High Altitude Parachuting Course (HAPC 1-20) ran between 16th May – 26th June 2020 in Coolidge DZ (drop-zone), Arizona, United States.
It was delivered by the leading American Military Free Fall (MFF) provider – Complete Parachute Solutions (CPS).
Pathfinders are the only unit in the British Army outside of UK Special Forces with an MFF capability. It is one of the main insertion skills of Pathfinders (PF) and allows us to insert covertly at reach. During this unprecedented time due to COVID-19, 12 members of PF including myself were able to attend HAPC 1-20 which lasted for six weeks and included two weeks of self-isolation followed by four weeks of the course.
The very first day of the course, initiated with the introduction of staffs/instructors, signing waiver-forms, kit-issue, the orientation of the DZ and ground lessons. All the staff were highly professional and I was lucky enough to have an instructor who had been sponsored by Red Bull. On the second day, all the members had 30mins training with their respective instructors inside the wind tunnel which is a simulation of the freefall. This 30mins is equivalent to 30 freefall jumps from the plane and gave me an opportunity to dust off the cobwebs. I was excited about the third day as it was the first day of our jump which went smoothly. After every jump, our instructors gave us a video debrief and highlighted the work-on points. As the first week progressed, working on my critique points, I was able to perform different manoeuvres while freefalling more efficiently.
By the middle of the second week, we were receiving lessons on jumping with Oxygen which gives us the capability to perform high altitude jumps up to 25,000ft (about 8000m). At such heights, the human body can be hypoxic due to the spreading out of oxygen molecules caused by the low pressure which can be fatal. Those who have climbed Everest on the G200 Expedition or other mountains above 8000 metres are familiar with this experience. The course learning curve started to pick up the pace and a high level of concentration was required. As the third week developed, we were jumping with bergens, weapons, oxygen both by day and night, and trying exits from different platforms. By the end of the third week, we started working on team tactical jumps high altitude high opening (HAHO) which is used to stand off from the target then flying as a group and landing together in a designated Impact Point (IP) safely. The last week was a composite confirmatory exercise where all the learning outcomes were tested. On the last day of the course, all 12 of us graduated after 51 jumps each and qualified as Military Free Fall parachutists.
HAPC is a demanding course requiring great focus and a clear mind-set. I consider it as one of the most prestigious courses in my Army career. This course has strengthened my confidence and shows that the Pathfinders are operationally capable of carrying out air-insertion. Having finished the MFF course I then immediately started my Military Tandem Master course with CPS. It’s been a great few months!
By Corporal Ishwar Gurung, The Second Battalion, The Royal Gurkha Rifles