Story and Photos by Jay Wischkaemper
Bored this weekend? Need something different to do? Ready to experience a unique thrill? You might just find it falling out of an airplane.
The sport of skydiving continues to attract a faithful, enthusiastic following. Curious to learn more about this popular aviation-related activity, I recently visited the nice folks at Westex Sky Sports in Stanton, Texas. The little town of Stanton, located about 20 miles east of Midland, has been home since 1984 to an intrepid group of individuals who think it’s fun and sane to jump out of a perfectly good airplane. Every weekend, a trusty 182 lifts people 10,000 feet in the air for no purpose other than to depart the airplane and float to earth.
Personally, I’ve always had a schizophrenic attitude toward skydiving. On the one hand, it’s something you couldn’t pay me to do. In fact, when George Bush Sr. did it, it made me wonder about the intelligence of the man who had been the leader of the free world. But on the other hand, I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t enjoy watching the graceful descent of a person beneath a canopy, and the pinpoint landings that can be made with modern parachute equipment. Just look at how often parachutists are used at major events. Football games. Santa Claus arrivals. Airshows. Wherever there are jumpers, there is usually an audience, even if it’s nothing more than people watching the antics of those who go to places like Stanton to jump on a weekend.
Westex is owned by Brent and Sherry Berry, both of whom jump. Brent is a veteran of over 6,500 jumps and is one of the primary instructors. People come from miles around to enjoy the sport, and should you desire to fly in, the Stanton airport (63F) offers a 4,600-foot runway. Other than the jump club, there’s not a lot going on there, and fuel isn’t available. Facilities are limited -- no rental or courtesy cars -- but the friendly folks who gather each weekend are the type who won’t let you go hungry. The airport is located about two miles north of town.
Nothing in aviation is cheap, and it turns out it’s about as expensive to jump out of an airplane as it is to fly one. The club offers a variety of jumping experiences. If all you want is the thrill of seeing what it’s like, the tandem jump might be for you. It’ll set you back $180, but that includes everything, including a video of you doing whatever you happen to do on your way down. (If what you do isn’t anything you would want the public to witness, you might offer them another $50 to destroy the tape.) Video experts and expert jumpers Tom Brewer and Chad Farris can film every jump. The cost of a video by itself is $44.
If you’re brave enough to go it alone, the static line program is $140, including instruction and equipment rental. Since a parachute will set you back about $1500, you’re better off renting theirs until you decide this is something you’re going to continue to do. Each additional jump after your training will set you back $42, plus a $15 lift ticket, plus $28 for equipment rental. Check out their web site at westexskysports.com for more details.
Since four jumpers at a time is about the limit for the 182, and since it takes about 30 minutes to reach jumping altitude (10,000 agl), you do get to stand around a bit and wait your turn, but that’s not necessarily bad. The scenery may not be the greatest -- unless you think pump jacks, cotton fields, and tumbleweeds are scenic -- but the folks you’ll have to visit with will be some of the friendliest around. It’s typical of all aviation camaraderie. This may be a different phase of aviation, but it’s aviation none the less.
One of the more thrilling aspects of a jump isn’t actually experienced by the jumpers. What goes up must come down, and that includes the jump plane. I’m not sure if it’s true or not, but there almost seems to be a contest between the jumpers and the pilot of the jump plane to see who can get down first. You would think the jumpers, coming down at about 120 mph a good bit of the way, would have an edge, but on the day I was there, the jump plane won the contest hands down. I can only wonder what it must be like to descend from 10,000 feet in under 3 minutes, and what your ears must feel like when you do it. It’s all part of making the operation efficient. As soon as the plane shuts down, there’s another load of jumpers ready to board, eager for the thrill that awaits them.
There are dozens of jump club across the Southwest, making it easy to find one within an easy drive, or flight, of your home. So if you’re the adventuresome type who does think there is some logical reason to jump out a perfectly good airplane, this might be just the ticket for you.
Texas native Jay Wischkaemper is a successful MassMutual life insurance agent based in Lubbock, Texas. He is a long-time partner in a Bellanca Super Viking, and is proud to say that he has never fallen out of it.