- Originally printed in issue #25 (October/November 2011) of Blue Skies Magazine.
- Buy a reprint of this issue.
Wait … What? With a title like that, it kind of sounds like the Fuckin’ Pilot is about to get all mushy or something! Ladies and gentlemen, may I officially present to you “Princess Fuckin’ Pilot” …
I did it. I turned in my official letter of resignation as the Chief Pilot of Chicagoland Skydiving Center during the middle of quite a pleasant afternoon. Then I went and had a complete mental meltdown for a bit.
[Editor’s note: Fear not, Fuckin’ Fans! The Fuckin’ Pilot did indeed leave us dirty skydivers back in 2011 when this column was printed; of course he came crawling back after a couple years. He’s happily back to his rightful seat in a skydiving plane as of August 2015. You can dry your tears now.]
When the call came in from Seaborne Airlines offering me a pilot position flying Otters in the U.S. Virgin Islands, I said yes even before my soon-to-be new boss finished making the offer. I’d just finished a rather stressful week at the DZ, which had ended on Sunday with eleven hours of flying jumpers followed immediately by a ferry flight in the Otter to North Carolina. I was fucking FRIED! The job offer, my answer and all the implications of both didn’t really start to sink in until I was wedged in between two big fat fuckers on a Southwest flight from North Carolina back to Chicago (via Nashville … Thanks Doug).
I have lived and breathed skydiving for the last fifteen years of my life. I have had near-life experiences on almost every one of the five thousand four hundred and seventy five days of my jumping life (and a few near death), and it feels as if it’s all that I have ever known. I take an enormous amount of pride in everything I have accomplished in the sport, from my first jump to my Nationals Silver Medal with Mary Tortomasi, to literally shitting myself on a hard opening, and yes, becoming a jump pilot. Skydiving and flying jumpers isn’t something that I have done, it is who I am. It is who I am. It is who I am… Exactly how does one go about saying goodbye to oneself?
As I write these words, I find that for the first time since I began with Blue Skies Mag, I have no idea what words will come next. I mean it when I say that I don’t know how to say goodbye to skydiving, and I believe I’m writing this much more for myself than for you, the reader. Is it really goodbye? Well, I truly believe “Once a Skydiver Always a Skydiver,” but as it stands at this very moment, I don’t know that I’ll ever strap another rig to my back or ever give another two-minute call to jumpers away. Fuckin’ sounds like goodbye to me … Every single one of you would laugh to actually see me tear up at the thought of this, jammed as I am in the middle seat of a commercial flight with my computer on my lap and Gators fogging up, yet here I am. Big badass Fuckin’ Pilot reduced to a big ball of goo over a job change, but the straight truth of it is, it’s so damn much more than a change of profession.
I have had amazing highs and incredible lows throughout my time in our sport (no pun intended), but I’ve felt a change coming on for some time now, and it seems it’s finally arrived. I’ve been pretty rough around the edges for the last couple of years (not that you’d notice from my writing), and there are quite a few reasons why. Like anything you do for as long as I’ve done this, you can’t help but get a bit jaded when things don’t go as you hoped, and at my age, you start to really question the decisions that led you to a twenty thousand dollar a year job deep in the corn. When that mindset gets hold of you, everything starts to take on a negative hue and just makes you fucking miserable. Luckily, I finally came to the conclusion that I would not allow that to happen to something I have loved so passionately for so very long.
I have tried, and succeeded for quite some time, to see the good over the bad, and I’m proud of myself for that as well. I’ve flown almost ten thousand loads during my career as a jump pilot, yet even on that recent stressful Sunday, I took the time to whip out my trusty iPhone and snap a couple of pictures of the amazing sunset going on all around me. On every load that I drop, I still gawk in amazement as I touch wheels down before many of the people that just leapt from my plane almost three miles above. As an instructor, after close to five thousand tandems, I still take the time to feed on just a little of the energy shooting out of the students I bring into our world, and I have never EVER allowed myself to regret any of it. Of course there is lots of heartbreak that goes with being a skydiver, and it seems to me that it’s that pain that makes saying goodbye even that much harder.
Sister Sarah. Lots of you out there just smiled. Sister Sarah was fucking amazing. She gave the best hugs on the planet, and when she looked you in the eyes and said, “I love you” you knew damn well she meant it with every fiber of her being. She was a packer, she was a freeflyer, she was a tandem instructor, and most important to me, she was my friend. She died on July 4, 2005 on a beautiful afternoon doing exactly what she loved. Vic Papadatto. X-Games Champion, awesome cameraman and a great fucking guy. I had the privilege to call him friend as well. He left us on Mother’s Day without even getting to see the new millennium. JJ Jaworski, Pat, Eli, PJ, Howard, Craig, Egon, Wes, and so many more friends over the years … They all gave everything they were to the sport, and it’s like saying goodbye to them all over again as well. To think that I won’t be an active day-to-day part of that life anymore is one of the strangest things I have ever faced.
I’ve put it in writing before, and I’ll do so again here. I have said over and over again that if I had some high-rise, high-powered job, I’d just have to give someone all my money to let me do all the things I already do. That statement is as true today as it was the first time I said it, but it only applies to the jumps, the flights, the people … The Business of Skydiving either outgrew me, or I outgrew it. I’m not really sure which is true, nor do I think it matters. I think what matters is knowing, and discovering it in time to move on, secure in the knowledge that my fifteen years deep in the lunatic fringe was not only not a waste of time, but the most defining decision of my entire life. Ain’t that something …
As I move on into my new career as a “real pilot” I do not intend to walk away from the immense joy I’ve found in writing for Blue Skies Magazine. Not only do I have fifteen years of big fish stories to tell, but also intend to keep a running and very honest log of this next adventure, making sure to be blunt and tell you quite straightforward if it’s great or if it downright sucks. Wish me luck gang, I’m off where many skydivers never dare to go, the real world! I’m gonna miss the hell out of you!
[team_member image_url=”123875″ name=”The Fuckin’ Pilot” role=”Monthly Columnist”]About the author: The Fuckin’ Pilot has more than 8,500 hours of flight time; 5,000 of those have been piloting jump ships for skydiving. [/team_member] [products_mixed layout=”listing” orderby=”ID” order=”asc” ids=”26630,121868″ title=”Get more like this!”]