It’s hard to imagine that a pilot with 5,000 hours could have more than five times as many skydives as he does logbook entries, but in the case of Andy Farrington, it’s absolutely true.
That’s right: The commercial, multi-engine and instrument-rated pilot has leapt from an airplane an astounding 25,000 times.
Considering that most pilots prefer some sort of round trip, most in the aviation world assume Farrington must pretty much live at the airport. And, indeed, they would be correct.
Not only does the legendary skydiver have a 2,000′ grass runway at his home in the Olympia, Washington area, the family business — Skydive Kapowsin — is where Andy grew up and continues to work.
“I always joke that my first day skydiving, I made 15 skydives,” he says with a laugh, adding “I got my driver’s license that same day.”
Not yet even 40, growing up with two parents committed to the sport clearly has some benefits as Andy has gone on to make more than 1,000 jumps every year since going solo at 16.
Of course, running a drop zone is still a business and for a young skydiver that meant pitching in around the hangar, sweeping floors, packing parachutes and, eventually, hauling a mix of terrified newbies and experienced thrill seekers to 13,000′ via one of the center’s rotating cast of aircraft, including a Twin Otter, Cessna Caravan, and Pilatus Porter.
Some guys have all of the fun.
Of his days flying and jumping in Western Washington, the pilot is quick to point out that even though he has been skydiving in more than a dozen countries, his home drop zone still takes the cake when it comes to scenery.
“From 13,000′ you have all of Puget Sound, you can see Mt. Baker, Glacier Peak, Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, Mt. St Helens, Mt. Hood, and four times a year you can see Mt. Jefferson…pretty unbelievable,” he says.
When he began BASE jumping in his mid-20s, Red Bull took notice of his unique skill set and for the last 13 years, Farrington has toured the world as part of the Red Bull Air Force, leaping from planes and mountain sides as one of the energy drink brand’s sponsored athletes.
In demand as an aerial videographer and photographer, Andy’s also spent some time in front of the camera as well. A star of the Human Flight 3D feature film, he was also one of five stunt fliers chosen for Transformers 3, featuring the first-ever BASE jump from Chicago’s Willis (formerly Sears) Tower. He also was part of the Red Bull team recruited to play civilians in the high-octane “barrel of monkeys” aerial action sequence in Iron Man 3.
When asked what the glide ratio is on a BASE jumping wingsuit (a fabric suit engineered to prolong a jumper’s flight time pre-parachute pull), Andy notes that it’s between 2-½ and 3 to 1. Not quite as good as a Cessna 152, but a ratio that the flyer insists is more than enough for most “black diamond” routes.
Yes, those “black diamonds,” the very same routes that attract expert level skiers in the winter time are a favorite attraction for BASE jumpers around the world looking to leverage the terrain’s unique combination of altitude and aggressive “glide slope.”
“All that’s needed is a 600′ cliff and a steep hill and you can go on pretty long flights,” Farrington offers casually.
Alternatively, you could flip that 600′ of distance horizontally, ditch the parachute altogether, and opt for a more casual ride, via the accomplished pilot’s Maule M-5.
To be more accurate, Andy notes confidently that, at the stick of his Maule, he’d only need half the distance.
“I’d say it will take off in 300 easily,” he says.
And in his lines of work, being able to judge distance is an important skill to have.
What I fly
A 1985 M-5 Maule with an IO-540. It’s 235 horsepower.
Why I fly it
It’s a Jeep that flies, that you can put stuff in. That would be the biggest thing. It’s a four-person airplane with the characteristics of a Cub. The best of both worlds.
How I fly it
Running up and down riverbeds is fun. And flying the family out to dinner is pretty awesome. We hit up Tacoma Narrows Airport (KTIW) on a regular basis or go to Bremerton National Airport (KPWT) for a burger or pizza. In general, a nice 45-minute flight or so is pretty fun.
When I started to fly, my flight instructors were my dad and my uncle and, basically, our motto was, “If you’re in the pattern and your engine quits, you should be able to make it to the runway at any point and time.” We keep that in mind when we’re flying our traffic pattern with skydivers.
Every takeoff, be thinking about where you’re going to put it. I think a lot of people, once they’re done flying with their flight instructor, aren’t necessarily thinking about the emergency procedure type stuff. As skydivers, we’re thinking about that all the time.
Everyone should do it once — it’s a completely different world when you step off that plane.