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Page 77
A History of Austin's Newest General Aviation Airport
W. H
Chapter 3
this is more conversation than he's ever had
on a jump and, unable to tell if Kevin can hear
him or not, he keeps shouting, "Cut, cut, cut,"
until he rolls forward into the wind and hot
air rushes down his throat and he can't ut-
ter a sound. He gawks at the ground, at the
patchwork of green and brown and the evenly
spaced rows in the landscape, and he thinks
of fingers and finger-painting, and when he
twists and looks up, Kevin is falling free, the
lines of his main chute unwinding around
him, and he counts the seconds--two, three,
four--and sees the reserve chute unfold from
his back and fill with air.
Henry reaches for his own red handle and
yanks hard.
His main chute releases and one of his ris-
ers slugs him hard in the face, and he's sure
he's broken his nose. The sting is numbing
and he blinks and opens his eyes, and one
lens of his dive glasses is shattered and there
are bits of glass in one eye. He closes his eye
and is falling without seeing, and he feels the
tug of lines across his body strangling him
and another mass of lines hooked around one
foot. Approaching the patchwork of farmland
below at 110 miles per hour, he is dropping
161 feet every second. Frantically, he twists
and grabs lines and wrenches them over his
head and around his arm and out from be-
tween his legs and wiggles one foot--and
whether he's fully untangled or not, he pulls
his reserve chute and hears the comforting
ruffle of air against nylon.
While his nose hurts and he has line burns
all over his body, he knows, in all, he's okay
and he looks down and sees he has a thousand
feet, less, to ride it out--and he knows he has
one hell of a story to tell when he lands.
To Henry and others the jump center was
more than a training school. It was a social
center where people met and told stories, a
place with an energy he'd never experienced
in his lifetime, a place to live on the edge. It
was also a place to connect with people like
Alan Coovert and David McMurphy and Tom
McCarthy and Mark Dunlap and Gary Treb-
be and Ron Schaeff and Bob McLaughlin and
Carolee Justus and hundreds of others. And
a never-ending flow of junior zoomies like
Becky Howell.
Girls and Skydiving?
It was spring 1983 and Becky Howell was
determined to skydive. A pharmacist turned
grad student at Texas A&M and a new mem-
ber of the university's skydiving club, she
came to skydiving chiefly because she wasn't
allowed to fly, or so she'd been told. Girls can't
be pilots. She'd heard it all of her life. Oh, and
if you need glasses to see, forget about it. All-
out malarkey, but Becky didn't know that.
Once she got into her skydiving groove, she
racked up some 200 jumps and moved quick-
ly on to canopy relative work.
In hindsight, it's easy to see that the air-
port's appeal was more than the scruffy atmo-
sphere and the wide open spaces and likely
had something to do with a six-foot-six aircraft
mechanic and flight instructor, Dave Mandot,
with his uncombed hair, and who looked con-
spicuously attractive on a hot day in shorts
and tee, standing next to a Piper Tri-Pacer in
front of the flight office.