One of my favorite skydives...

A day I'll never forget

Camp Bronco Junction Skydive

It was a day like any other in 1982-83 when the phone rang.  On the line was the instructor at the local flight school at Kanawha Airport. (now Yeager Airport).  It was a young woman's voice,  and she had heard that I was a pretty hot skydiver and asked me if I would do a charity jump at Camp Bronco Junction, an asthmatic kids camp over in Putnam County.  I had heard of the place for years because Barbra Streisand and Elliot Gould had a son together named Jason Gould and he attended the camp at one time, and his father was there often.

As usual, I said "sure!" because anytime I got to jump, especially for free and for a charity, I was all in.   HERE'S WHERE THE FUN BEGINS.......

Camp Bronco Junction

I met the young female pilot instructor at the airport, and she was a doll baby!  I told her what to expect during the climb to altitude and the jump, because she had never flown a skydiver before.  We would first fly over to the camp at low altitude so that I could see the landing area and make sure there were no obstructions.  

But before that, we had flown over what she said was an old landing field beside the Kanawha River, and that's where she would land and wait for me to pack up and return for the flight home.

We started climbing in slow circles over Camp Bronco Junction to 6000 feet.......

Camp Bronco Junction Skydive

On this day there were huge cumulus clouds.  I mean those bad boys were a thousand feet high and wide.  No big deal. I had seen thousands of clouds like this before, and even flew through them.  ( You actually get wet when you fly through a big cloud on a hot day.  Very refreshing )   So at about 3000 feet we hit the first big cloud.  My pilot figured it was just another cloud to fly through, but something funny happened:  We didn't fly "through it".  We were flying "in it",  because it was SO big.  Again, no big deal because every pilot is taught how to fly blind by watching their instruments, especially their artificial horizon.  But on this day my "pilot instructor"  did something that every pilot fears and is trained for.  She became fixated on the cloud haze passing across her vision.  At that moment she froze with the plane in the climb position.  I didnt notice this until the Stall Warning buzzer started screaming.  This is a buzzer that (as the name suggests) warns a pilot when the plane is stalling and about to fall out of the sky.  I was WELL aware of this warning and I turned to see her completely hypnotized... not moving.

"Hey, you OK?" I said.  No response.  "HEY! ARE YOU OK?"  Finally,  she started coming back around and lowered the nose of the plane to a safe attitude.  

"OH MY GOD!"  she cried.  "I cant believe what just happened!  I'm an instructor and I teach my students about how to avoid what I just did!  I'm SO sorry!  I cant believe it happened to me!  I'm sorry! I'm sorry!".

I told her not to worry about it. Now that she's experienced what the scientists call "Spatial disorientation", she may be more aware in the future of what brought it on.  In skydiving, it's called "Ground Rush",  where the skydiver becomes fixated on the ground, becomes hypnotized by it, and never opens their parachute.

We continue our climb.  I notice that my pilot is sweating.  She really took this hard.  Just about then......

We hit a second big cloud, and within 20 seconds or so, the Stall Warning goes off a second time!   What??
I look to my left and there she is AGAIN,  totally locked and fixated!  This time, I didnt pull any punches:


No response.

" HEY!  WAKE UP! "  And this time I punched her in the arm to break the spell.  "STOP LOOKING OUT OF THE WINDSHIELD AND LOOK AT YOUR ARTIFICIAL HORIZON!'  

Her spell was once again broken and she brought the nose of the plane down,  and once again she started apologizing and telling me how much she couldnt believe that this was happening to her.  This pilot was REALLY upset and almost out of control, and as for me,  it was no big deal.  Why?

Because I was wearing a parachute!

So I said to her "Look,  you dont have to apologize to me.  I'm perfectly fine!  I'm wearing a parachute and I can get out if I want, but I dont want you to get hurt in a crash, so if we hit another cloud, just watch your artificial horizon and everything will be OK".

She continued to apologize all the way to altitude....  we hit no more clouds, and  I jumped out, landing dead center of my target at the camp.  The kids went wild.  I then spent about 30 minutes talking to the kids as they watched me pack my parachute.  Perfect jump.  Perfect day.  All's good.

Now I have to get a ride from one of the organizers of the camp and head for the place she told me to meet her.  We drove to the spot.  We looked around. But all we could see was corn. Were we in the wrong place?   We climbed on top of the truck for a better look,  and what did we see......?

Camp Bronco Junction


It turned out that her map had shown an old grass strip that hadnt been used in years, and as a matter of fact, had been plowed up and growing corn for years.  So how was it possible that she landed in it??   Two reasons I think:  1.... she was still distraught over what happened earlier,  and 2....  a field can look like a runway from a higher altitude. This is why pilots always fly low so they can see exactly what's there.  Is it a grass strip? Is the grass 2 feet tall?  Is it something besides grass..... like say.... CORN?   My guess is that she didnt do a flyover and since her map had it as a grass strip, that was good enough for her.

Camp Bronco Junction Skydive
When in fact it was 8 foot tall corn

So, her day is not going exactly the way she planned.  Now, we have a company plane in the middle of a cornfield,  and it's Sunday.  Why does that matter?  Because some guy saw the plane land from up on a hill.  Took him awhile to get there.  He knew the farmer, and he also knew that the farmer was out of town for the weekend, so there was no possibility of getting the farmers tractor to mow down the corn so that the plane could take off.


The guy was a friend of the farmer, but had no keys to get into his barn and the tractor, so he found some large tires,  tractor tires as I recall,  and he tied 2 or 3 of them to the back of his truck.  He then started in front of the plane and drove ahead as far as he thought the plane needed to take off.  The heavy tires mowed down the corn, but it was "laying down",  not cut.  So he continued to "mow" in the same direction so the corn would all lay in the same direction.  Finally,  when it was agreed that the "runway" was sufficient,  the pilot looked at me and said:

" I dont think you ought to ride back with me. I have to try to get this plane off the ground over top of this corn".   Man, I was WAY ahead of her,  because there was no WAY I was going to take off in a corn field with the corn as the runway.

Camp Bronco Junction Skydive

So we watched as the pilot revved up the engine and started her roll out.  The plane bounced around a bit, but it never bogged down in the corn.  She got into the air on her way back to Charleston.   I caught a ride with one of the camp officials back to the airport.  When I arrived, there was the Cessna completely covered in green.  That propeller had chopped its way though a lot of corn before it landed.  I,  to this day cant remember seeing the pilot, only the plane.  But it had been a long day so I got into my car and headed home.   This was one of TWO days I'll never forget, and if I find the time, I'll tell you about that other day sometime in the future.

She may not have been the best pilot I ever saw, but damned,  she was the cutest!


Camp Bronco Junction

Camp Bronco Junction skydive

Camp Bronco Junction

Camp Bronco Junco Skydive

Camp Bronco Junction

In July 1976. Gould, the national chairman of the camp, touched down

 in a helicopter and immediately began signing autographs.

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