Skydiving company will let you take flying leap

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 30, 2011

By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — If you want to jump out of an airplane, Jim Laningham’s got your back.
Laningham, a certified skydiving instructor, will strap himself behind you for a tandem jump out of his Cessna 182.
He’s opened Piedmont Skydiving LLC, the first skydiving company at the Rowan County Airport, and will begin taking customers for the ride of their lives May 14.
With Laningham’s business, Rowan County is now the closest drop zone, or commercial parachute operation, to Winston-Salem, Charlotte and Greensboro.
“It’s great for the airport,” Director Thad Howell said. “It will absolutely bring people to the airport, as well as the county.”
The chance to skydive will lure tourists seeking a thrill, said James Meacham, executive director of the Rowan County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Officials already had planned to market adventure- and recreation-based experiences available in Rowan, such as canoeing and kayaking on the Yadkin River, Meacham said.
Skydiving adds to the appeal, he said.
“This also reaches a potentially younger audience segment as well, so we hopefully would be able to capitalize on that business with other recreational opportunities in the county,” Meacham said.
Laningham, 38, has invested more than $85,000 in the new business, including buying his plane in Las Vegas and flying it back to Rowan County.
During 13 years of skydiving, he’s accrued several ratings and certifications, including static line instructor, tandem instructor and accelerated free fall instructor. He’s also licensed by the FAA to pack the all-important parachute.
“When the door opens at 11,000 feet, you’re going to see the world like you’ve never seen it before,” said Frank Sheppard, who’s been tethered to Laningham’s harness and parachute.
“It really helps if you have 100 percent confidence in the man who tells you to jump out of an airplane,” Sheppard said.
Sheppard described Laningham as “super personable and super knowledgeable” as an instructor.
“From the minute you shake hands with him, you know he’s got it completely under control,” said Sheppard, who jumped with Laningham in 2008 at Gilliam-McConnell Airfield.
While he was growing up, Laningham often heard his mother talk about wanting to skydive.
“That stuck with me, and eventually I tried it,” he said. “I got hooked.”
Louise Laningham finally got her wish. At age 69, she jumped out of an airplane while tethered to her son.
It was Jim Laningham’s 1,000th jump.
“It was all she talked about for two weeks after,” he said.
As an instructor, Laningham has jumped with people celebrating their 18th birthday and one person celebrating his 90th birthday.
“I enjoy doing tandems and introducing people to the sport,” he said. “There aren’t a lot of places that do it.”
Laningham, who moved to Rowan County three years ago, will run his skydiving operation on the weekends. During the week, he works in law enforcement.
A skydiving business has “a whole lot of overhead,” he said.
“Hopefully, we will do just a little bit better than break even,” he said. “But it’s really about having some fun.”
Laningham will contract with other pilots and skydiving instructors to fly his plane and jump if he has more than one customer at a time. His plane can carry a pilot and four skydivers — two instructors and two students.
“I’ve never had a single person do it who’s said they didn’t like it,” Laningham said. “I’ve had several say they’re glad they did it, but they would never do it again.”
As for Sheppard, he can’t get enough. He’s done four tandem jumps, including the one with Laningham, and plans to do more.
“It’s like shooting out of a gun, you’re traveling so fast,” he said. “It’s an intense rush. When the parachute opens, it’s the most amazing, thrilling ride you’ve ever been on.”
Sheppard said he’s not interested in jumping solo. He’d rather leave it to the experts and just enjoy the ride.
“You have this guy strapped to your back who you know is going to make sure your feet are going to back on the ground safely,” he said.
What you pay
Initially, Piedmont Skydiving will offer only tandem jumps, which cost $210. Jim Laningham may expand the business to offer solo jumps for licensed skydivers. For an additional $75, the instructor will record the jump with a video camera attached to his hand.
What you get
After a 10- to 15-minute ground course (“I tell them exactly what to do and what not to do,” Laningham says), you are strapped into a $13,000 harness.
Up you go, flying in the Cessna 182 until you are 2 miles over the Rowan County Airport.
Out you go, jumping from the plane while tethered to an instructor and falling for 1 mile at 120 mph. By the way, that free fall takes about 40 seconds.
Then the instructor opens the parachute, and you both float down for five or six minutes, depending on how tame or exciting you’d like the final mile of your descent to be.
What you need
You must be at least 18 and weigh no more than 220 pounds.
If you have health concerns or if you’re elderly, check with your doctor before jumping. You’ll need to sign a waiver at the airport.
Learn more by visiting
Make an appointment well in advance of your desired jump date by calling 704-603-7920.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.