My first, and last, parachute jump
by Mike Evans
parachute in our ‘Kestrel’ had become rather uncomfortable and I had persuaded my syndicate partners to agree
to a replacement. Luckily, John D’Arcy at Lasham was selling his which was virtually new, having been worn only half
a dozen times, so we had a bargain. It was a glorious spring day and I decided it was a good opportunity to try out the glider
after it’s recent C of A, and the new ‘chute. Little did I realise what a test flight this was to be.
Clunk! “What was that?” I wondered to myself. “The undercarriage doors? No, I’d put nice new
bungees on at the C of A.” While I pondered what could be wrong, the ASI flickered towards zero. Then the nose started
to go down and it wouldn’t come up again. “Something’s happened back there in the tail”, I thought,
and started to consider the options. “Just off tow at 2000 feet, glider still flying, no need to panic, yet. I can’t
just abandon our beautiful glider; whatever will my syndicate partners say? But I don’t like it. I don’t fancy
flying a circuit and trying to line up this 20-metre Kestrel for approach if it’s flying like this. Controls seem funny.
No, I’m going to get out while the going’s good.”
Pulling the velcro straps off, then the release
levers, I jettisoned the canopy. Expecting a blast of wind, I was surprised to find how calm everything seemed. Undoing my
straps, I started to lever myself up out of the seat, at the same time straining round to see what had happened at the tail.
Then, out of the corner of my eye, something white went fluttering away. “That’s it! I’m not waiting to
find out any more”, I said out loud.
Suddenly, I remembered Derek Piggott’s story of how he once told a student to bail out, but the student dithered
and when Derek asked him why, after they were safely on the ground, the student said he was putting his sunglasses away! My
varifocal photochromic, very expensive prescription glasses would blow away if I jumped with them on, so I paused and put
them safely in the pocket of the glider.
There was still no need to hurry. The glider was flying almost level, and it was a beautiful sunny afternoon! “You
can’t stay here all day, admiring the view”, I reminded myself. So, rather reluctantly, I climbed out onto the
wing and then, sadly, slid off into space. I wasn’t at all scared, just sorry to be leaving poor old ‘284’
to fend for herself, after all the wonderful flights we’d had together.
But the next moment, as I pulled the ‘chute handle and nothing happened, I was rudely aware that I must act quickly.
I had forgotten to put my left hand over my right before pulling the handle so had only taken up the slack in the cable. Bending
forward, a good heave on the handle did the trick. Just like a big friendly hand, the harness caught me very smoothly and
there I was, floating gently to earth.
Again I had time to admire the view on this sunny afternoon, and looking up, saw 284 demonstrating phugoids. “I
hope she times her final pull-up right”, I thought. Then I concentrated on turning into wind. Watching the drift, I
grabbed a handful of cords and heaved. After a long pause we gradually began to turn into wind. Looking down, I thought that
might have been a mistake because we were getting rather close to a wood.
All good things come to an end, but parachute jumps do so very quickly. One moment you’re drifting gently down,
the next the ground jumps up at you and ‘bang’ you’ve hit it. In my case it was my back that had hit it
and I yelped. I’d missed the trees, but in their lee there was probably a wind reversal and, hitting the ground with
forward speed, my shoes shot from under me on the damp grass. Ouch!
I rolled around in considerable pain, thinking I’d
broken my back. (I had in fact crushed my ‘lumbar one’ vertebra). Some horses appeared and started to show interest
so I staggered to my feet and then ‘crump!’ the glider hit the earth in the next field. I limped painfully to
the nearby farm but couldn’t make anyone hear. The tug flew over, obviously looking for me, and eventually saw me waving.
In a few minutes a group of Lashamites, led by DP arrived. “You did the
right thing”, I was reassured to hear Derek say, although I was more interested in finding out what had happened to
Amazingly, apart from one wing which was destroyed, the glider was not badly damaged. The front section of the canopy
had just a small crack – and my glasses were fine! The rudder was missing and it took the Lasham team some time to find
it. The tail chute and its fairing had become detached from the rudder – it was several months before a farmer found
So, what caused all this? The bottom hinge had failed (left, below), causing the rudder to come loose and then depart
– the white object I saw disappearing. Before that, the tail ‘chute must have deployed, slowing the glider. This
is almost imperceptible, unless you’re expecting it, as when you’ve just deployed it for instance. So, loss of
rudder control started the sideslipping and then the tail ‘chute brought us close to the stall.
Could I have flown it back to the airfield? Certainly, but I wouldn’t like to have to try and line up the approach
and landing without a rudder. The longer span Kestrels needed a modified rudder, so flying without one at all would be most
I don’t think 284 flew again. We sold the wreckage to a glider repairer, but Slingsby’s destroyed the wing
moulds when they stopped production so the only solution would be another wing from another crashed Kestrel.
John D’Arcy had the last word: “Had to test my ‘chute to make sure it works? You’re not very
trusting are you!”
Reflections: I was lucky. I was high and flying level when I had to bail out. If you’re unlucky enough to
have a mid-air there probably won’t be much time to get out, and the glider may spin. So make sure you can get out quickly,
even from an unusual attitude. It’s a good idea to practise landing properly, as you only get one chance, and the ground
suddenly hits you, fast. Legs together, slightly bent, and roll over to absorb the energy. I knew this but failed because
my shoes shot away from me on the slippery grass. Tough!