By Doug Kish, MA
Intrigued by the maneuvers a small airplane could complete, Rodger Conley became interested in flying at a young age. He earned his commercial pilot’s license and instrument rating in 1968. Still working a full-time job as an apprentice electrician in 1969, a coworker learned of Conley’s flying experience and asked if he had ever done any skydiving. Soon after that they planned and completed their first skydiving experience. In 1974 Conley founded Canton Air Sports. Their home was Martin Field in northeast Canton, Ohio. Conley eventually became Airport Manager and stayed with that facility until it closed in 1996.
Canton Air Sports then moved to Barber Airport, north of Alliance, Ohio. Conley recently purchased a portion of airport land and now the office, hangar, classroom and parachute rigging loft are located in one building adjacent to their large open drop zone. At least 50,000 people have been introduced to the sport of parachute jumping by Canton Air Sports instructors. Their number of instructors varies from 2 to 10 with the season, the airplanes and the level of activity.
At the present time, Conley has more than 47 years’ flying experience.
When asked why they would jump out of an airplane, most people says it’s for the thrill of flying through the air, the enjoyment of total control over one’s body in flight, and the social experience of being in the air with other people. Initially, a skydiver participates in tandem skydiving, where the student is connected to a harness attached to a tandem instructor. The instructor guides the student through the entire process from exiting the airplane, through freefall, piloting the canopy, and landing.
Upon arrival for your skydiving experience at Canton Air Sports, you will complete the proper paperwork and watch a related video. Tandem jumps are required for beginners. Casual clothing and athletic shoes are suggested. A jumpsuit, harness and goggles are provided. After suiting up, you will be guided to a mockup of the airplane and receive training about how to exit the aircraft and body position during freefall. There may be additional training depending on your questions and experience level.
After taking off, the aircraft will climb to an altitude of about 12,500 feet AGL (above ground level) for a tandem jump. After exiting the plane, you will freefall for 7,000 feet which typically lasts about 40 seconds at 120 mph, although that can change according to body attitude, clothing, air density and other factors. The instructor will deploy the parachute at 5,500 feet AGL. You can then request a fast or slow descent as you float to the earth below. Most skydiving landings are comparable to jumping off the lowest stair of a staircase, contrary to the hard landings sometimes seen in the movies. Typically, a person’s first two skydives are tandem with an instructor. All instructors at Canton Air Sports are skydiving professionals certified by the United States Parachute Association (USPA).
A novice to skydiving, Kim Wagler described her recent experience at Canton Air Sports as follows. “From the preparation, to our jump, to the landing, my experience with Canton Air Sports was professional, fun, and exhilarating. Tom was the perfect instructor for me as he was very detailed and made sure I was comfortable with every step of our journey. When we entered the plane my heart was pounding, and as we reached 4,500 feet I turned to the pilot and asked if we were close. He said we were half way, and I was shocked!”
Wagler continued, “When we finally took the plunge, I must have closed my eyes because I don’t remember much of the first 10 or so seconds except the thought that there is no way this is actually happening. When I did open up my eyes and look around, we were hurtling through the air at an amazing speed. What happened next took my breath away. After freefalling for what seemed like an eternity, the parachute opened and it was like time stood still. Taking in the beauty of the earth below, it was then I was able to let go of the anxiety and appreciate what just happened.”
Her final impression was, “Having a fear of heights, I’m not sure if I would have done it if I had not had the support and encouragement of my friends and the confidence of my instructor. Do I still have a fear of heights? Absolutely! I wouldn’t say that this took my fear away. What it did do was give me the confidence that I could take on any challenge that was thrown at me.”
Having completed one skydive in the past, Tara Neidert relayed her experience stating, “I am that person who actually wanted to jump out of a perfectly good plane, unlike my friend Kim. We had very separate feelings about the event, but in the end, we agreed it was exhilarating!”
Dave, Neidert’s instructor, provided her with the only neon yellow jumpsuit. Neidert said, “Dave calmed the nervous tension by joking with us, but he also replayed the instructions we were given two or three times, and at the most important time–right before the jump.” Continuing, Neidert said, “As the plane rose, we were in complete silence while I looked out the window at the beautiful landscape. After some laughter to calm the butterflies and some last-minute instructions, my instructor checked the harness connections and reassured me that all would be fine and I was safe with him. As we pushed out the door, we began an amazing and adrenaline-pumping descent, flipping over once where I was able to see the plane flying over us. We steadied and I put my arms out. I soon felt the jerk of the parachute being released and catching the air.”
Neidert’s thoughts about floating down to earth were, “Things suddenly slowed down so much that it felt like we were going nowhere, just hanging in the air taking in all the beauty around us. The silence was wonderful, the view was breathtaking and the ride down was truly amazing. We made it and had an experience of a lifetime.”
Canton Air Sports offers additional training to prepare skydivers for Accelerated Free-Fall (AFF), the License Progression Program. This program starts with ground school which must be completed before progressing to skydives where students and instructors each wear individual parachute gear. After exiting the aircraft, instructors will stay with students during freefall, holding on to their jumpsuit and harness, until the main chute is deployed. After several minutes of freefall time, skydivers proceed from Category “A” through Category “E”, ultimately qualifying for solo skydives.
Since some people prefer to stay on the ground but want to support friends or family, spectators are permitted to watch a skydiver gear up, board the plane, and land on the other side of the fence, right in front of them. To experience the freedom of human flight, consider a skydiving experience. For reservations and more information about Canton Air Sports, refer to their website at canton-airsports.com.
Canton Air Sports