An entire sunny afternoon turns into just split seconds for the brave (or highly nervous) at heart when consisting of a 2-hour drive west of Murfreesboro to a hilltop paved with 4,000 feet of runway, a comfortable wait in the sun for a turn on a flight lifting 14,000 feet in the air, an inevitable loss of cabin pressure, and finally, a 120 mile an hour free-fall back to earth until footing the ground again either relieved or screaming for more.
Those six or seven hours feel like seconds in hindsight after experiencing what Adventure Skydiving Tennessee (AST) in Waverly has to offer as it just began its sixth season in-state this spring, ferrying people through the well-instructed process of skydiving to the adrenalized awe and glow it can create in a person so long as the skies are clear to do so. And with the weather treating us the way it has been so far this year, the AST professionals shouldn’t have any problem catering to the adventurous’ wants anytime during the summer that, too, will fly by quicker than anyone realizes.
Brooklyn Benjamin, owner and operator of the AST hanger on her own corner of the Humphreys County Airport, runs a tight business shadowed by the tall orange and white painted light-tower beside the airport entrance gate. A small office greets everyone walking along the tarmac inside to, first, fill out the appropriate paperwork explaining in detail the risks of jumping out of a plane at high speeds, ensuring AST customers are participating of sound mind and waiving responsibility from the facility seeing they are meeting their full obligation and intentions to keep everyone safe as well as repeat customers. An invite into the almost acre’s worth of hanger follows, revealing itself half full of a couple of private planes, one, a $2 million jet-engine Citation and the other, “The Lake,” with its only propeller sitting above the fuselage and appropriately named (It lands on water). The other half of the hanger is filled with an extremely laid back but busy beehive of employees folding stretched-out parachutes into their packs and preparing harnesses with great care over the course of their sun up to sun down work day. A videographer’s booth is tucked away on a far wall preparing returning jumpers footage of themselves looking flappy while free falling at terminal velocity. Sodas or water are right beside it to relieve dry mouth for those who decided to scream on the way down.
The general mood in that hanger is noteworthy and soothingly calm despite the highly important and delicate work taking place. By the end of the day anyone can tell the men and women making Adventure Skydiving Tennessee function smoothly have developed great friendships from sharing the lives lived together over these summers, and fortunately, it’s contagious to any nervous wreck around them.
That contagion was evident during the third or fourth flight up (the first beginning around 1 p.m. when solo jumpers do their thing for a few flights before getting to tandems a little later). Instructor Dan Richardson took one of his solo dives from 10,000 feet where he is too small to be noticed at that altitude, but seemed to be getting bigger and bigger faster than the everyone else coming down, or faster than any whose parachutes pulled properly.
Richardson reached an altitude where he was fully visible from the ground, chute flapping dead behind him, hurtling towards the airfield past the others then safely wafting down. Coworkers on ground, sitting in the designated waiting area (away from any propellers) beside the hanger door with the customers all looked upwards only for a second asking calmly, “Hey, is that Dan?” until nonchalantly turning around to greet another friend poking his head in the door at that time from the office/hanger doorway on the other wall just to say hi.
“He cutaway,” one employee barely said, turning around to welcome the surprise visitor with a, “Hey, Josh!” roaring collectively back in to the hanger as Richardson fell past the tree line out of sight behind them. First-time jumpers glared at one another in their seats frightfully confused why this wasn’t a bigger deal and more than likely second-guessing the whole experience all while the Caravan passenger bus landed back home to refuel and reload for the next round.
No one said anything else about it.
A few moments later, Richardson trotted out of the woods smiling in his bright red jumpsuit just in time to catch the refueled flight for another jump. Everyone went along with their day. That was just expected of him. The trust these guys have for themselves and their equipment was the relieving contagion.
Anyways, that red and white Cessna Caravan marked N246CB has a roaring propeller at one end almost invisible when at idle-throttle with a rolling door entrance on the other a step ladder’s climb from the asphalt. Inside are two two-foot tall black benches stretching the length of the fuselage for up to 10 passengers to sit with a little extra floor space beside the roll-top-style door for any solo-stragglers wanting to get out of everyone’s way real quick.
Chelsea, an AST instructor and packer, was the only one on the floor that trip up and was referred to as a “hop and pop,” meaning she hops in for the ride until 7,000 feet or so, rolling the door open and quickly popping out of the plane back-first just to get a quick jump in. After her ever-fading thumbs up towards the plane, “clear!” was echoed to the pilot from her coworkers (three of which were harnessed to first-time jumpers this flight), okaying the door to close and assume the somewhat bumpy circular climb that provided a pit-of-the-stomach rush on the way up. Kind of like ones people get when driving over a steep hill really fast.
When 14,000 feet is reached, there’s nothing really noticeable up there besides the tops of sporadic little cumuli and a hazy green/brown layer beneath, stretching for a 20-mile view of more blue than anything else until fading into a slightly sloping horizon. Then that door opens again, blowing in a cold rush of wind and with it one of the greatest adrenaline rushes known to man. There is nothing between the passengers and the big blue sky anymore at this point. And it’s too late to turn back.
The instructions are pretty simple, though: put your toes outside of the plane on the threshold’s ledge, place your head on the right shoulder of your tandem instructor, rock back and forth a few times until the wind pulls you out into a barreling free-fall taking yourself away from the plane towards a quickly detailing earth for a good 60 seconds until slamming situated into the harness as the parachute suddenly catches you. Uncontrollably screaming ecstatic obscenities into the air, once gliding, was noted as a common reaction by tandem instructor Robbie Owens, who also provided information on the planes and history of AST while floating around up there, as well as what the workers do when it’s just them jumping for fun without any customers: formation diving, mid-fall acrobatics, and his personal favorite, whirling himself into a spin once the parachute is open where he’s able land sliding baseball style across the grass next to the runway for a pretty good ways. That’s just for him, though. Landing in a tandem scenario is delicate and well-instructed a few times beforehand to make sure the process has sank in so first time jumpers don’t.
Then it’s over. Just like that.
Everyone is safely back to earth again. A short walk back with a deep sense of satisfaction to the still very laid-back hanger echoing mostly ’90s rock and Bill Withers songs. Everyone is sharing giant grins and approving glances. They don’t even mind folks relaxing around the place however long they need to unwind or get just a little more sun before heading back home looking at their watches and wondering where all the time went as the sun sets.
Adventure Skydiving Tennessee hubs out of Humphreys County Airport at 1005 Airport Rd. just a few miles off of US 70 West in Waverly, Tenn. The number of people jumping in a day ranges from 25 to 90, according to Benjamin, as they cater to any level of experience in skydiving from first time jumpers to seasoned veterans and providing classes to get anyone from one to the other. Pricing for gift certificates and hours/scheduling information, tandem or solo, as well as specific airfield contacts and directions can be found through (888) 357-9800 or online at astskydiving.com. Souvenir DVD footage can be recorded and purchased at the airfield, as well as additional altitude past the normal 10,000 feet to 14,000 feet (any higher legally mandates supplemental oxygen tanks). Tammy will be in the office.