You would never know just by looking at it, but the stretch of land peppered with aircraft hangars and a seemingly normal airport behind a quaint neighborhood in Skiatook, Okla., is a skydiving hot spot, better known as a drop zone.
As intimidating as a drop zone may sound, the Skydive Airtight compound is anything but -- and it offers a cool hangout for adrenaline junkies who enjoy their hobbies airborne and extreme.
Before you dismiss this feature as a ploy to get you to take a recreational jump out of an airplane, note that aside from being the largest skydiving center in Oklahoma, Skydive Airtight is the only drop zone rated by the United States Parachute Association (USPA) in the state and abides by all Federal Aviation Administration and USPA rules and regulations.
In a classroom off of the main floor, a group of friends await their instructor for a fast-track "ground school" as they fill out the proper paper work such as waivers, insurance information and emergency contacts, for the dive. The vibe is bubbly and eager as each skydiver experiences the type of anxiety that isn't caused by fear, but excitement.
The group is signed up for Tandem skydives, the recommended route for all first-timers. "Basically," said drop zone and Skydive Airtight owner Stephen Stewart, "you take a novice person that doesn't have to take a class and they get to experience freefall with an instructor; they're along for the ride really," he said.
Stewart has experienced more than 1,800 jumps since 1994 and was able to turn his passion for aviation into a nine-to-five when he purchased Skydive Airtight, a working drop zone since 1999, two years ago. "One of my friends conned me into it," Stewart said about his first skydive. "I went out there and loved it."
Seasoned skydiver and Tandem instructor, Waz, joins the group and gives them a basic rundown of what to expect. Since Tandem skydives are in the complete control of the instructor, divers aren't required to complete extensive "ground school" courses that solo dives like Accelerated Freefall and Instructor Assisted Deployments require.
The key to an enjoyable, and more importantly, a safe dive is the arch position -- which is a lot like the "superman" one would normally perform for fitness in a gym, but suspended 10,000 feet above ground. All divers must keep arms up with elbows bent and below the shoulders with an arched back, making sure to lift the legs above the chest during freefall and until the canopy is deployed.
Coordinator of the day's airborne excursion is Summer Hopkins, 19, who enlisted friends Connor Moorey, 19, and Rebecca Perez, 18, to celebrate her birthday with a plunge.
"I wasn't nervous until I got here," Moorey said. "I'm not scared, I'm just a little antsy."
It's a sunny 82 degrees, the perfect weather to make a dive according to Stewart. Although skydiving can be an all year activity, Stewart said he likes it to be "not too hot and not too cold." The perfect garb for a day of jumping out of planes is a simple pair of shorts, a t-shirt and close-toed shoes, rendering the winged jumpsuit unnecessary for an afternoon dive.
The Skydive Airtight hangar features a long patio with lawn chairs and cabanas offering a perfect view of the drop zone. Skydive Airtight promotes a family friendly and safe environment with a fatality record second to none.
While they've seen their fair share of broken bones, Skydive Airtight has experienced no fatalities and pride themselves in being one of the safest drop zones in the world.
"I'd let my daughter jump here," Stewart said.
The skydiving community loses about 10-20 people a year -- and most of the time, Stewart stresses, the fallen are experienced divers trying to "swoop." The failures aren't due to equipment malfunctions.
"We lose 80 people on average a year to golf," Stewart said. "They get electrocuted playing in the rain." There are risks with skydiving, but as long as one follows directions and takes proper precautions, the jump is guaranteed to be a thrill.
Once inside the airplane, which is an FAA certified Cessna 182 jump plane piloted by Steve "Maverick" Weaver, Divers are instructed to buckle up until the plane reaches 1,000 feet, then the opportunity to unbuckle and snap pictures is available.
Stairway to Heaven, ironically, began to play as the jump plane gained altitude, making some spectators laugh and some cross their fingers.
Riding in a jump plane is just like any other flight, only bumpier said experienced Accelerated Freefaller, Logan Boatfield. As the plane climbs the sky, ears begin to feel full and pop and buildings and houses begin to look like Google Maps as you disappear above the clouds. The bird's eye view is a treat for the eyes, everything is lush and green, and highways swirl around hills as one prepares to jump.
Once the pilot has figured out the wind's direction, he locates the perfect landing within the drop zone and gives the skydivers a three-minute warning and yells "door" over the loud whir of the plane. At that point the door is flung open and a gust of wind floods the compartment, registering at a chilly 65 degrees. The diver steps out on to the ledge and it's only a matter of time before the pilot gives them a thumbs-up and they jump.
During a Tandem skydive, one will experience about 35 seconds of freefall at about 120 mph from 10,000 feet above ground. At around 5,000 feet the instructor will deploy the parachute at which point they begin a five to seven minute joyride until they try to "land with the wind," Stewart said.
Each parachute comes with a manual canopy deployment, however each also contains an Automatic Activation Device that can sense altitude and will deploy a reserve parachute on its own if something goes wrong.
Needless to say, everyone makes a safe return to the bottom. "It kind of took my breath away," Perez said. "I couldn't see the ground because the clouds were in the way. It kind of freaked me out," she said. "It was a rush. I would definitely do it again."
This summer, cross some activities off your bucket list and take to the sky. Tandem skydives are available for a base price of $210 as well as IAD and AFF courses for thrill seekers and risk takers alike. Skydive Airtight is located 15 miles north of downtown Tulsa at the Skiatook Municipal Airport, 1651 S. Lombard Lane, Skiatook. For more information on skydiving visit skydiveairtight.com or call 918-396-PULL.
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