Test Pilot School

I was infatuated with all aspects of Air Force flying as a kid.  I watched everything; whenever I saw or heard a jet.  In the late 1950’s, when we were stationed at Ramey AFB, Puerto Rico, I began to notice jets with drag chutes – small parachutes deployed upon landing to help them decelerate.  Fascinating.

One day Dear Ole Dad showed up at home with a small cargo parachute for us to play with.  Where he got it, who knows?  Anyway, I began to consider various uses for it right away.

The first thing I looked at was the roof of our garage.  Nah – even at 11 or 12 I was good at enough at physics to see death staring me right in the face!  Then I remembered seeing the jets landing with drag chutes.  Now, that had potential.

At the time I had a real nice Schwinn bike – with those nice wide tires.  Those tires gave me a great deal of controlability, and maneuverability.  I could really lay that bike over in a turn!  Anyway, it soon came to me that I could use that small parachute (chute) as a drag chute on my bike…

As it was, there was this road that ran down a hill, through an intersection and into the Base Exchange (BX) parking lot.  Ideal for what I had in mind!

That small chute had two standard parachute clips that just happened to have the width between them to clip onto the belt loops on my jeans.  So it was all coming together!

One Sunday afternoon, with light traffic, I got up on the hill – on my bicycle, with the chute clipped to my belt loops.  I had a friend watching for traffic.  When he  gave me the “all clear,” down I went.

As I continued down the hill, I continued to gather speed.  Through the intersection and into the parking lot I flew.  I then reached back and pulled the rip chord on the chute.  I expected it to deploy and I would come to a smooth stop… didn’t happen that way.

I didn’t realize just how fragile those belt loops were in those days.  When that chute deployed, it ripped those cheap belt loops right off my jeans!  And left me speeding toward the curb!  Crap!  However, with skill and cunning I averted disaster.

Not to be denied with my concept, I repacked the chute, and took another approach.  I got some clothes line (remember that?) and wrapped a couple loops around my waist.  Then I clipped the chute to the clothes line.  Good to go!

Back up to the top of the hill, clearance from ‘Ground Control,’ and down I went.  Again I gathered heaps of speed as I went down the hill and into that parking lot.  And again, I reached back and pulled the rip chord to deploy the chute.  This time it worked – only too well.  The chute stayed attached to the clothes line, but there was nothing attaching me to my bike!  And off I came!

I can distinctly remember thinking, looking down at the asphalt, “This is going to hurt!”  And it did.  I hit and rolled; my bike crashed on it’s own – and that was the end of my ‘test pilot’ experience.  Both as a kid, and later while on active duty!  The pain of that day has yet to leave me…

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One Response to Test Pilot School

  1. Steve says:


    I did something similiar with a parachute only i think it was one from a B52… we were at Minot at the time.

    thanks for the laugh and the memory…

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