Skydiving in Scotland
To jump or not to jump, that is the question. Read on for our comprehensive guide to parachute jumping as we speak to a qualified instructor and grill our brave writer as she prepares to plunge
--Perhaps you’re not quite convinced about this whole jumping out of a plane malarkey? Maybe it’s the drop height of around 10,000 feet or the acceleration from zero to 120-miles per hour in a matter of seconds? We’ll happily admit that we’re as scared as you are, which is why we’re seeking the reassurance and advice of a qualified expert. Jim White is chief instructor at the Skydive St Andrews centre, and to him jumping out of planes is a doddle.
‘I don’t have any fear,’ he says, ‘it’s more a sense of apprehension in case I muck it up for someone else.’ But with 24 years of experience and previous training before that with an army parachute display team, it’s unlikely anything is going to go wrong. The safety measures are also reassuringly strict: ‘There’s a set of SOP’s (Standard Operating Procedures) laid down by the British Parachuting Association and approved by the Civil Aviation Authority,’ he explains. ‘It is my job to make sure these rules are followed and to apply more stringent ones if need be.’
So that just leaves you to worry about enjoying the jump. White’s experience is that ‘99.9 per cent of people love it and scream and shout, then the canopy opens and a quiet euphoria takes over.’ Plus, it’s a sport that’s not limited to nutty daredevils and the super fit, because with just a few hours of training anyone can have the skills and confidence to make the jump. ‘I see many different people from all walks of life and as chief instructor I make sure everybody is safe and happy,’ he says.
You might even find yourself addicted to the thrill. ‘I’ll never forget my first jump,’ White recalls. ‘It was in Glenrothes in 1981; I loved it and I’ve never stopped since.’ However, as a full-time instructor, there’s not so much time for him to enjoy himself anymore. But if there’s one experience that forever sticks in his mind, it’s of jumping out a plane in Hong Kong into the middle of a New Year’s party on the stroke of midnight. ‘I remember that like it was yesterday.’
Just before her jump, we speak to our writer Kirsty Gibbins to see how she’s limbering up
Why did you decide to take the plunge?
My friends and I were slightly drunk and we decided that jumping out of a plane would be a good way to raise money for charity. The hangover faded but the idea remained. And so here I am preparing to jump from a plane with just a harness and the flimsy promise that my parachute will inflate.
What's your fear factor?
It's strange, but I am probably more terrified of being stuck in a room with a wasp than I am of launching myself out of a plane at 10,000 feet. Perhaps I have a chemical imbalance of the brain?
What's the scariest thing you've done before this?
I've got an innate fear of fairground ghost trains and my little brother dragged me on one six years ago. I've still got the grey hairs from that particular ‘adventure’.
What are you most looking forward to?
I've spoken to a few people who've completed tandem jumps for charity and I will never forget one woman who said to me that she experienced the ‘best orgasm she'd ever had’ during her jump. That's something to look forward to indeed!
What kind of preparation have you been doing?
I've been trying to get in good shape. I will be tandem jumping, which means I’m strapped to an instructor and, because I'm a curvy girl, I figure I owe it to the poor man or woman not to be the size of a double decker bus as we're hurtling towards the ground.
Are you a daredevil at heart?
I think so. I've always believed that while it's OK to be afraid or nervous sometimes, you shouldn't let those feelings hold you back from once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.
Any last words?
Non, Je ne regrette rien!
Where to jump?
Skydive Strathallan offer solo jumps, tandem skydiving and training courses. Open year-round and with 10,000 jumps taking place each year, this buzzing airfield never sleeps. Maybe it’s got something to do with the beautiful scenery of the local Perthshire area that rises up to meet you as you fall from the sky.
Skydive Strathallan, Strathallan Airfield, Perthshire, www.skydivestrathallan.co.uk
The Stirling Parachute Centre is a good place for first time jumpers as they specialise in beginner’s courses. And for extra-cautious jumpers, you can tandem jump with a qualified instructor. The centre can also arrange for a video of your jump to be recorded, so you can cherish that moment of fear forever.
Stirling Parachute, Eastkilbride, www.stirlingparachute.co.uk
The Skydive team offer comprehensive courses for people of all skill levels and the St Andrews centre is perhaps the most picture perfect. Static line jumpers will receive six hours of ground training, but tandem jumpers will need only 20 minutes of briefing before they’re ready for the go.
Skydive St Andrews, Fife Airport, Glenrothes, www.skydivestandrews.co.uk
The Paragon Skydiving centre is located at Errol Airfield, an old World War Two naval base, and they’ve been dropping people out of planes for over ten years. They have also created a replica of the aircraft door, so you can simulate your exit before you’re ready for the real thing (practice screams of terror optional).
Paragon Skydiving, Errol Airfield, Perth, www.paragonskydiving.co.uk
Active Skydiving is a specialist centre offering week long residential courses as well as tandem and static line jumps. It’s run by ex-Red Devil and five-times British Champion Scotty Milne, who has 25 years of experience and has completed more than 10,000 jumps. You probably couldn’t be in safer hands.
Active Skydiving, Crieff, Perthshire, www.activeskydiving.co.uk