When I look back over 60-plus years in the sport, I can see many ways in which skydiving changed my life. There was the fulfillment of a 14-year-long dream while making my first jump—a freefall “skydive” (a new word back then)—at St. Catherines in Ontario, Canada, in April 1957 at age 18. Then there was the pioneering feeling over the next few years while doing test jumps, single and multiple baton passes, night military HALO jumps, freefall para-scuba jumps and military demos with smoke.
In 1962, on a demo for a company picnic—a water jump in Palm Beach, Florida—I was nearly arrested by the Secret Service for "trying to assassinate President Kennedy." Unbeknownst to me, he was on his presidential yacht near my pickup boat. Fortunately, both I and my seaplane jump pilot were perfectly legal. I had filed a Notice to Airmen, and he was talking to the tower at Palm Beach International Airport.
As an aeronautical engineer at Area 51, I volunteered to test eject from the Mach-3 SR-71 Blackbird spy plane in June of 1964. (Lockheed, the Air Force and the CIA turned down my offer.)
My life wouldn’t have just changed—it would have ended—in September 1977 if I hadn’t been a skydiver. I was the only tow pilot in my glider club who wore a parachute. My crop-duster tow plane caught fire and was out of control and going down in flames when I bailed out at 700 feet and landed in a tree next to the forest fire started by my crashed airplane.
And there were the continuing thrills of jumping as a civilian freelance journalist with the Army Special Forces and U.S. Air Force (including two night jumps into the Everglades swamp), kicking off airshows by jumping in with the American flag, jumping into Siberia with Russian smoke jumpers and Russian Special Forces, jumping from more types of jump aircraft—118—than anyone else in the world, 31,000-foot HALO jumping, wingsuit flying and, most recently, ocean jumping. I also made four New Year's Eve night jumps (being in freefall at exactly midnight), including what is likely the first one ever (1959-1960). This was an Army publicity stunt to advertise the combat-equipped, military freefall jumps we were doing at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
But the best way skydiving changed my life occurred during a full-streamer malfunction on a test jump in October 1960. Those few seconds between thinking I was gonna die and getting my 24-foot chest-mounted reserve open (it took a while since we used no pilot chutes on our reserves back then) made me realize that I was missing something in my life. That paved the way for my reception of “The Urantia Book” when I was introduced to it in a college philosophy class a few months later. And this was the single most important life-changing experience in my 79 years.
Paul Herrick | D-6835