Adventure, Family, Family memories, Massachusetts, New England, New Hampshire, Parachuting, photography, Skydiving, Uncategorized

Leap of Faith – Unusual Jobs in Aviation at SkyDive Pepperell

Careers for those who follow their passion sometimes tug at our hearts and minds continually imploring us to “do it some more” until there is little time left for anything else. And we become, not workaholics, because it’s hard to call something that gives so much pleasure (or thrill) “work”, but willing addicts, job junkies, or to outsiders, a little bit crazy. I feel that way about blogging sometimes: every outing is converted into a blog possibility.

4 People Jumping, 5 People Watching
4 People Jumping, 5 People Watching at SkyDive Pepperell, MA

So my brother emailed that his entire family was jumping out of a plane (with parachutes) and I wrote back “I’d love to photograph that insanity but know in advance, you’re going to be the subject of my blog, even if the photos are ultimately just used for a memorial service.” There I said it…they could die. It wasn’t likely but it seemed a far greater possibility than I experienced in the 1929 Ford TriMotor Plane. Read about that adventure here:

FUN FACT*: Upon departing a flying plane, the average human body falls approximately 120 miles per hour.

DSC_0646 parachuting in pepperell

We arrived in Pepperell, MA at SkyDive Pepperell  (  at 9:30a.m. Knowing that my brother’s family would be required to view a long instructional video before their jump, we weren’t in a big rush. And so it seems neither were they. They would have to wait for weather.

Seasoned professionals test the cloud ceiling
Seasoned professionals at SkyDive Pepperell test the cloud ceiling

The cloud ceiling was low. Conditions were bad for the tandem jumps. The company sent up a test crew because if you can see through the clouds you can jump, but their solo jumps were far closer to earth than the 10K feet desirable for tandems.

FUN FACT*: Height at time of leaving the plane: All of Skydive Pepperell dives are from 10,500 to 13,500 feet AGL (above ground level). 

We wished for the New England weather to do what it does best – change. When that produced no immediate results, we aggressively willed the clouds to shift or evaporate. Occasionally the skies lightened but not enough.

Aboard a pretty barren plane trying to determine if I should assume the co-pilot seat for my photo shoot. Nope - the bodies travel so fast I'd never get a shot.
Instructor helps me determine that I should not assume the co-pilot seat for my photo shoot – the bodies travel so fast I’d never get a shot.
Pretty barren plane
Pretty barren plane and pose depicting the last and only photo I’d get of the family at time of jump. Not a very flattering pose.

What’s left to do….talk to my family of course, but also to learn about the jump crew: pilot, jumpers, and parachute folders, to investigate the plane, and find the best vantage point for photos, and to bone up on fun facts about skydiving from the SkyDive Pepperell website and instructors.  

Carol tries on a 54lb chute
Jump instructor at SkyDive Pepperell, MA lets Carol try on a 54lb chute

FUN FACT*:  The average fall lasts up to 60 seconds of freefall and 5 to 7 minutes under the parachute.

1969 Twin Otter
1969 Twin Otter used for skydiving in Pepperell, MA

My father commended the pilot who did an exceptional landing and take off with the 1969 DeHavilland DHC-6 Twin Otter plane. The dive team discussed best and worst client types (some faint, some get sick, some want more adventure than is safe), and I learned a little about their lives and jobs and of course their ever present dogs were a source of amusement. Then the dive team engaged in discussion about my father’s stint in the US Army Air Force in WW2. As my dad now 88 put it succinctly: “I jumped from our plane once during the war, and haven’t been in a hurry to do it again.” Parachutes have changed pretty radically in the last 70 years or so, and my dad says they basically jump with hankies , now.

More waiting
still waiting…
and more waiting
and more waiting….       can’t believe they even sang “Here Comes the Sun” and it didn’t work
Even the dog is tired of waiting
Dog tired of waiting

The amount of patience required of the spectators exceeded the number of hours set aside for the daytrip. We never saw the Extreme Adventure subcategory of our family jump out of the plane. The day just never cleared and we left after several hours talking among ourselves and with the staff. But like a Seinfeld show, nothing happening turned out to be a pretty decent episode in our lives.

FUN FACT**: The most dangerous move a skydiver can take is to turn too close to the ground.

Looking for an unusual job in aviation? Here are three I discovered at the DropZone that you may not have considered.

1.  Parachute packer. The great myth is that you ALWAYS pack your own chute. But that is not the case. If you are a tandem jumper you tend to use the company’s  chutes that are much larger than your personal chute because it must carry the weight of you and a customer. Many jumpers hire a packer for the company chutes, and at about $30 a chute (if I heard correctly) this could be a fairly lucrative albeit seasonal career, especially if you consider that 130 jumps were scheduled  for the day by the time we arrived in the morning, and that the jumping takes place 7-days a week. Added Bonus –  parachute packers  get a pretty important sounding title: Nylon Compression Specialist .

Parachute packer
Packing a chute at SkyDive Pepperell, MA. Are parachute pants making a comeback?

2.  Jump Photographer/Videographer. No one with under 200 jumps is allowed to bring any sort of camera equipment with them as it can impede deployment of the chute. So jump locations offer a series of photographic options. At Pepperell, they offered a professionally produced DVD and digital images from a professional videographer/jumper, or a professionally produced DVD via a Hand Cam worn by your instructor. Depending on your selection during the 2013 season, this could tack on up to $135 to the jump cost. I think this would be a terrific job, except I get so caught up in my photography I’d run the risk of missing out on the fact that the ground was fast approaching…YOWZA!

Photos of jumps at Skydive Pepperell
Photos of jumps at Skydive Pepperell. They might be meticulous about their jumps, but their photo hanging – not so much.

3.  Tandem Instructor This job offers a unique lifestyle. Many live on the grounds of the skydive company in a community of tents and campers. They work 7 days a week. And while several I spoke with regularly return to Pepperell, when the season ends here, it’s off to whatever  DZ (Dropzone) beckons. It seemed very few were married, or had homes or apartments outside the camp area,  and perhaps that is why so many instructors have dogs. Tandem instructors are vagabonds with such strong passion for jumping and dogs, it seems their lives have little room for anything else, and I can see where that might be tough on a relationship.

Home sweet campground
Home sweet campground

I decided Tandem Instructors should be called Jump Junkies though they prefer the term “dive” to “jump”. This group only gets paid when they dive, so a bad day like the one we encountered was a day off without pay, except they had to hang out ‘til sunset at the “office”, just in case. Skills needed:  ability to judge a customer’s nature through non verbal cues – are they paralyzed by fear or a thrill seeker who would appreciate a turn or two, ability to earn trust in a matter of minutes. They have to be patient, talented/experienced jumpers, who are both meticulous and committed to safety. They are  a nice group of people capable of calming the panicked and thrilling the adventuresome, and have a compulsion to dive and talk about diving. Big caveat:  they have to have more than 1000 jumps under their belts before taking on the job and they must be trained and certified. Here’s a skydiver’s website I thankfully found after our visit, but spoiler alert:  there’s a whole section on accidents.

After the fall - Skydivers team leaves the field after a test jump
After the fall – Skydiver team leaves the field after a test jump determining there would be no tandem jumps this morning

FUN FACT*:  Every August Skydive Pepperell hosts the largest gathering of skydivers in New England. The “New England Boogie” features additional aircraft such as the 31-seat CASA and world class skydivers from all over the United States. The event is attended by 200 to 300 skydivers and usually takes place the third or fourth week of August. This might be worth a repeat visit.


**Source: Tandem instructors

©2013 by Alison Colby-Campbell

5 thoughts on “Leap of Faith – Unusual Jobs in Aviation at SkyDive Pepperell”

  1. Under no circumstance may a student bring a camera on a skydive. The Basic Safety Requirements (BSRs) mandated by the United States Parachute Association (USPA) prohibits people with less than 200 jumps to wear any camera gear on their person or equipment. Cameras create a snag hazard during parachute opening and are a danger to untrained users and the instructors in that regard. Our video personnel are well trained in the use of their video equipment while jumping, and the chances of a student being able to get footage of their own jump are slim to none.


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