About a year ago, my friends at Backcountry.com told me they were planning to paint a giant goat on the roof of their warehouse in Salt Lake City.
Since the warehouse is located almost directly under a major landing/takeoff path for the Salt Lake airport, they figured it would be pretty cool for people who happen to be looking out the airplane window to see a giant goat painted on the roof….this is why we love Backcountry. Since I happen to have two Backcountry.com base parachutes right now, an idea quickly hatched for Mario and me to jump out of a plane or helicopter and land on top of the roof, in the middle of the goat.
Naturally we all thought it was a fantastic idea, and happily started the process of applying for a jump demo permit. Normally this is almost as easy as falling off a cliff, and something we’d just done for a prAna wingsuit demo jump into the Red Rocks Rendez-Vous. Basically, if you have a skydiving PRO rating and you file a couple of papers with the local FAA and comply with a few guidelines for the jump, it’s a done deal.
Much to our surprise, we found ourselves running into a cliff–see, apparently the Salt Lake FAA people did not like the idea of us falling through the air in a major flight path and insisted that it would be impossible to ever schedule such a thing with the ATC. Therefore, no go. To us, this seemed like a totally unreasonable concern–as Mario said, “surely airplanes aren’t taking off and landing every minute, 24 hours a day.” Since we happen to have a few local connections in Utah, we made a call ourselves directly to the Air Traffic Control tower to ask if a 5-10 minute window might ever be available between air traffic….yes, of course, they said. But back with the FAA, the cliff turned into a stone wall. We could get a 10 minute window between flights, but we could forget about landing a parachute on the roof of a giant warehouse: what if we fell through the roof and killed an employee inside? Backcountry rallied by furnishing the structural loading details of the roof (basically strong enough to support a 747 falling on top of it, much less 2 humans under nylon parachutes), and offering to clear the entire building during the jump. Then if we somehow magically fell through the roof, we’d only kill ourselves! All the employees were going to be outside watching anyway So after a mere 5 months of emails, phone calls, and filling out the same forms approximately 18,000 times, we were suddenly granted clearance for our demo jump.
After all THAT, we certainly didn’t want to blow it (can you even imagine? no, me either), so Mario and I did some practice formation flying together in Moab, and then headed up to Salt Lake for the big day.
Backcountry had decided to spring for a helicopter, to get some aerial footage during the jump, and Mario and I stuck cameras all over each other too.
There’s something really special about doing a demo jump, but there’s also an unbelievable amount of pressure. Usually you’re jumping into a new, kind of strange place, and there are a lot of things going on, and you really need to pull it off perfectly.
This particular jump was more intense than normal, after all the time and effort we’d all put into making it happen. I had to remind myself to enjoy the amazing moments of the jump, as much as I was focusing on being safe and doing everything right.
Taking off at dawn and flying over the city was an incredible experience, as was jumping out of the chopper and flying around over the rooftop with Mario.
We almost immediately realized we had some funky wind layers to deal with, and immediately scrapped our rehearsed flight plan and started working the parachutes and the winds to come down on the target together.
We maneuvered our goat chutes down to meet the roof goat, and the whole herd was united Happily for everyone, no one went through the windshield of a commercial jetliner, or the rooftop of the Backcountry warehouse!
An awesome adventure, and definitely worth the wait