Career, Q+A, Slide Show — April 1, 2013 5:31 pm

Career Q+A: Skydiving Instructor


A skydiving instructor discusses his love for adventure, airplanes and what it’s like falling from the sky.

Nathaniel Isaacson, 22, free falls from the sky with a first-time student skydiver. Photo provided by Skydive Greene County.

Slicing through the clouds two miles above the ground might give even the most adventurous daredevil acrophobia. But Nathaniel “Shaggy” Isaacson, 22, free falls with students seven days a week at Skydive Greene County in Xenia, Ohio to give them a firsthand experience of the rush of skydiving.

Q: Tell me about being a 22-year-old skydiving instructor.
A: I have been skydiving for just over four-and-half years and been working in skydiving for almost six. Most 22 year olds are just getting out of college and looking for a job. My job started out slow and I made it into a career through hard work. It’s paid off.

I work for eight or nine months and get the rest of the months off to travel and meet new people. It’s nice to have a three-or-four-month vacation doing the same thing you love to do.

I think being 22 and a skydiving instructor gives you the freedom to go anywhere you want and do the things you want. Once you start somewhere, you can pretty much go anywhere in the country — anywhere in the world — especially with the more ratings you have. I’m a tandem instructor and I went down to Florida and I was just hanging out and worked for a couple jumps here, and there to pay for fun jumps and hanging out.

There are a lot of drop zones. They’ve got drop zones in Spain and Italy, New Zealand and Australia. They let you jump down in Puerto Rico and Mexico. It’d be nice to bounce around and see the world and places to jump.

The pilot and skydivers board the plane for take off at Skydive Greene County. Photo by Taylor Norton.

Q: As an instructor, what do you do?
A: Well, I am sort of a weekday manager. I process the students as they come in and make sure all the paperwork is in order for them to jump. I take their money and assign them to the tandem master. I make sure everything runs smoothly.

My main job is a tandem master — I jump with people on the front of me. I’m also a static line instructor. With this, I can train people that want to learn how to skydive [on their own or professionally]. I also have professional rating, so I can jump into demos like football games or even stadiums for special events.

I’m a parachute packer and a rigger, too. It’s a FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] certification that allows me to back the reserve parachute — the backup. I pack the parachutes up after they are jumped; I have about 9,000 pack jobs. I also repair parachutes or containers if they are damaged, and yes, my reserve parachutes have been used and always work great.
I’m an airplane mechanic. I have an A&P — another FAA certificate.

I help Jim work on the planes throughout the week when we are not jumping to keep them in a good running condition and always ready to be flown. I’m working on getting my private pilot’s license. I have about 30 hours of flying. I should be able to get it sometime next spring or during the summer.

I can pretty much do anything around here or at a drop zone or anything in aviation — being a mechanic, a pilot and having good skydiving rankings. No matter where I go I can always find some job or work somewhere. I could see myself running a drop zone like Jim one day.

Nathaniel Isaacson parachutes down from the sky with a first-time student skydiver. Photo by Taylor Norton.

Q: How did you get started?
A: I have always been an adventurous person. As a kid I would do all sorts of crazy things: BMX biking, skateboarding, climbing and repelling, and skydiving was something I always wanted to do. I had a friend who just turned 18 and he was going to come out and do a tandem [jump]; I road my bicycle out to the airport and watched him.

I started talking to a couple of the guys on the porch and [Jim West, the owner] was one of them. He asked [my brother and me] if we had good work ethic and we said yea. He said, “If you guys want to make some money pretty easy, just learn how to pack parachutes.” Then we started hanging out, kind of coming up on the weekends, and then as the summer progressed we started working on airplanes.

The Westwind, the airplane we jumped out of today, needed to be repainted then, so we worked on sanding and all that. I kind of had a little bit of experience working on cars and stuff and then the more I hung out here, Jim started talking to me more and more. I was 17 at the time. I kind of just started packing parachutes making pretty good money — making more money than a 16 or 17 year old could make at a regular job.

Q: What makes you get up and go to work everyday?
A: I love my job. I get to jump out of airplanes every day. I take people on their first jumps and get to experience that joy they feel. It’s a good experience to see people’s faces the first time they jump out of an airplane — the excitement on their face, the look of fear. Most students enjoy it the whole way down.

The drive of learning and trying to get better is what makes me want to go to work every day. Even though I’ve been skydiving for five years, I still am learning new things. There are so many different things you can do; it takes years to even master one skill.

The more I jump the more I learn. With this job I get to learn a little quicker since I get the opportunity to jump so much — we trade off on things. I don’t get paid to work on the airplanes, but I get to jump out of them for free, which is why I have around 3,000 — 2,961 if you want the exact number.

Nathaniel Isaacson and a first-time student skydiver jump from the plane. Photo provided by Skydive Greene County.

It’s more than a job. Since I’ve been working out here I have become part of a family.

Q: Have you ever lost anything in the sky?
A: I have lost a couple of things while skydiving. I, too, have lost a shoe the same way Ronnie [the owner’s granddaughter] did, but I was lucky enough for my shoe to land back on the drop zone on the end of the run way. I was happy to get it back. About three weeks later, I jumped out of the plane and hit my foot on the door which knocked [my shoe] off. I was not lucky that time. I didn’t find that one.

I almost lost my camera helmet. It’s what I use to video people in freefall. When my parachute opened up, it hit my helmet and knocked it loose. It started to fall off my head, but I was able to catch it behind my back…it was a funny video.

Q: What are some of your more memorable jumps?
A: I took my dad on a tandem. He’s a bigger guy. He lost a little weight and I was able to take him.

The USPA, United States Parachuters Association, they’ll have you test to get different ratings so you can jump into stadiums or different events around here. I’ve jumped to a high school football game on September 11; I jumped a flag in. The school I graduated from — I got to jump a flag into one of their big cross-country meets.

A pair of skydiving goggles at Skydive Greene County. Photo by Taylor Norton.

In 2009, I went and competed in nationals for accuracy: You jump out of the airplane and try to land on a two-centimeter target. They have a scoring pad and wherever you hit on the pad from that target, they’ll mark off where you landed. I did pretty good. Most of the people that do accuracy have been jumping for a long time. They have about as many jumps as Jim has [over 116,000 jumps]. A lot of them have been jumping since the ’60s and ’70s, so when they saw a kid coming in at 19 years old they were excited.

I was doing some tandems down in Florida and I got to go out and do sunset beach jumps. You jump out of the airplane, you got to see the sunset, you’re just flying on your canopy, and you can land right on the beach and the ocean. It’s probably one of the best jumps I’ve gotten to do.

Q: Did you think growing up that this would be something you’d be doing?
A: No, not the way it’s turned out. Once I started getting into it, I started having more fun. I was able to make some more money and was like, it’s not too bad. I’ll keep skydiving for a couple more years, then see if I can get a different job working on airplanes somewhere and still skydive as a hobby.

As long as I’m still able to jump I probably will. I wonder when I’m going to slow down, because every year I seem to do more jumps than I did the year before. The first year I did like 100, the second year close to 600, last year I did about 800 and this year I’m almost at about 900 jumps. This year the way the weather was, was so perfect — all the hot summer days. Not so good for the farmers, but a great year for skydiving.

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