Doug Curtis was a tail gunner for the Royal Air Force during World War II. Back then, he was handed a parachute and told that if the plane was shot down, he’d have to jump and pray. Curtis never had to use that parachute, so for his 94th birthday, he decided to skydive and finally cross that off of his list of things to do.
“I’ve always had this thing in the back of my mind, what would it be like to actually do it,” Curtis said before the jump. “So I’m turning 94 today and today is the day. I came close to jumping at least twice during the war. We would have to make a decision, either we bailed out over Holland, or ditched in the North bloody Sea.”
Curtis was a member of the Pathfinders, an elite target-marking squadron. If the plane was attacked from behind, tail gunners like Curtis were the first in the line of fire, giving them one of the worst fatality rates in the war.
After 48 missions, the closest he ever came to being injured was when a German warplane shot his plane. He felt liquid on his legs. Turns out, it wasn’t blood but the hydraulic fluid from his gun turret. “I’m a lucky man,” Curtis said with a laugh.
After surviving the war, skydiving didn’t scare him much. “I’m not really afraid of it, and I suppose I’m a bit of a fatalist, so what the hell, I’ve got 94 years, I can’t complain (if anything happens).”
Dave Clarke, chief instructor at Alberta Skydivers in Beiseker, coached Curtis and tandem-dove with him. According to Clarke, the biggest concern was the landing. Although Curtis is spry for his age, there was still a risk of injury to his legs from the impact of the landing.
“He’s very well (for his age), we’ve just been practicing, lifting his legs up, going through the body position, and he’s doing very well,” said Clarke, who has been a member of a team of British Army display parachutists. “He’s less nervous than our 18 to 25-year-olds that do come out to try this, so I can’t wait to get him up there.”
The jump was recorded and, in the video, Curtis never shows fear. He even gives a thumbs up to the camera while free falling. “I’m ready to go bloody bungee jumping next,” were the first words that he said upon landing. “I’ve done a few exciting things in my lifetime, but that takes the cake.”