As the first rays of light shine over the horizon, Royal NZ Air Force (RNZAF) Base Auckland wakes up with a sleep-eyed yawn to the cough and splutter of an engine. A group of grinning teenagers walk up the runway. These kids are about to experience the feeling of being alive.
The ramp of the Air Force C130 Hercules is dotted with brightly coloured jumpsuits and parachute rigs. Huge smiles decorate the austere background of green and grey, and nervous laughter fills the tarmac. Groups pose for photos with the plane towering behind them, wiping sweaty palms and hiding fear behind silly expressions and poking tongues.
Two by two the pairs walk up into the plane and seem to disappear into its gaping mouth. The door is shut and ear plugs are squeezed in to deafen the roar of the monster aircraft. The huge metal beast flexes its muscles. Inside a group of teenagers hold on tight and prepare for takeoff.
Jump Start is an annual New Zealand charity event that gives 50 youths from CanTeen and Project K the chance to jump out of a C130 HerculesÊat 10,000ft. It began in 2007, when Tim Fastnedge (Director of Plastic Machinery supplier Techspan Group) was President of the New Zealand Parachute Federation.
Now once a year the Air Force provides Tim with a C130 Hercules as “jump ship” for the event. The Airforce base at Whenuapai is transformed into a hub of people in bright red t-shirts. Tents, BBQ’s, a loudspeaker, observers, jumpers and RNZAF members are overshadowed by a swarm of teenagers with happy faces watching skydiving footage.
The New Zealand skydiving community pulls together to back Jump Start every year, with tandem instructors and cameramen travelling from all over the country to Auckland for the event. The teenagers love it! To them the skydivers can do what others can’t – Fly. They pull the fingers at the laws of gravity and take the kids to a world of blue skies, clouds, and speeds ofÊmore than 200km/h.
The C130 Hercules was bought by the RNZAF in 1965, ordered in 1963. The first Jump Start in 2007 was the first time a civilian had ever jumped out of it.
The view from the top is like nothing else. The ramp opens up to a panorama of earth and sky and the roar of four 4,900 HP engines.
The constant clicks of cameras capture what will be a once in a lifetime experience for the 50 teenagers. There are shaking hands and nervous shuffles, silent screams and looks of pure terror on the ramp. But wide eyes and terrified gasps quickly turn to huge grins and waving arms. They forget they’re falling and feel what it is to fly.
After each plane load has landed, certificates are given out to each young person who has jumped. CanTeen and Project K are gifted the funds raised by the sponsoring skydivers. The whole thing is low key, but relaxed and full of camaraderie.
Fifty teenagers leave at the end of the day with great big smiles on their faces. They’ve visited a world where their problems don’t matter. Out in freefall there is no pain, there is no sickness – there are no worries. Just that moment, right there. And there’s a huge freedom in that. They get to experience what it truly means to feel alive.
Jump Start 2011 raised over ten thousand dollars for the charities and the dates are already set for 2012’s event.