Why would anyone jump out of a perfectly good airplane?
That is a question brothers-in-law Dick Parker and Dave Welsh are used to hearing. The answer, they said, is simple: “because the door was open.”
Parker, 74, and Welsh, 67, took to the skies again Sunday to free fall from an airplane at 13,500 feet at Skydive Chicago in Ottawa. It was the first time either had done that particular kind of jump in nearly four decades.
The pair have racked up an impressive number of jumps: Parker, for instance, made 776 free fall jumps before 1977. In addition, he has done 15 military jumps, some while in the Army and some after he was out. Welsh made 116 civilian skydives before 1976, with an additional seven military static line jumps, some while in the service, and more since he left the Army.
“It’s excitement, not fear as you get ready to jump,” Parker said. “Think of the most exciting thing you’ve ever done and times that by 10, that’s what skydiving is.”
Welsh said knowledge conquers fear. Knowing what he knows about skydiving, he has no fear about jumping out of a perfectly good plane.
In order to free fall, the duo had to take seven hours of refresher classes, which they split between Friday night and Saturday morning.
After class they diligently went through their prejump checklist, viewed the landing area and got instructions on how they needed to guide themselves into the right landing area after jumping from the twin otter plane used for skydiving.
As they awaited their jump time, storm clouds rolled in and their jump was canceled for Saturday, but that didn’t deter the brothers-in-law, who have jumped together since Welsh graduated high school in 1964.
“We went back on Sunday at 8 a.m.,” Welsh said. “We got to jump at about noon.”
Parachutes have changed a lot since their last free fall jumps, Parker in 1977 and Welsh in 1976. The parachutes used today bear little resemblance to the classic round parachutes that Welsh and Parker used in their last free fall jump.
According to the Skydive Chicago website, nearly all jumpers use “ram-air” parachutes. These are rectangular in shape and, when open, act like an airplane wing. They are more like gliders than umbrellas.
Sarah Beckers, the instructor who jumped with Parker, said most of her clients don’t have the experience that Parker and Welsh have, but a lot has changed since they last free fall jumped, which was before she was born.
The two did a military static line jump in Florida last February and have plans to go back next year, and they are excited about their next free fall opportunity, which they haven’t scheduled yet.
Parker said the view as they free fall the 60 seconds before the parachute opens looks like a quilt, and he can’t wait to go up and see it again.
When Welsh graduated high school in 1964, Parker was just out of the Army and he asked Welsh if he was interested in jumping. At only 17, Welsh had to get his mother to sign for him to be allowed to jump.
“I thought he was crazy,” Welsh said. “But I went along with him.”
He found out it wasn’t so bad.
Their first jump together was in Streator, and from there, they started jumping where they could.
They created the Midwest Sky Masters at Morris Airport, and approached Frank Welch at the Grundy County Fair and asked if they could jump into the middle of the race track, which was located in Mazon at that time.
“Frank said don’t be surprised if no one watches when you jump,” Parker said. “Everyone stopped and watched us land.”
The group continued to jump for different local events, and Welsh said he’ll never forget the time they were hired to do an exhibition jump for a Boy Scout troop in Dwight.
“We landed and no one was around but a couple of people who started clapping,” he said. “They canceled the event and no one told us.”
Dick Parker was raised in Mazon and currently resides in Morris.
Parker was in the 101st Airborne in the US Army from 1962 to 1964.
When he wasn’t jumping out of airplanes Parker boxed in the Golden Gloves, played fast pitch softball, played basketball in Morris Cage League and over 30 league until he was 5-years-old. He has ran road races with his daughter Dana, coached his daughter Addie in fast pitch softball and coached his grandson Brody McNabb in baseball. Parker plans to continue his fast paced, sports filled life by coaching his grand daughters Camryn Mullen and Audry McNabb.
Dave Welsh was raised in Mazon and graduated MVK High School in 1964. He currently resides in Minooka.
Welsh was in the US Army from 1966 to 1971 which included a stint in Special Forces training. He was a missile radar tech while in the Army.
When he wasn’t jumping out of airplanes Welsh has spent his time white water canoeing and camping.
He enjoys restoring motorcycles, tractors, and anything else on wheels. He enjoys showing motorcycles and cars at car shows.