Norfolk Army Cadet Force's sky diving adventures
PUBLISHED: 09:24 01 August 2017
From having both feet on the ground to seeing the world from 13,500ft - a group of Norfolk youngsters are set to embark on the biggest challenge of their lives this month
A team of teenagers from Norfolk’s Army Cadet Force will test themselves to the limit when they head to Netheravon in Wiltshire to learn to skydive.
In just a week, they will learn to leap solo from a plane spending up to a minute freefalling before pulling their own parachute chord.
They are the only cadet force in the country to take part in the course, and not only is it a fantastic opportunity to gain a skydiving licence, it is also a great way to boost confidence, enjoy great team work and for them to push themselves physically and mentally.
Such has been the success of the scheme, which was started in 2012, the Norfolk ACF now enters teams into the Armed Forces Parachute Championships and it has inspired many of the youngsters’ military careers.
Staff Sergeant Instructor John Stopford-Pickering, who served with the Royal Artillery, began volunteering for the Norfolk ACF after moving to Norfolk.
“The team asked me to set up something challenging for the older cadets, so parachute training seemed ideal. Norfolk was the first, and remains the only cadet organisation to do the week long course.”
This year, 19 cadets from across Norfolk will head to the Army Parachute Association base at Netheravon for the course, with the majority of the cadets, who are aged 16 to 18, new to parachuting.
“The first day is ground training; on the second day they are doing their first jump. By the end of the week, a few have even achieved their first licence in skydiving. It is remarkable how quickly they progress. During that first jump the plane is so quiet. Most of the cadets are so nervous and when the instructors says get to the door to be ready to jump, they often have a look of complete and utter terror on their faces, but then when they get to the ground they are absolutely buzzing and they are so proud they have done it,” he says.
“During the week they go higher and higher. We start with a 4,000 or 5,000 feet jump on a static line so the parachute is opened for them and by the end of the week, they are jumping from 13,500ft, travelling at speeds of up to 150mph, freefalling for around 60 seconds and opening their own parachutes.”
The course is paid for by a combination of fundraising by the cadets and this year, by sponsorship from the Ulysses Trust and Redgate Software Ltd.
“The cadets put their names forward if they are interested and come to a presentation in the October with their parents when we explain what it involves, in particular highlighting that it isn’t tandem jumping, they will be doing it themselves.
“It costs around £600 per cadet, so they have several months to raise the money. They have to do a certain amount of personal fundraising and then we do group fundraising, with things like bag packing at supermarkets. Any money left at the end goes to help fund our entrance into the championships. We would love to take even more cadets and expand it, so we are always looking for businesses or organisations who might be able to help with sponsorship.”
Many of the cadets who take part in the course end up pursuing careers in the military, and, says John, many of those go on to take up skydiving as a sport.
“Three years ago, we were the first ever cadet unit to enter the Armed Forces Parachute Championships where we won medals against the regular armed forces, and that success has continued, with high expectations for this year’s tournament in August.
“The course offers so much to the cadets, both personally and professionally - we have two cadets who have applied to join the Parachute Regiment. Many are very quiet at the start and by the end they are completely different, so alive and wanting to take on new challenges. They also come together as team, they are throwing themselves out of a plane, but it is the team work in the plane which gets them there. They are constantly encouraging and supporting each other, helping each other to get over nerves and getting excited for one another. It is incredible to see and we hope it is something which will benefit them as they go into adulthood.”
A leap into new career
Sergeant Major Josh Mahony, from Downham Market, was the first army cadet ever to be selected to be part of the Armed Forces Parachute Championships closing parachute display, jumping with the Royal Engineers.
So positive was his experience, that Josh, who is now 19, is now about to start his phase one army training and will join the Royal Engineers as a draftsman.
“I’d never even considered skydiving before, but it was something I definitely wanted to try. I did the course when I was 16 and I was really nervous; it’s the fear of the unknown. However, I was more nervous about not jumping or bottling it. I think that’s ultimately what got me out the door; there was no way I was going to back out after wanting to skydive for so long.
“So far I’ve gained my ‘B’ licence in the sport and am learning how to jump in formations. It’s boosted my confidence and has helped me to stay calm and tackle particularly stressful situations. No matter what I’m doing I just think “if I can jump out a plane from 13,500ft, I can do this”; It usually works!
“It was an amazing privilege and honour to be selected to jump in the final display at the championships last year, sspecially being in the same display as the Red Devils freefall team.”
Anyone interested in joining Norfolk ACF as a cadet, aged 12-18, or as an adult volunteer, or who wants to find out more about sponsoring the parachuting team, see armycadets.com/county/norfolk-acf