Thursday, February 21, 2008

Load 2 - Flying Skydivers at Skydive Chicago with Dave Schwartz in the Otter

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Today we return to Skydive Chicago in Ottawa, Illinois for the second jump run with Dave Schwartz.

Just to remind everyone, Skydive Chicago is a 230-acre complex. The hangar has about 15,000 square feet of shade and shelter and the adjoining building contains more than 22,000 square feet of classrooms, common areas, a recreation center, a pro shop, a video department, and a deli that serves food and beverages of both the soft and adult varieties. Just to the east is a full hook-up campground that has a large pond that’s surrounded by decks and highlighted by an island. On the north shore is a white sand beach that adjoins a large pavilion with showers, laundry facilities, and volleyball court. The entire complex is surrounded by acres of pastures near the banks of the Fox River. You can canoe, hike, bike, and ride horses on the property.

It has its own runway, arranged 3/21, and it’s paved, 4,522 feet long and 50 feet wide. There’s automated weather 16 nm west and 16 nm east and six navaids within 40 miles, of which the Ottawa NDB is the closest at 3.5 miles.

We’re flying one of Skydive Chicago’s two DeHavilland DCH-6 Otters. It’s powered by two Pratt & Whitney PT6A SER engines, which produce 750 horsepower each. It weighs 8,000 to 9,000 pounds empty, and has a max gross takeoff weight of 12,500 pounds. It carries up to 23 people at a time.

I flew two loads with Dave in September and this is the audio from the second. If you missed the first load, please go back and download it. It posted in early January.

This load is a little different. As you’ll hear Dave explain at the beginning, we have a student getting out at 5,000 and then we’re taking the remaining jumpers the rest of the way up. So there are two jump runs in this one. The flight is about 23 minutes from wheels-up to wheels-down (as opposed to about 18 minutes last time) because Dave was kind enough to show me some more of the flight characteristics of the airplane. Just like last time, Dave is an excellent commentator and I didn’t have to do much editing. Mostly, it’s getting rid of the longer breaks in cockpit audio, most of which ware between 15 and 30 seconds. I cut about a minute and a half max.

The audio starts on the ground at the loading point just after the jumpers have settled in. The runway is only a few hundred feet from the loading point, so we’re airborne very quickly.

We maneuver to let the first jumper out at 5,000 and then it’s upstairs for the remainder of the load. I got to fly a bit more on this one. There’s one place where you’ll hear me comment about the instruments. I had been training hot and heavy for the instrument rating in Cessna 172s just before going over to Skydive Chicago and my mentality was seriously in the single-engine rut. I found myself flying on Dave’s instruments across the cockpit because it continued to evade me that I might have a full set of gages right there in front of me.. I managed to fix that halfway through the flight.

After the jumpers exited, we took a few minutes to explore the envelope of the airplane a little more. You’ll hear a power-off stall and some single-engine work before the Vne descent and then Dave will take the controls for a steep descent and short field landing. It’s a Bob-Hoover-esque demonstration of energy management with no brakes required until we rolled to the loading point.

The Otter is my favorite airplane to fly so far. It’s a solid performer and smooth as can be. Even though this was my first time flying from the right seat, it became pretty natural after I got used to the sight picture. And started using the right-seat gages.

In any case, rest assured that Dave, as pilot in command, was right there at the controls the whole time – authoritative, attentive, and the obvious master of the aircraft. Listen to the guy. Crisp and solid procedures. Checklists run with precision. Oozing safety culture. Can you imagine being in the cockpit with him and not having a great time?

So set the wayback machine for late September on the prairie outside of Ottawa, Illinois just short of the runway with a load of skydivers in the back.


Thanks again to Dave Schwartz and Skydive Chicago for the chance to check out a great aviation operation. You can find out more information about Skydive Chicago at or by calling them at 800 SKY-DIVE in the Chicago area and 815-433-0000 from everywhere else.

You can get your first tandem for about $200 and there are programs and pricing for every level of jumper. I believe that they start up operations for the season in late March or early April.

I once saw a website for a drop zone where the pilot profiles included interesting questions and the pilots’ answers. In response to the question, “Why do you fly skydivers?” one pilot had two answers: 1. Someone has to bring the airplane back. It’s too expensive the other way. 2. Nobody complains about my landings. In fact, it’s pretty quiet back there.

I can attest to both. Although Dave deserves an audience back there. I can tell you that it was pretty impressive from the right seat!

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