Friday, March 11, 2022

USPA Saftey Day is March 12th

 The United States Parachute Association (USPA) designates the second Saturday in March of every year to be its Safety Day and this year that happens to be on March 12th. Many of the skydivers are a little rusty from not jumping much (if at all) during the Winter months and is why it is held at this time of the year. Started in 1997, it is the day that all of the USPA drop zones around the country gather up their employees and skydivers to review safety issues in a group setting.

If this will be your first Safety Day at your DZ as a Jump Pilot, be sure and ask your DZO if it will be okay if you can speak at the general meeting.  Be sure and write down at least an outline of items that you want to speak about. Things that you want your Skydivers, Manifest and Ground Crew to know or be reminded of.  

As pilots we are taught that safety is priority #1, so do not simply stand up and say a couple words. Take advantage of the fact that you have everyone's attention on the topic of safety. Personally, the main topics that I always talk about are: Weight & Balance, Safety Belts, Emergency Procedures and Prop Awareness during hot fueling, just to name a few.

Remind the skydivers of the various emergencies than can happen IN an airplane. Explain what your actions as PIC will be in response to each emergency and what you want them to do (or not to do) ie. If there is an engine failure at 500ft AGL, they are not to be tapping you on the shoulder asking if they can jump out. Also, insure that the Aircraft Emergency Procedures are posted at your DZ so that all skydivers are aware of them.

The only problem with Safety Day is that it's only one day a year. If I owned a Drop Zone we would have safety meetings once a month. Even if it was a 15 minute safety review on a Saturday morning. But I don't plan on owning a DZ... I'm not a good babysitter ;)

My fellow Jump Pilots, please remember to review often and fly safe, so that you can continue to have fun!

For more information about Safety Day from the USPA's own site, visit their designated page on that topic here.

As always, if you have any questions or comments about this topic or any others relating to flying skydivers and/or our sites, please email me and please visit our sites and

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Application Advice for Pilots

When Applying for a Pilot Job

By Steve Alsobrook

This was originally posted in our Jump Pilot group on Facebook. Occasionally I will post a statement or conversation from one of our social media pages or groups here that I think will help some of our readers. 

One of our contributors Steve Alsobrook has been a pilot for 50 years. He started his flying career as a Jump Pilot for the Auburn University Skydiving Club in the 1980s at Tuskegee airport. He then went on to be a Corporate and Fractional pilot, attaining many Type Ratings including BE400, CE-500, CE-680, LR-Jet, LR-60 and ATR 42/72. Steve will be ending his flying career the way it started, flying skydivers. He is currently the Chief Pilot for Skydive Key West in the Lower Florida Keys.

To our readers Steve says: I am a crusty old guy that’s been around the block a few times and I’d like to pass on a little advice to up and coming pilots.

We receive inquiries from pilots often inquiring about job openings, which is great! However, most don’t seem to know how to properly ask about a job or write a resume. We get things like “ Hey I am a pilot, y’all hiring?” No resume, no information about qualifications.

Then, we get resumes that don’t focus on aviation experience.  Looking at the resume, you can’t tell if they are applying for a truck driver job or a car parts salesman.

These are some general guidelines.

Please, develop an aviation oriented resume! State the job you are pursuing near the top, just after your full contact information. Then list the aircraft you have flown. List all your hours. Show how you got those hours.

List all flight schools and flight training you have received and dates you received training. Any education you have received such as high school or college is generally appropriate.

Don’t include inappropriate personal information, such as, “In my spare time I enjoy sampling beers from around the world“.  Please use some common sense in this department.

Early on in my flying career I found a professional aviation resume I liked and used it and expanded on it as the years went by.  I encourage you to do the same. I have about 50 years of aviation experience, many years working in flight department management. I started my career flying skydivers and that’s the way I am finishing it up.

One day back in the 1980s I was flying skydivers at a small dropzone. A corporate Falcon Jet landed at our field. The Captain graciously gave me a tour of the plane. I told him it was really awesome!

He said, "To me, flying for a living is one of the finest professions someone can have“

It was certainly true for me.

Good Luck to you all!

An Air Nation Group website

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Are Electric Airplanes the Destiny of Skydiving?

Are Electric Airplanes the Destiny of Skydiving?

By Augusto Bartelle 

As reported on

Over the years, there have been teams working to create electric powered airplanes. Eco-friendly initiatives are present in many facets of our daily lives. Having the opportunity to choose energy sustainable options is becoming more and more popular. And for a good reason! Many of us are aware of our unique carbon footprint. If given the choice of more energy sustainable options, we can take the responsibility onto ourselves to make more environmentally friendly decisions.

Electric airplanes are the next significant movement in eco-friendly transportation options. Although not quite around the corner, this initiative is progressing along. So what can this mean for the skydiving industry? Can we use electric airplanes in skydiving?

Environmental Impact of Aviation

I never really thought about the impact of an airplane on our environment. Skydiving for me was about fun until I watched Pete Allum and Roei Ganzarski discussing the Electric Caravan. All regular aircraft emit greenhouse gases in different stages of flight. It creates a unique form of distribution of those gases directly into the higher levels of the atmosphere. These gases contribute to climate change.

Noise is also a form of pollution. All unwanted sound is considered noise pollution. If the noise is causing any adverse human reaction, we can consider it noise pollution. We can find noise impact analysis on areas close to airports and drop zones. Average noise level maps are known as noise counter maps.

The air quality is another point that we can think about when talking about the difference that an electric airplane has over the ordinary plane we use today. Airports have different obligations for monitoring and reporting air quality. The primary pollutants monitored are Nitrogen Dioxide (No2), Nitric Oxides (NOx), and Particulate Matter (PM). Heathrow airport has an air quality dedicated resource to allow us to access data on local air quality.

airplane twin otter skydivers clouds blue sky carbon free
Skydive Empuriabrava – The Land of the Sky – has Carbon Footprint Compensation

Eco-friendly airplanes and skydiving

As skydivers, we may or may not be aware of our skydiving activity’s impact on the environment. Each time the skydiving plane brings a load up, there are emissions released into the environment. In fact, some have figured out the math. Depending on the skydiving aircraft, they can calculate each jumper’s carbon emissions for that individual jump. When I heard this, I felt some guilt for my impact on the environment due to my skydiving. Although this knowledge does not mean that we need to stop jumping.

This is where eco-friendly airplanes come in. Electric planes help reduce carbon emissions. Now it seems the future of our sport may be a place with more eco-friendly options. Electric airplanes can be clean, low-cost choices of skydiving aircraft. And so in regards to skydiving, the idea is that electric airplanes would end up saving drop zone money in fuel costs. As a result, jump tickets could potentially be cheaper. As well as the aircraft would produce less noise, less vibration, and no fuel smell.

Roei Ganzarski and the first electric airplane for skydiving carbon free
MagniX and AeroTEC put all-electric Cessna airplane into the air.

Transformation Carbon by C-Quest Capital

Transformation Carbon has been established by C-Quest Capital, a social impact project developer, to make it easy for anyone, and any entity, to neutralize the climate impact of their lifestyle while helping families in the most impoverished communities the world live healthier happier lives.

What is a Carbon Footprint?

Carbon Footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases emitted due to fossil fuels’ consumption by a particular person, group, or activity. A Twin Otter aircraft consumes -86 gallons of jet fuel/hr. One gallon of burned jet fuel emits -19 lbs CO2 into the atmosphere. Using 20 minutes as an approximate flight time for one load of skydivers, one load would emit -545lbs CO2.

What is a Carbon Offset Package?

A Carbon Offset package is a way to compensate for your greenhouse gas emissions by funding equivalent carbon dioxide savings elsewhere. It both helps to combat global climate change as well as to care for local communities around the world. Whatever your carbon footprint is, you can offset it by supporting projects anywhere in the world that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

To offset your carbon footprint, your carbon offsets’ purchase is supporting our Transformation Carbon project portfolio and not one specific project. You can find more about Transformation Carbon and how to buy a Carbon Offset Package at

Saturday, November 28, 2020

The DC-9 at Skydive Perris will take to the skies!

The DC-9 at Skydive Perris will take to the skies!

As reported by Airways Magazine
Perris, California is a small town just 71 miles from Los Angeles. Many residents of the metroplex move there for the additional space and the relaxed atmosphere.

However, it is well-known as a city famous for its skydiving operations. Skydive Perris is the main skydive company in the area, using their own airport, Perris Valley Airport (L65), for their jumps. With its proximity to Hollywood, Skydive Perris has had a number of celebrity clients, like Tom Cruise, James Corden, magician David Blaine, and Daniel Craig as James Bond in Quantum of Solace.

Skydive Perris has many aircraft in its fleet, including traditional jump planes, like the Cessna 182 and DeHavilland DHC-6 Twin Otter. They also have the rare Shorts SC7 Skyvan (only 149 ever made) as well as a Douglas DC-3.

All of these aircraft are used throughout the world for skydiving operations, but there is one aircraft that is extremely unique to Skydive Perris: the McDonnell Douglas DC-9-21. The aircraft, N127NK, has been with Skydive Perris since 2003, but it has not flown since 2013. However, it is now being prepared to be returned to regular service.

A Historic Past

The DC-9-21 was initially requested by Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) for use on short runways in Northern Europe. The -21 model combined the large wing and slats from the -30 with the small body of the -10. The order was only for 10 aircraft, but McDonnell Douglas obliged in its creation.

The final DC-9-21, line number 488, rolled out of the McDonnell Douglas factory in Long Beach, CA in April of 1969, registered as SE-DBO. It made its first flight on April 15th and flew east to Stockholm, Sweden on May 1 to begin its career with SAS with the name “Siger Viking” SAS had its first 3 DC-9-21s registered in Denmark with “OY” registration prefixes, its next 3 in Norway with “LN” registration prefixes, and its final 4 in Sweden with “SE” registration prefixes.

The aircraft spent 26 years flying throughout northern Europe. In October 1990, all of SAS’s DC-9-21s were re-registered as aircraft based in Denmark. The registration of SE-DBO was changed to OY-KIC. However, while the rest remained in Denmark, this aircraft was taken back to Sweden and re-registered back to SE-DBO in June of 1991.

This was in anticipation of it being wet-leased to the Swedish start-up charter airline, Nordic East Airlines, based in Stockholm. The aircraft flew with Nordic East from August of 1991 to May of 1992, when it was replaced with MD-82s, also wet-leased from SAS.

SE-DBO continued its journey with SAS until March of 1995, when it was retired from its fleet. Shortly after, it was acquired by Spirit Airlines in May of 1995, and flown to its new base in Detroit (DTW). Two other DC-9-21s from SAS also joined Spirit at the same time. Once the aircraft came to the US, it was re-registered as N127NK, the same one which it wears today. It flew passengers from Detroit to various destinations Florida and the northeast for just six months, when it was sold to ValuJet Airlines out of Atlanta (ATL) in December of 1995 along with Spirit’s other two DC-9-21s.

ValuJet connected ATL and Orlando (MCO) with the entire Eastern Coast of the USA. From 1995, ValuJet had been the focus of many FAA investigations into aircraft safety. Many accused the airline of not properly maintaining their aircraft, including the Atlanta FAA office, when they  sent an official report to their headquarters to force the airline to recertify themselves as an airline. They had 57 emergency landings in both 1995 and 1996, a scaled rate that was 14x more than legacy airlines of the time. This all built up to the famous ValuJet 592 crash on May 11, 1996. The investigation into the crash revealed many safety issues with the fleet that were not being addressed.

A month after the crash, the FAA grounded the entire airline. At this time, N127NK was stored in Lake City, FL and never flew again for ValuJet. The airline later merged with AirTran Airways, but ValuJet’s CEO, Maurice Gallagher, left to build a new airline, Allegiant Air, out of Las Vegas (LAS).

The airline only had two scheduled routes, from Fresno (FAT) and Colorado Springs (COS) to LAS, but was regularly doing casino charters to LAS and various other cities like Reno (RNO), South Lake Tahoe (TVL), and Laughlin (IFP). N127NK was the first aircraft in Allegiant’s fleet, and flew with them until the end of 2002, when it was stored in Victorville (VCV). It spent one year in VCV before Skydive Perris’ owner Ben Conaster had a wild idea. He wanted to use a commercial jetliner for skydiving.

Skydiving from an Airliner

Jumping from large aircraft isn’t necessarily a new idea. The military has been deploying paratroopers for many years. However, the most famous case of this happened on November 24, 1971, when a man going by the alias “D.B. Cooper” boarded a Northwest Orient Airlines Boeing 727-100 from Portland (PDX) to Seattle (SEA). He demanded that he receive $200,000 upon landing in SEA, and that he would like to flee to Mexico City via Reno (RNO).

He also requested that the aircraft remain at 10,000 ft. with the landing gear down, the flaps set at 15°, and the cabin to remain unpressurized. D.B. Cooper jumped from the aircraft via the rear airstairs commonly found on large T-tail aircraft while the they flew over the Washington-Oregon border. The case was never solved, but not for a lack of trying. Now, Skydive Perris is giving the everyday person the opportunity to experience the same thrill that D.B. Cooper had, without the large payout.

The DC-9-21 was destined for the scrapper when it was purchased in 2003 for just $50,000. It took three years to get the aircraft back to flying conditions and get it prepared for skydiving operations. The FAA made Skydive Perris go through many legal and safety-oriented hurdles to make sure that the aircraft would be fit for its new missions. While they were waiting for approval, the aircraft carried supplies to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and evacuated people to Houston as well.

Finally, on December 30, 2006, N127NK took to the skies to drop people from the rear air-stairs, thus becoming the only former commercial jet certified for skydiving operations in the world, a title it still holds today. It can carry divers up to 13,000 ft. in just four minutes, a quarter of the time needed for a Twin Otter to do it. To accommodate the large aircraft, Perris Valley Airport’s runway was lengthened from 3,000 ft. to 5,100 ft. Of all commercial jets, the DC-9-21 is likely to be the best possible one due to its short field performance and the ability to jump out of a pre-existing rear door on the back of the aircraft.

Skydive Perris operated the DC-9 from 2006 to 2013. However, they had issues with its reliability and the ability to find spare parts. This was especially trying with the largest DC-9 operator in the world, Delta Air Lines, retiring their fleet in early 2013. The DC-9 sat derelict with hope for it to take to the skies again, but without a clear-cut plan.

However, in September, after seven years, Skydive Perris announced that the aircraft was undergoing its final repairs, and would take to the skies once again. Engine checks have been completed, and the aircraft has even done taxing tests at L65. Earlier this week, Skydive Perris opened up a job opportunity for some lucky pilots to have the chance to fly the aircraft for them, truly marking the fact that the aircraft will soon take to the skies.

The DC-9 was a stalwart in the aviation industry for many years, but has now been almost completely removed from passenger operations. Only 35 of the 976 DC-9s that have been produced are currently flying, with just one aircraft still flying civilian passengers.

Enthusiasts have requested that Skydive Perris offer flights to aviation enthusiasts without requiring them to jump out of the aircraft. The company has not been accepting to such an idea in the past, but do seem to be a bit more open to the idea this time around. This would truly be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to experience a small part of history, whether you land on the DC-9 or you jump out of it during the flight. Either way, it will be great to see this old bird fly once again.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

New AD Proposal for Continental Engines

New AD Proposal for Continental Engines

The FAA proposes to adopt a new airworthiness directive (AD) for all Continental Aerospace Technologies, Inc. model GTSIO-520-C, GTSIO-520-D, GTSIO-520-H, GTSIO-520-K, GTSIO-520-L, GTSIO-520-M, GTSIO-520-N, IO-550-G, IO-550-N, IO-550-P, IO-550-R, IOF-550-N, IOF-550-P, IOF-550-R, TSIO-520-BE, TSIO-550-A, TSIO-550-B, TSIO-550-C, TSIO-550-E, TSIO-550-G, TSIO-550-K, TSIO-550-N, TSIOF-550-D, TSIOF-550-J, TSIOF-550-K, and TSIOF-550-P reciprocating aviation gasoline (AvGas) engines with a certain cross-flow cylinder assembly installed. 

This proposed AD was prompted by reports of in-flight engine failures due to fractured cross-flow cylinder assemblies. This proposed AD would require visual inspection and, depending on the results of the inspection, modification or replacement of the cross-flow cylinder assembly. The FAA is proposing this AD to address the unsafe condition on these products.

Required Actions

If the engine has fewer than 500 engine operating hours on the effective date of this AD, no later than the next scheduled 100-hour/annual inspection after the effective date of this AD, perform a visual inspection of the cross-flow cylinder assembly in accordance with paragraphs III.1 through III.3, Action Required, of Continental Aerospace Technologies, Inc. Mandatory Service Bulletin (MSB) 18-08, Revision B, dated January 13, 2020 (“Continental Aerospace Technologies MSB18-08B”).

If the radius corner angle of the cross-flow cylinder assembly shows casting flash build-up or a sharp radius edge, modify the cross-flow cylinder assembly in accordance with paragraphs III.4 through III.8, Action Required, of Continental Aerospace Technologies MSB 18-08B; or

If a fissure, crack or physical damage is identified, remove the cross-flow cylinder assembly and replace with a part eligible for installation.

If the engine has 500 engine operating hours or greater on the effective date of this AD, at the next maintenance event after the effective date of this AD, not to exceed 50 engine operating hours after the effective date of this AD, perform a visual inspection of the cross-flow cylinder assembly in accordance with paragraphs III.1 through III.3, Action Required, of Continental Aerospace Technologies MSB18-08B.

If the radius corner angle of the cross-flow cylinder assembly shows casting flash build-up or a sharp radius edge, modify the cross-flow cylinder assembly in accordance with paragraphs III.4 through III.8, Action Required, of Continental Aerospace Technologies MSB 18-08B; or

If a fissure, crack or physical damage is identified, remove the cross-flow cylinder assembly and replace with a part eligible for installation.

More Information

For more information about this AD, contact Boyce Jones, Aerospace Engineer, Atlanta ACO Branch, FAA, 1701 Columbia Avenue, College Park, Georgia 30337; phone: 404-474-5535; fax: 404-474-5606; email:

For service information identified in this AD, contact Continental Aerospace Technologies, Inc., 2039 South Broad Street, Mobile, Alabama, 36615, United States; phone: 251-436-8299; website: You may view this referenced service information at the FAA, Engine and Propeller Standards Branch, 1200 District Avenue, Burlington, MA, 01803. For information on the availability of this material at the FAA, call 781-238-7759.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

The USPA Professional - Jump Pilot Section

Starting today we will be re-posting some interesting articles found in the Jump Pilot section of the USPA newsletter titled The USPA Professional. For those of you that have not read any of the articles, we are going to jump back to the March 5th 2020 article titled "Safety Day with Jump Pilots". 

We thought that would be a good place to start because some of you were hired after Safety Day and need to know what's involved with it and the importance of it. As us pilots know, safety is paramount!

Safety Day with Jump Pilots

Safety Day presents the perfect opportunity to strengthen the relationship between jump pilots and skydivers. Your pilots can participate in DZ safety culture by presenting a “skydiving from a pilot’s perspective” seminar, which will likely include segments on aircraft weight and balance and aircraft emergencies. Most jump pilots have scouted and planned alternate landing areas near the airport that they would use in the event of a forced landing at low altitude. Have them describe what emergencies would require the use of an off-airport landing area.

Aircraft like the Cessna 182 and Cessna 206 have Federal Aviation Administration approvals that require the jump pilot to wear a pilot emergency parachute while flying skydivers. If your pilot isn’t a skydiver, consider teaching your pilot how to egress and clear the aircraft, then use the parachute. Experienced skydivers and instructors should ensure that the pilot is wearing their parachute properly. Though skydivers seldom ride down with the plane, remind pilots of turbine aircraft that there is a risk of automatic activation device activation during a rapid descent. And have a plan to escort skydivers or observers to the rear of the aircraft, away from propellers, in the event they land with the aircraft.

Jump pilots and skydivers should communicate prior to beginning a flight. That conversation—or DZ policy—may address minimum exit altitude in emergencies for tandems or for skydivers with low experience. The goal of good dialogue between skydivers and jump pilots is to brief the essentials before action becomes necessary during an in-flight emergency.

Friday, February 14, 2020

All Hail the Pratt & Whitney PT6 Turboprop Engine!

All Hail the Pratt & Whitney PT6!

Below you will see one of the first photos of the famous Pratt & Whitney PT6 turboprop aircraft engine and its designers. This engine is THE rockstar of the turboprop engine world! 

Important Dates:

  • 1958 - Design started
  • 1960 Feb. - First ran
  • 1961 May - First flew
  • 1964 - Entered service
  • 2011 - 50th Anniversary 
On its first flight it was mounted as a third engine on the nose of a Beech 18. That would have been an interesting sight! The test aircraft was switched to a Beech King Air in 1980. The first production model was the PT6A-6 and used on the Beech Queen Air.

The original designers of the PT6

According to the manufacturer over 51,000 units have been produced (as of 2015) and the engine has flown over 400 million hours! Considering that it only has an in-flight engine shut-down once every 651,126 hours, it is one of the most reliable aircraft engines ever. There have been over 69 different versions built. Not all of the versions have been for aircraft, some variants have been used for helicopters, boats, hovercraft, land vehicles and auxiliary power units.

TBO (time between overhauls) ranges between 3600 to 9000 hours and hot section inspections are done between 1800 and 2000 hours.

The PT6-114A in the Cessna Caravan only weighs 350lbs and yet puts out almost 700hp! The PT6 engine is found in most of the turbo-prop airplanes in the United States, including the Cessna Caravan, de Havilland Twin Otter, Air Tractor, Beech 1900, Beech King Air, Beech 99, PAC 750, Quest Kodiak, Pilatus PC-12, Piaggio Avanti, Shorts 360, AgustaWestland AW139 and many more. ALL great aircraft mainly because of their heart.... the PT6. Keep up the great work Pratt & Whitney!

Be sure and check out our friends at

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Review - AIM 3-5-4 Parachute Jump Aircraft Operations

A good Jump Pilot is always reviewing and never gets complacent. I've flown at drop zones that are located at public airports and at some that are located at private airports. Although there may be less air traffic at private airports, that does not mean that there isn't any. At private airport DZs I always had more enroute aircraft nearby, most of which are not talking to ATC. Always look and listen for any traffic that might be in the area. When you do see or hear any traffic, expect them to not pay attention and to make a mistake. The day that you don't expect them to make a mistake, they will!

It is also a good idea to inform FBOs at nearby airports with a phone call or visit that you are conducting skydiving operations, your location and your normal operating hours. Anytime that I have done this it was much appreciated and even led to a few tandems being sold. Now let's review AIM Chapter 3, Section 5, Paragraph 4, Sub-Chapter C.

3−5−4. Parachute Jump Aircraft Operations

c. Parachute operations in the vicinity of an airport without an operating control tower − there is no substitute for alertness while in the vicinity of an airport. It is essential that pilots conducting parachute operations be alert, look for other traffic, and exchange traffic information as recommended in paragraph 4−1−9, Traffic Advisory Practices at Airports Without Operating Control Towers. In addition, pilots should avoid releasing parachutes while in an airport traffic pattern when there are other aircraft in that pattern. Pilots should make appropriate broadcasts on the designated Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF), and monitor that CTAF until all parachute activity has terminated or the aircraft has left the area. Prior to commencing a jump operation, the pilot should broadcast the aircraft’s altitude and position in relation to the airport, the approximate relative time when the jump will commence and terminate, and listen to the position reports of other aircraft in the area.

My fellow Jump Pilots, please remember to review often and fly safe so that you can continue to have fun!


Tuesday, August 13, 2019

This is Mexico by Dean Ricci

This is Mexico
by Dean Ricci

I’ve never felt further away from home than I did at that moment. I could feel the pieces of tooth swimming across the left side of my tongue, but it was a distant and almost unimportant sensation. At that instant I was focused on the baseball bats in the hands of the four men surrounding me, but much more so on the pistol aimed right at my chest by the fifth. The tiny little (sixth) guy with the ring that had split my canine tooth in half was still bouncing around in front of me like a madman, and I, well I must have had the most confused look on my face I have ever had in my life.
Perhaps a bit of a rewind is in order. Cut to my very first solo Otter load flying for Chicagoland Skydiving Center. I had told Doug, the owner and pilot training me to fly her, that I wasn’t sure if his winter trip to Mexico was something I’d want to take on. I’d suggested that perhaps we both find out first if I could handle the Otter there at home before I agreed to fly it off to Mexico. I was climbing through about 8,000’ on my first solo Otter load before I radioed down to manifest to tell Doug that Mexico sounded just fine to me! That’s how much I loved flying that plane.
Chicago to far southern Mexico is no small trip. Flying your own aircraft internationally is no little deal. Doing it with nothing but a few notes from a jump pilot buddy named Kro, the first flight plan I’d made in more than two years, an outdated GPS database, and non-pilot co-pilot is just, well it’s f*cking stupid.
Hinckley to Texarkana to Brownsville went off without a hitch. My close long-time friend Mandy kicked back in the co-pilot seat listening to music and enjoying the view, while I sat wondering if the cloud layer we’d been over for the last 200 miles would break before we got to Texas and I’d have to shoot an approach I was completely unprepared to make. Once the Otter was firmly planted on the ground in Brownsville, Texas (through clear skies), and the prevailing weather had been checked (f*cking crap), I let the boss know that I wouldn’t be continuing on to Mexico until the next day (even though Brownsville, Texas was the biggest shithole town I’d ever been in) because the thought of trying to land in some random field in Mexico in the forecasted bad weather ahead scared the living f*ck out of me.

Two days later … Puebla, Mexico was in sight. It was a pretty straightforward flight, other than the fact that it didn’t appear that Mexico had an air traffic system (that I could identify anyway). I believe after having crossed the International line, I spoke to only one Mexican controller, and he basically told me he didn’t care what I did. Once I was on the ground in Puebla I started their version of clearing customs, which involved spending a lot of money on paperwork I wasn’t told I’d need and going back and forth between two counters filled with people whose apparent jobs were to make the whole experience as difficult as possible. I made contact with the DZO Tony, who told me he was about an hour’s flight south of Puebla, just around the back side of the big f*cking volcano. He said that Pepe, his “guy” on the ground, would be waiting for us.
Imagine the most rutted-up f*cked up, weed-covered, rock-strewn, pothole-filled back road you’ve ever seen. That was the runway. Place on one side of that runway 50’ tall high-tension power lines. Place on the other side of that runway a rather deep ravine. Space those two very daunting obstacles about 2,000’ apart, angle the runway downhill just a touch and then stick the whole f*cking mess at about 4,500’ above sea level. Now bring in a fully fueled Twin Otter stuffed to the gills with everything from a dozen spare tires and enough spare parts to build a second plane, to a scooter and a six-month stockpile of cleaning supplies. Put in the pilot seat a guy who’s only landed that Otter completely empty and at sea level, and … BAM! Welcome to Mexico!
Cut to a day and a half later. The plane had been emptied, and was happily parked on a completely different runway that had everything from pavement to a centerline. I was about a million times more secure with my choice than I had been the previous evening, and was starting to think that I might just manage to survive the whole experience for more than a week. My nerves were settled, I once again believed I knew how to fly a plane and was totally ready to get it all started. It was Friday, the beginning of the DZ’s Halloween Boogie, and people were starting to show up for what promised to be quite the party.
DZO Tony had quite the reputation as a total party animal, and f*ck me, it was true. I was to be a guest at Tony’s house for the first week or so that I was in the country, which, unfortunately for Mandy, Fritz Pfnür, Fritz’s girlfriend, and me, meant we couldn’t get away from the damn music raging at Tony’s house long enough to get any rest. As I began flying on Saturday, it was only the mood of the jumpers that kept me awake.
[...I watched him taxi the King Air down a hill and hit one of the props on the runway...]

Besides the Otter, the DZ had a King Air leased from a drop zone in Colorado that was being flown by a local pilot by the name of Cesar. I’d heard about Cesar from Kro, the pilot who had flown the Mexico gig before me and was warned quite firmly to keep an eye out. At first Cesar didn’t seem to be much of a concern. He didn’t speak English, and didn’t seem to have any desire to get to know the gringo pilot in the flash Otter. I’d almost decided not to give Cesar a second thought—until I watched him taxi the King Air down a hill and hit one of the props on the runway, sending sparks and a few chunks of pavement flying! I was floored almost to inaction by what had happened, but after what I’d seen soaked in, I ran in front of the King Air as the jumpers began loading the plane screaming, “Shut this f*cking thing down! Shut it down!” Not only had Cesar known he had a prop strike, but the f*cker was still gonna fly the load, putting not only himself but everyone onboard at serious risk! There was just no way in hell I was gonna let that happen.
After I’d finally managed to get the attention of Cesar, as well as Tony, I was able to get the load transferred over to the Otter while they “inspected” the King Air. I didn’t really know what type of inspection they were doing, but as I pulled up to load the third group since the prop strike I saw some really stupid shit … The King Air was chalked on all three tires and completely unattended with both engines running. I can only assume that Cesar must have decided that doing a run-up from a safe distance would be a good idea. The next thing you know … He also decided that taking a quick flight was a good idea as well. A quick flight that involved buzzing the Otter at high speed! I just about lost my f*cking mind.
Luckily for me, Cesar hadn’t learned English in the two days I’d been in Mexico, so he couldn’t understand the massive string of profanities flowing through my headset—but Pepe on the ground sure as hell could! I was so mad I couldn’t see straight, and ended up glad that I had another two hours of flying before I was able to shut down, giving me a good chance to cool off before I could confront F*ckstick for his actions.
With Tony interpreting, I told Cesar that he had absolutely no business being a pilot. I made it very clear to him that in no uncertain terms was he to go anywhere near the Otter either in the air OR on the ground, and that he should stay the hell away from me as well. As it turns out, considering I was basically all alone in far southern Mexico right around the time the drug cartels were really getting the hang of killing people and cutting off their heads, calling Cesar out in that way may not have been the wisest of choices.
It was almost twenty-four hours later that I climbed out of the plane after a beautiful flyby that I found myself approached by the six men I mentioned earlier. I guess it had been a really good day, full of fun jumps and happy people, because the previous day’s excitement wasn’t even remotely in my mind when the first guy walked up and said, “We have a problem.”
That’s just about the time I swallowed half of my tooth. The little guy, who probably stood no more than about five-foot-five, threw a sucker punch from my blind spot that confused me more than anything else, because my first reaction was to laugh and bark out the word “what??” It wasn’t until he came in for punch number two and I’d shoved him away that I saw the baseball bats. As he came in for number three, I got my first view of the gun barrel pointed straight at my chest, and let the little shit swing away.
Cesar, being the big man that he was, stood a safe twenty feet back from the action, letting his boys prove how rugged and tough he was. The gang clearly saw that I saw the gun CLEARLY, and slowed the pace a bit, I assume to savor what was to come. “This is MEXICO” came from the mouth of Mr. We Have a Problem. He had clearly been voted the spokesman for the group, and was taking his job quite seriously, using the full weight of the situation to really put some impact behind his words. And then … My savior!
Mandy had been watching the situation unfold, and according to her, screaming her f*cking head off (although to this day I don’t recall hearing a sound) loud enough to attract the attention of the military on the field. It didn’t appear that the military intended to do a damn thing about the attack, but they did stand up and look our way (I assume to get a better view), which turned out to be just enough to back my new friends off just a touch. The Spokesman looked to the military, then to me and said, in his most ominous tone, “Eeef you are here Saturday, you go home in a box.”
“Doug, if I’m here on Saturday, the f*ckin’ guy says I go home in a box! So … Either I leave Mexico with the Otter, or I leave without it! Your choice!” To his credit, he handled the news pretty damn well. I mean really, when you consider I had just called him to tell him that I was flushing his entire winter down the toilet because of something that happened to somebody else’s plane, he was a real gent.
Tony, the DZO, had quickly gone into damage control mode, and was busy telling his entire staff that there had been no gun, and that for some unknown reason I was making the entire story up. It wasn’t until Fritz’s girlfriend stood up and called bullshit that he stopped trying to play everyone. Luckily for me, she had seen the guy with the gun (who turned out to be a f*cking Federale) and told the entire staff right then and there what she had seen. Between her, Mandy, and a staff that wasn’t blind or stupid, everyone got a pretty good picture of what had transpired.
From then on out, things started to get a bit strange … First, I found myself standing in front of a group of 20 or so staff members, telling them that I was leaving as soon as the sun came up WITH the Otter, then apologizing deeply because I knew that I was ruining their season by doing so. I felt horrible in a way that I never have before, but it was the only choice that was to be made. Once Doug had the chance to get a handle on the situation, he told me flat out to get in the Otter and get the f*ck outta there. To this day I still greatly respect his decision and how hard it must have been to make. Then, the staff, whose entire season I was about to destroy, did something I really never would have expected.
Each and every one of them went above and beyond, and helped me load thousands of pounds of equipment back into the Otter so that I’d be ready to leave at first light. They actually helped me take money right out of their pockets. Of all the staff, I only knew Buzz from Chicagoland. I don’t know a single one of the other staff members’ names, but I owe them a huge debt of gratitude nonetheless.
That night Tony took me to meet a Mexican version of the Godfather who told me, through Tony, that I should put the past behind me, and that I should not worry. He told me that I should not speak of that night any further because I was now under his protection, and nobody would touch me. He invited me to stay to finish the season in comfort, knowing that he would be looking out for me. I flew out as soon as the sun hit the horizon the next morning.
As I crossed the border from Mexico back to the U.S. and Brownsville, Texas, I remember thinking that it was just about the most beautiful place I’d ever seen. If it hadn’t been so damn close to the border, I probably would have settled down there …
["So, to the staff of that DZ in Southern Mexico I give my heart-felt thanks."]

I lasted a total of four days in Mexico. It was the last time I visited that country, and I still have no plans to return. Ninety nine percent of the people I met there (well, ninety five anyway) were wonderful people. Had it not been for the crazy events that took place there, I truly believe I would have had an amazing experience. The staff at the DZ were kind, full of smiles, apologetic for the events, and were amazingly generous with their help. It is a testament to what I hope is the real spirit of the Mexican people.
The true test of a choice that you make is simple. Would you make the same choice if you had it to do all over again? Absolutely! Would I change the way I approached f*ckstick Cesar? Sure. I can tell you from experience that having a gun pointed at you sucks! Would I change stopping him from flying a load of jumpers after the prop strike? NEVER! Those were my people! It didn’t matter if I knew them or not, they were skydivers, and I would never be willing to risk their lives under any circumstances, no matter who they were or where they were from. So, to the staff of that DZ in Southern Mexico I give my heart-felt thanks. To Cesar I say, “GO F*CK YOURSELF!” (From a safe distance and an undisclosed location).

This article was posted on with permission from Dean Ricci and  Blue Skies Magazine

Sunday, April 14, 2019

The Right Stuff by Dean Ricci

The Right Stuff
by Dean Ricci

So, just what makes a good jump pilot? The truth is, there’s no real set answer to that question. As you can imagine, there are as many factors that go into a good jump pilot (some more important than others) as there are factors for a good skydiver, so let’s do it backward and list a few things that make a really shit jump pilot.

While on the road and flying for a really nice Midwest drop zone, I had the opportunity—or misfortune, if you will—to fly alongside a Caravan flown by the worst jump pilot I have ever met, seen or heard of. The DZ got stuck with this guy we’ll call “Tool,” after their two very accomplished jump pilots had moved on to bluer skies as it were, leaving them in a tight spot.

Tool had interviewed with the DZOs of this unfortunate operation and told them that outside of what I’m sure he explained was an amazing corporate career, he’d been quite the successful jump pilot as well. He told of his 500+ hours flying jumpers back when you had to spot with your eye, not the GPS, and that with everything available to him in their beautiful aircraft, the job would be as easy as could be. So, as any DZO would, they checked him out in the Caravan, ensured that he knew how to go up and back while keeping the rubber side down, and strapped him in the cockpit with very simple instructions: Go up and down, fast.

Cut to just under two weeks later, and my arrival. I’d had the chance to fly for this particular DZ the year before in the Chicagoland Otter, and knew the operation pretty well. It’s a drop zone full of great people, very accomplished jumpers, an airport willing to bend over backward to please them and an all around great vibe.

Perhaps it was because they recognized me from the previous year, perhaps it was because more than a few of them had read my articles in Blue Skies Mag or perhaps it was just my considerable charm and devilish good looks, but for whatever reason, I ended up getting an earful about Tool right away. They all said it in slightly different ways, but in a nutshell, Tool was an asshole that couldn’t spot for shit. I decided that I’d try to have an open mind, keep an eye out, and see for myself throughout the day. It didn’t take long to form my own opinion.

Strike One: While chatting with Tool on the ground before load one was even manifested, I tried to discuss a discrete radio frequency for us to be on so we could talk between ourselves. His question, without even a hint of sarcasm, was, “Why do we need to talk?” I thought about trying to explain to him that while running a multiple aircraft operation, it’s imperative for the pilots involved to be in constant contact to avoid dropping jumpers on top of each other, aircraft collisions, spotting corrections, jump-run separation, checking out the blonde tandem student with the amazing rack, etc.—but he walked away before I even had the chance to get the dumbass look off my face.

Strike Two: I was taxiing out for load five and getting ready to depart off runway 23. I heard the Caravan make a two-mile, 3,000’ final approach call for the same runway, so I made my call. “Middletown traffic, 2ST rolling for an intersection departure off 23.” I instantly got an almost panicked response from the Caravan with Tool yelling into the mic, “But I’m coming in HOT, I’M COMING IN HOT!” I couldn’t help but laugh out loud into the mic and respond “You’re in a Caravan that’s two miles away Tool, you’re NOT coming in hot!” Then, just for my own personal satisfaction, after he landed and once he called clear of the runway I announced, “Middletown traffic, 2ST climbing thru three thousand five hundred and WELL CLEAR of inbound HOT traffic”.

Strike Two and a Half: This strike was for the dozen jumpers that Tool put off the field on a light-wind day with mild jump-run speeds, having done so AFTER the jumpers on board asked him for multiple corrections and after I’d told him what direction jump run was, the distance prior to the field he should turn on the green, and how far he could let the last one exit at. It turns out that his favorite word every time a jumper asked him for anything was “WHY??” Jumpers land off, it’s a fact. Many factors can go into an off landing, but when you have all the information Tool had at his disposal it just shouldn’t happen.

Strike Two and Three Quarters: This one I didn’t get to see in person because I never flew in the Caravan with him. It turns out that on every single load he was on, he would go out of his way to announce that he’d give extra altitude if any of the girls on board would show him their tits. That’s actually how he did it as well … “I’ll give you more if you show me your tits!” He also attempted to institute a rule that only women were allowed to sit in the co-pilot seat; that way the tits were more accessible. Now don’t get me wrong, BIG fan of tits here, but in my opinion, asking for them is a lot like paying for sex. If you have to do that, you’ve got real problems!


Strike Three: While flying through about 4,000’, I heard the Caravan call two minutes to jumpers away. About four minutes later, as I was calling my two minutes to jumpers, it dawned on me that I hadn’t heard Tool call jumpers away, nor had I heard him communicate with approach that he was dropping. I hopped on the discrete frequency I’d finally gotten him to go on and asked where he was. By the time he answered, I was under one minute and about to give the door light. He explained to me that he was about one minute to the green light and was too busy to talk. The worst of many problems with this situation was that Tool was dropping fun jumpers from 13.5, and I was dropping tandems from 10.5, a fact that both he and I were aware of. When I leaned forward and craned my neck to look up, I’ll be damned if I didn’t get a great look at the belly of the Caravan about three thousand feet directly above me, totally ready to drop right on my head. Even worse than this was the fact that when I explained the whole thing to him later, he didn’t seem to really grasp what the problem was.

Even if you take the different jump altitudes out of the equation this is still a big deal. Two aircraft dropping at the same time and not talking could potentially put jumpers from different aircraft jumping into each other without even knowing. Imagine a tracking dive out of one aircraft, inadvertently blasting straight toward a tandem from the other aircraft … There are just too many possibilities for death and destruction to list.

In my personal opinion, and that of many other people I know, the best damn jump pilots out there start out their careers as jumpers. As a skydiver, you should already have a damn good grasp on issues like spotting, jump runs, group separation, wingsuits versus tandems or big ways, etc. The things that jumpers take as basic knowledge, your average general aviation pilot is completely clueless about. I honestly believe that it would be easier to take a non-pilot skydiver and turn them into a jump pilot, than to take an accomplished pilot and do the same thing.

What makes a good jump pilot? A little skill, a little luck, and the realization that your responsibility starts the moment you fire up the engine, and ends when the last jumpers are on the ground, and the aircraft is all tied down. It’s taking and giving corrections when needed, communicating both with other aircraft and air traffic control and with the jumpers. It’s knowing your responsibility not only to the jumpers, but to the operation as well. It’s about protecting the jumpers by giving them the best spots and the most information possible. It’s also about trying your hardest, every damn day, on every damn load to keep from being a complete and total fucking TOOL.

Lastly, if you’re a Midwest Skydiver wondering how to make sure you don’t end up in Tool’s aircraft, you need not worry. He got canned a few days after my weekend with them! (I’d like to think I was part of the reason why he got tossed.) So take yourself a drive down to Start Skydiving in Middletown, Ohio, and tell ‘em “The Fuckin’ Pilot” said to say hey!

This article was posted on with permission from Dean Ricci and  Blue Skies Magazine.