Tales from the Bonfire
Tales from the Bonfire | Feb 04, 2022
Tales from the Bonfire

Bernie Williams

Back in the mid-1970s, I made my first skydive. After that first jump, I always wanted to jump a motorcycle out of a plane. Years went by and I dealt with a few injuries, but in 2009 I found myself at a DZ in Michigan talking to Todd Aimes, an AFF and tandem instructor, rigger and pilot.

A lot of guys had done motorcycle jumps before then, but to my knowledge, nobody had successfully landed with one. As a former motorcycle racer, I wasn’t a stranger to riding them or getting air with them; I’d hopped over 13 cars with no landing ramp before.

So I told Todd my idea, and he said “Let’s do this.” At first we looked for a plane but took our second choice, a hot-air balloon. I called Eric Horton, owner of Captain Fogg Balloon Rides in Fenton, who hooked me up with a lift. Then I called Scott Parker, the nine-time American Motorcycle Association Grand National Champion, who got me a brand new 2009 YZ-Yamaha. Meanwhile, Todd and I sat down and started to work on how to do this jump.

I was to hang beneath the basket of the balloon, attached to the motorcycle with what was basically a tandem harness. It was clipped onto my D-rings, with laterals running back to my container and webbing down and around the motorcycle. There was a quick-release system for me as well as one for the motorcycle, which had a reserve chute of its own, and an extra safety line we would disconnect at 1,000 feet up.

On my first attempt in November 2009, I released at 6,000 feet, but on deployment the bag hit the bottom of the reserve, and what a line twist! At 3,000 feet, I used the quick release on the motorcycle, and the 26-foot LoPo reserve worked great. The Yamaha landed in a farmer’s field and stood on two wheels for five or six seconds before falling over. I thought about deploying my own reserve, but after losing the weight of the motorcycle, my lines unraveled and I landed in the field as well.

 After reviewing the video, we decided to use a Fox BASE canopy for my main instead, and put it in a sleeve. On November 28, 2009, I made the second attempt at the jump. Haha! The deployment went great, and what a ride.

My initial plan had been to land downwind in order to gain some lateral speed for the motorcycle, but at 500 feet I decided against it. I turned to do a normal landing into the wind, which posed a new problem: Do I hold onto the handlebars and ride in the landing, or do I let go of them to flare? At 30 feet, I gave the canopy a little bit of brakes, and at 10 feet, I eased up and grabbed the handlebars and landed.

And not only did I land with the motorcycle; I rode it away afterward.

Bernie Williams | D-23307
Lexington, Michigan

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