Thousands make the jump each year in Canton

Denise Wright

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“And once you have tasted flight, you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you long to return … ” a quote reads on a wall near the office in Canton Air Sports, a little place full of big thrills.

Canton Air Sports, which originated in Canton in 1974 but is now on state Route 225 in Alliance, is among the world’s oldest skydiving instruction schools.

For some of the instructors at the school, the 500 jumps required for an expert license is nothing. Expert jumper Chuck Bramel has been jumping since 1979 and has more than 6,000 jumps.

“It’s addicting,” Bramel said. “My first jump was a tandem jump on a Saturday. On Sunday, I jumped five times.”

Rodger Conley, founder and owner of the school, said Canton Air Sports had a skydiving club on campus called the KSU Skydivers, but it has become inactive since its core members graduated recently.

He said they have more active clubs at schools such as Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh.

Canton Air Sports brings in an average of 1,000 new jumpers each year, and Conley said the facility is expecting to bring in about 1,400 this year.

Conley said although many view the sport as dangerous, he would disagree.

He said the sport was a lot more high risk when he first opened the facility, but equipment and instruction, especially for beginners, has come a long way since then.

“I’ve had more friends die on the highway than in the air,” Conley said.

Tandem

The school offers three different jumps for those willing to take the fall.

“The best way to make your first jump is tandem,” Conley said.

Tandem jumps require very little training, about fifteen minutes to be exact.

“The paperwork takes longer than the actual training,” Conley said.

During a tandem skydive, jumpers are harnessed to an instructor for the entirety of the jump, which is made from 10,000 to 14,000 feet above the Earth. Free fall occurs for more than a mile at about 120 mph, making for approximately 30 seconds of free fall. After the instructor pulls the parachute from a container (Conley said the facility does not use rip cords), the pair glides to Earth during a seven-minute ride.

According to a brochure, Canton Air Sports offers the tandem jump as a fun ride or as a prerequisite for the accelerated free fall program.

Accelerated free fall

Accelerated free fall is an eight level program designed to turn jumpers into licensed skydivers after 25 jumps, including a minimum of five coached jumps. Training for the program takes about six hours.

For the first jump, two licensed instructors hold onto the jumper as they leap from 14,000 feet. At about 4,500 feet, the instructors signal the jumper to deploy his or her parachute.

A ground instructor then communicates to the jumper by radio until he or she has reached the landing area, also known as the “drop zone.”

“If you want to continue with the sport then it’s best to go accelerated free fall,” Conley said.

Static Line

Static line is a solo jump that is made under the direction of an instructor, after four to five hours of instruction. The jump is made from about 3,500 feet in the air, and jumpers’ parachutes are activated as they leave the aircraft.

Conley said static line is the “traditional” method of instruction, but it’s being phased out because it requires more training and better weather conditions. While Conley said tandem and accelerated free fall are the more popular jumps, Canton is still currently offering static line.

Contact features reporter Denise Wright at [email protected]