Air Raiders

Texas Tech's skydiving club provides an adrenaline-inducing experience for students

By Elizabeth Dusold
Photos courtesy of Skydive Westex

Skydiving Sledjump

The plane door opens and cold air from 13,500 feet rushes in. Adrenaline rushes through your body, a brisk blast washes away any thoughts, and, before you know it, you are free-falling through the sky with wind whipping across your face. It feels like flying, you pull the parachute string, and you are soaring.

Air Raiders is a student-led organization at Texas Tech University that supports the phenomenon of skydiving. This skydiving club became an official Texas Tech student organization in April 2010. The Air Raiders are a collegiate club affiliated with Sky-dive Westex located in Slaton, Texas. The drop zone the Air Raiders use is just east of Midland, Texas, off I-20 and is the nearest one to Lubbock, where the club members jump regularly. Air Raiders also are affiliated with the United States Parachute Association and are operated through Texas Tech University. The clubs' mission is to make skydiving enjoyable, affordable and safe.

Skydiving freefall The club is new to Texas Tech and continues to grow. The former vice president of the club, Phil Gilbert said, "We hope to make a collegiate sky-diving competition team to compete with OSU, Florida, USC, and other schools. We're a new club, but we aim high." The current president of Air Raiders, Lauren Myrhe noted, "There's probably about 30 or 40 people in our club who have jumped with us. There are many more that are interested, saving up their money and working up the courage."

Skydiving is often a bucket-list item; the Air Raiders club helps students check that off -- and with a discount. Some people believe that skydiving is a one-time experience. "I went from a 'one-jump and done' mentality to becoming a life-time skydiver with a parachute of my own in my car at all times," Gilbert said. "It's really a lifestyle." Myhre said the club encourages members to make skydiving a hobby. "Students have the opportunity to become licensed skydivers," Myhre said.

The first level or basic U.S. Parachute Association license is the A-license. To obtain this license you must complete 25 skydives, one of which must be a check dive with an instructor, and you must pass the A-license exam. An A-license allows you to perform basic jumps and pack your own parachute. This should be taken seriously, as jumpers are now responsible for their own safety and progression.

Marcus Fodor, the current vice president of Air Raiders said with enthusiasm, "I enjoy progressing in skill level. In addition, it sets me apart from most people since there are only about 30,000 registered skydivers in the United States." Fodor made his first dive on Oct. 30, 2010. He already has made 30 jumps and is A-certified, meaning that he is knowledgeable and skilled in first jump free-fall awareness, deployment, landing pattern, and canopy control. Skydivers can also work to obtain B, C and D licenses.

Myhre has made a total of 52 jumps and Gilbert 110; the Air Raider members said they plan on making many more. Myhre remembered her first jump with Gilbert in November 2009. She said he had been trying to convince her to go skydiving for months, but that she is afraid of heights and refused to go. The president of Air Raiders said it all changed when her mom told her she was not allowed to go. Myhre reflected, "I simply went just to be a rebel." Reminiscing about her first skydive at age 19 in Odessa, Texas, she said they chose to do static-line jumps, in which a cord is attached to the parachute on one end and the plane on the other. The reason for this being that your parachute is automatically pulled when you are a safe distance from the plane. "We had gone through hours of training," Myhre stated. "Phil, our instructor, and I finally piled into the tiny Cessna-182. To add to my fear of heights, the plane barely lifted off the runway! I watched Phil go first, and then it was my turn. It was a lot windier than I expected. I put my foot out on the step, but before it could reach, the wind blew it back. I re-gathered myself and got my feet out. Then it was time to climb onto the strut of the wing. I thought there was no way I could hold on, but I did. All I had left to do was let go. I fell for a couple of seconds, but it felt like forever, and then my parachute opened safely."

Hanging from a plane while skydiving Gilbert said at age 25 he already has jumped in Midland, Slaton, Salado, as well as Tuskegee, Ala. "My life goal is to jump in every state in the U.S.," Gilbert shared with a smile. "It will take two or three years, but I'm going to make it happen."

The Air Raider members agree that skydiving is addictive in nature. The president exclaimed, "It's such an adrenaline rush!" When talking about skydiving, former vice president of the club said, "This makes me want to strap on my rig and find an airplane. I haven't jumped since spring break -- my body is going through withdrawals, it's like crack." Fodor agreed, "Skydiving is so much fun -- it is an adrenaline rush, anyone who likes that feeling should definitely check out our club." The current vice president of Air Raiders said the club's main goals are to get people into the sport, to get people licensed, to create a competitive collegiate skydiving team, and of course, to have fun with friends.

Gilbert helped establish the club last year while attending Texas Tech as a graduate student. He said his only regret is that he wished he started skydiving when he was younger. "Freshmen are in an ideal position to begin skydiving," Gilbert explained. "At that age they have time to begin, learn, become licensed, and attain the experience required to compete at the collegiate level before they graduate."

The Air Raiders Skydiving club meets on the first Wednesday of each month in the Lubbock Room located in the Student Union Building. The members in the club jump together at Skydive Westex and encourage anyone interested to join. The first jump will cost $150, but $140 if you are in the club. The first jump is more expensive because you pay for the class, after that each jump costs $50, but the club offers a $5 discount. If you are interested in joining, you can check out the club's Facebook page at 'Air Raiders Skydiving Club'.

The Texas Tech skydiving club offers students the ability to overcome fears and make new friends in a fun environment. Gilbert said skydiving is something that people from every walk of life enjoy. The most important qualities members need is the ability to take criticism, make quick judgment calls with confidence, and to be trainable. "Coming back to Earth from two miles up while traveling at 120+ miles per hour isn't hard, but it can be dangerous if the individual defies training," Gilbertsaid . "The club provides this training."