Jumpers take to the sky at Eloy’s Skydive Arizona

By Libby Sherwood
Staff Writer

As you leave the plane and transition into freefall over Skydive Arizona and the nearby town of Eloy, body suspended in mid-flight like a leaf making its way toward the earth, the tensions and anxieties that plague your mind instantly float away. Give in to the overcoming urge to relax. The need to puke — unlikely. The desire to smile — inevitable.

As your body fades into the sky, the constant pressure of wind cradles you as you maneuver through the air. Lock eyes with a partner, and you have created a bond that signifies a common joy and the purity of the present moment.

Skydive Arizona’s isolated desert facility can be found at the end of a long, weathered road half-way between Phoenix and Tucson. When you drive into their facility, you will notice a developed trailer park, an old painted school bus and a row of road barriers covered with painted, chipped advertisements.

Skydive Arizona, the world’s largest dropzone, is home to many professional skydivers. In addition to the year-round blue-sky weather for which the dropzone at Eloy is known, jumpers also take advantage of their indoor skydiving facility, a gigantic cylindrical wind tunnel that allows new and experienced jumpers to train for the real thing.

The variety of skydiving disciplines allows everyone in the sport to find their niche — from freeflying, in which you learn to fly in head-down and feet-first positions at speeds reaching 160 mph — to wingsuiting, in which you fly a custom-made squirrel-suit across the sky at a speed around 110 mph.

You can also jump out of one of their Skyvan aircrafts, a military-style plane that can only be found at larger drop-zones due to their slight compromise of fuel economy. Skydive Arizona trains several foreign militaries and flies these planes on a regular basis.

In the Skyvan, you can hop out of the door at the back of the aircraft. If you feel adventurous, you can lie on your stomach and carefully reach underneath the plane to find a bar. Grab hold of this bar, front-flip out of the plane and ride under the belly of the aircraft.

Do not even try to suppress a grin.

Experienced jumpers sometimes seek more excitement. They have been known to take large house-hold objects with them out of the back of the Skyvan — picture bathtubs, couches, poker tables. One jumper could not decide what to do with the old Toyota rusting in his backyard, so he drove it out the back of a C130 and flew with the vehicle before pulling his chute and watching the car explode into bits on the desert floor.

After a day of jumping, you can sit by the small outdoor pool, grab a beer at the bar or browse the shop which carries a variety of jumping paraphernalia, including technical equipment, t-shirts, and even ladiesí underwear with embossed team logos.

Although skydivers have been known to quit their jobs and move into trailers to fulfill their air-borne obsessions, skydiving can serve as a great therapy once you learn to trust the equipment and get past the initial oddity of exiting a plane in motion.

Experiencing the feeling of drifting towards the earth at 120 mph will force you to look at life through a fresh lens. As you fall — or more accurately — float, the distant runway grows larger and closer, and you notice you are nearly level with the mountain tops on the horizon. You pull your chute to culminate the experience with a tranquil canopy ride; swing your feet and delicately reach for the earth.

What to bring:
A big smile, costumes, extra cash,
a hair brush, sunglasses, your bucket list, a change of underwear, a drinking partner!

What to leave on the ground (or at home):
High heels, cheese, your dog Fido, portable electronic devices, your mother!

Cost for a weekend tandem jump: $199
Student-rate for a tandem jump: $179
Cost for one jump, experienced jumper: $23
Number of tandem skydives per day on weekends: 60-100 jumps
Jumping days per year: 340
Vertical velocity in a head-down position: 160mph
Vertical velocity belly-to-earth: 120mph
Horizontal velocity in a wingsuit: 110 mph
Super Otter Aircrafts: 4
Skyvan Aircrafts: 4
Pilatus Porter Aircrafts: 1
DC-3 Aircrafts: 1

For more information, visit www.skydiveaz.com.

This article appeared in the April 2011 print edition of The Raven Review.
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