If you head to Abilene, Kan., at the right time on most Saturday mornings, you just might catch a glimpse of something you don’t see on campus: a K-State student hurtling through the air as a wide-body Cessna 182 flies overhead.
According to Skylar January, president of the K-State Parachute Club and senior in agronomy, the group has almost 50 students who regularly fly to heights exceeding 5,000 feet and hurl themselves into oblivion.
“We started back in the ’60s,” said January, who has made more than 200 jumps since he joined the club as a freshman. “Back then it was just military surplus stuff, and they’d just kind of go up, jump out and that was about it. Then, it kind of just evolved into a skydiving sport, and you can enter competitions.”
January competed in the United States Parachute Association’s Collegiate National Skydiving Competition over winter break, along with three other K-State jumpers, and took second place in accuracy. He said the K-State team has a proud tradition, boasting a gold medalist and a fourth-place finisher in last year’s competition.
Gus Garcia, junior in sociology, who made his first jump in Mississippi this year and joined the club at K-State to pursue his skydiving license, said the group has a distinct family atmosphere.
“We all help each other out a lot,” he said. “If we’re trying to learn something new, someone’s always there with some good advice.”
Garcia has one jump to go before he completes the 25 required to obtain a Class A skydiving license from the USPA, which would allow him to pack his own parachute, jump without supervision, perform water jumps and participate in group jumps. He hopes to finish this process with a jump this weekend.
According to January, a prospective jumper with no prior experience could complete the club’s first jump course on a Friday evening and make his or her first jump the next day.
“Basically, we tell you everything you need to know,” he said. “We do that pretty much every other week during the semester, weather permitting.”
A typical freefall usually lasts between 45 seconds and a minute, followed by a three-minute parachute ride, according to January. Then, the jumpers repack their chutes and head back to the skies for another round.
“Your freefall speed is about 120 miles per hour,” January said. “But you can only feel acceleration, so when you jump out of a plane moving 90 mph, you only feel your speed increase by 30, and that’s not all that much.”
January said the approximate cost of someone’s first jump is around $170, including gear rental, club dues and the lift fee for the club plane, known as the Green Machine. Subsequent jumps cost between $30 and $40 until the jumper obtains a license, at which point the cost drops to around $20. Because the club is not for profit, according to January, it can provide some of the lowest costs on the market to beginning skydivers.
“We’re the cheapest place you’re going to find your license, probably in the nation,” he said. “We make enough money to keep the club going, and that’s it.”
January also downplayed the danger associated with leaping bodily from an aircraft thousands of feet above the ground.
“The parachutes are actually really forgiving. You’d have to really screw up bad when you’re packing your chute for there to be any danger,” he said. “It’s really as dangerous as you make it.”
According to January, only 1 in 100,000 jumpers is killed in a parachuting accident. He said that most of these result from careless mistakes on the part of the jumpers, such as turning too sharply or colliding with another jumper.
“You can’t really describe the feeling unless you do it,” Garcia said. “But it’s fun. Sure, it’s a little dangerous, but if you’re not doing something a little risky, where’s the fun?”