Bob Burns wanted to celebrate his 75th birthday by going skydiving. But when that didn’t work out, he did it for his 85th instead.
After 63 years with a private pilot’s license and thousands of flight hours logged, the Baxter, Minnesota, man is no stranger to heights. It’s the jumping that was new.
“I jokingly said, in all those years of flying that I could never understand why anyone would jump out of a perfectly good, operating aircraft on purpose,” Burns said during an interview Wednesday, Oct. 13.
But when he saw former President George H.W. Bush skydive at the age of 72, Burns was intrigued.
“I guess that was the impetus behind it,” Burns said. “It's just been one of those things on my bucket list for a long time.”
Though time and money kept Burns from fulfilling his desire at 75, he decided not only would he do it for his 85th birthday, but he wouldn’t do it alone.
His grandson Wyatt Fink turned 22 in September and is set to graduate from the University of North Dakota in December, so Burns — who turns 85 Nov. 20 — decided all three milestones would be celebrated.
“If I didn’t have my grandpa’s motivation to go, I probably wouldn’t have gone for a while, at least,” Fink said. “But now that I’ve done it, I kind of want to get my skydiving license.”
Though the weather did it’s best to keep the duo from jumping out of a plane, after three postponements, they finally got the desired conditions Oct. 9.
Fink trekked from Grand Forks and Burns from Baxter to Skydive Twin Cities in Baldwin, Wisconsin, to take the leap — literally.
“The first 10 seconds out the door is a little exhilarating,” Burns said as he recounted the jump. “It was like sticking your head out of the window of a car going 50 miles an hour.”
In reality, though, it was leaping out of an aircraft 13,000 feet above the ground, with a terminal velocity of about 120 mph.
“The thrill of going out the door and not really knowing quite what was going to happen, it was a rush. It really was,” Burns said.
Though Fink was nervous at first, he felt the same way.
“The first three seconds was pretty wild,” he said. “... You’re just freefalling out of the sky.”
As first-time skydivers, Burns and Fink put their confidence in licensed jumpers, who were connected with harnesses and had the responsibility of deploying the parachute at the right moment.
“Knowing that my whole life was on the guy behind me, who had the parachute, that was a little bit of an interesting thing of trust,” Fink said. “But I asked him how many times he’s jumped out of an airplane, and he said he’s jumped over 20,000 times, so he’s obviously been successful every time.”
And successful, it was. Both Burns and Fink are already up for another skydiving adventure in the future but won’t soon forget their first jump together.
“I feel very honored and blessed to be able to do it at 85 and do it with him,” Burns said of skydiving with his grandson. “I worked for Joe Brenny at the Brenny Funeral home for a number of years as a funeral assistant, and I buried a lot of people younger than I was, and so I’ll say again what I just said, I felt blessed and honored that I, No. 1, physically could do it, mentally could do it, and that we could make it happen.”
Fink, again, felt the same.
“It was a very awesome experience to be able to do that with Grandpa, and just getting to be in the plane with him and then watch him jump out of the plane and knowing he’s 85. I feel like that’s pretty irregular, and it could almost be inspirational to other people,” he said. “... And then when we got on the ground, it was pretty awesome because we went over to each other and gave each other a big hug. And Grandpa’s not a very emotional guy. He’s just — he’s lived through a lot of stuff, like he’s a veteran and everything, but you could definitely tell he was thinking that was pretty awesome. So that was pretty cool to see.”
And if there’s anyone out there who’s interested in skydiving but is nervous or second-guessing themselves, Burns has one simple piece of advice: Just do it.