Explore Columbus: Skydiving Over Greene County
The altitude is approaching 11,000 feet. I am in the cabin of a DC3 with seven other passengers and our pilot. This is my first time on an airplane and I am about to jump out of it.
Skydive Greene County opened its drop zone in 1961, making it Ohio’s Oldest Skydiving School. It began at a time when recreational skydiving was just getting off the ground and it is now one of the originals in the industry–a place thought of as home base for many Ohioans who share this unusual passion and a great place to take your first jump among the experts.
Founder Jim West knew from a young age that he wanted to know what it felt like to fly.
“I must have been about four years old when I saw a picture in a magazine of a U.S. paratrooper,” says West. “A kid from the middle of nowhere Kentucky, hadn’t even seen an airplane yet. I thought, that’s for me.”
In 1959, as a member of the United States Military himself, West made his first jump. Over 16,000 jumps later, he still loves the sport and bringing others into the fold.
Skydive Greene County has the air of a family reunion and in many ways it is. It’s not unusual to hear the phrase “I’m a third generation skydiver,” thrown around. West’s children have all made jumps of their own, some becoming instructors. One of his granddaughters is even on the skydiving team at Georgia Tech. They grew up in the shadow of the dropzone so it’s easy to see how the sport became part of their identity. They’re not alone in this.
On the back porch of Skydive Greene County, huddled around the picnic tables on Sunday afternoon, you’ll find a father who has been skydiving since 1957 and his son who started as soon as the law would let him. You’ll find a group of nine skydivers who come every Sunday to jump together and practice intricate formations, painting the skies with their contorted figures and brightly colored parachutes. You’ll find a group of high schoolers who started packing packs at the drop zone as an after school job and have just recently made their first jumps upon turning 18. You’ll find some neighbors, just there to visit. And of course you’ll find some newbies, about to make their first ever skydives. Experience level of any kind is welcome here and it’s easy to feel at home given the easy camaraderie.
“This is my drop zone family,” says Emma Schutte, age 18 who has been packing packs at the spot for three years. “I could work at McDonalds or I could come here and hang out with all these awesome people who literally jump out of planes for a living. It’s probably the best job.”
Everyone seems to feel at home here. There are the experts like Ted Williams who has been skydiving since 1963, the only American to ever parachute with the Iranian army, back in the 1970s. There are the greenhorns like Allex Sanders who started packing four weeks ago and recently made his first jump on his 18th birthday. And there is just about every level of experience ranging between the two extremes.
The motives for trying the sport are just as varied as the jumpers themselves.
“I came to the sport four years ago never having been on airplane with a fear of heights, fear of flying and a fear of falling,” says Cynthia Derosier, a member of the regular Sunday jump group. “I started on a whim and fell in love. This has become my second home.”
“I was going to jump once and if I lived that was going to be the end of that,” explains Don Fritz, another member of the Sunday crew, who got his start with the army while stationed in Korea. “But it was too much fun. I’m still jumping. I never quit. That’s what happens, you get addicted after that first jump or two.”
So, what are my motives for trying? To describe it for the readers of Columbus Underground, of course.
There is a moment when weightless that feels like eternity in a second, though it is but a second in eternity. The view of the horizon at 11,000 feet, that first time, is unlike anything you have seen before or since. It is a truly surreal experience and, as frustrating as it is to be a writer and admit this, it is in many ways indescribable. The chaos of the free fall quickly followed by the complete serenity of canopy flight, taking in the fields below, the lake in the distance, the skyline of my familiar city barely visible to the East–it’s almost too much. It’s easy to see how people could get addicted to it. Just over a century ago, there weren’t even airplanes. Now, we have come so far that not only have we built machines that can fly above the cloud cover, we have made it possible for human beings to do the same. It is an exciting time to be alive.
When my skydive instructor, Brandon Greene, and I land with our feet safely on the ground the DC3 is already rising again, filled with a cabin of first timers. The Sunday regulars are taking a break at the picnic tables and the packers are already packing for the next jump. I have just been initiated into the Skydive family and honestly, I can’t wait to try it again.
Skydive Greene County, located at 177 S. Monroe-Siding Rd in Xenia Ohio, about an hour drive from Columbus, is open 7 days a week, weather permitting, from 9 a.m. until sunset. Tandem jumps cost $165.00 and, should you find yourself addicted thereafter, they also offer a static line class to get you on your way to becoming a licensed jumper.
For more information, visit www.skydiveohio.com.
Columbus Underground is kicking off the summer with Explore Columbus Week! From June 2nd to June 8th, we’ll be sharing unique places to visit and experiences to have all throughout the region, sponsored by our friends at the Gallerie Bar & Bistro. Gallerie Bar & Bistro proudly embraces Ohio’s rich agricultural heritage and remarkable craftsmanship by featuring items from local farmers and artisans who maintain sustainable practices in the creation their products. Starting July 10, on the second Thursday of each month we are offering a monthly Supper Club for our city to experience creative coursed dinners from the kitchen of Chef Bill Glover and his team matched with unique pairings of wine, spirits, and beer. For more information, or to make a reservation, visit www.galleriebarandbistro.com.