’t really have time to think about it and we had already been told our instructors would just lean us both forward and we would naturally fall out of the plane which meant luckily I didn’t even really need to psyche myself up to jump – one minute we were sat at the door of the plane, next we were falling through the sky – it was a truly breathtaking few seconds. Once I had got my orientation sorted and figured out up from down I then joined hands with the cameraman and got to do my first bit of formation skydiving – never expected that on my first jump. The time seems to stand still briefly whilst you fall. I felt like I had been falling for much more than 45secs, which is really surprising. On the ascent I was thinking we didn’t appear high enough to fall for 45secs – your perception of distance and time is massively affected – glad they had altimeters!!
After the freefall section of the jump, the instructor pulls the chute and you watch the cameraman fly down below you as you are yanked upwards by the air filling the canopy. From this moment on your descent is slowed considerably and you float gracefully (I use that term loosely). My crazy instructor had one more little trick up his sleeve and showed me how to do a few acrobatic moves. He gave me control of the parachute and taught me how to do deep turns, so deep that the parachute canopy became parallel with the horizon as we spun rapidly around and around. He asked me whether I felt sick yet, “Not yet mate” I replied and then he instructed me to reverse the steering so we span the other way. We were fast losing sky so he re-took control for the final approach and skilfully guided us in for a smooth landing, the cameraman resumed filming as we hit the ground. A quick handshake and a heartfelt thanks was then given to my instructor for not killng me and I too began the walk back to the hangar with a massive sense of achievement and a thirst to get right back on the plane and do it again!!
The cost for the tandem freefall is 1000AED and 1400AED if you want to get a DVD of the experience which I thoroughly recommend. There is an extra charge of 100AED for photos. If you want to take it further they also run an Accelerated Freefall (AFF) course for 7750AED which consists of a 4-6 hour ground school, 7tandem jumps and a final solo qualifying jump. From then on you can jump alone…
…as soon as I can save up the money for the AFF – I will be back!!!
For anyone interested in finding out about life in Dubai from Dubai Expats then please come and join the forum at http://www.dubaiexpatforum.com