October 16, 2021
This week’s bLog is another skydiving story.
This time it is a tale of teamwork from the point of view of one of the players.
Today we are attempting a world record of skydiving.
Assembled are 246 skydivers, 6 free fall photographers and 12 aircraft.
The goal is for all 246 jumpers to join up in a free fall formation.
All the grips between skydivers must be held for 3 seconds forming a planned pattern.
After one minute all participants must fly away from each other, open their parachutes and land.
The current world record is 200 people.
We began the event with 300 skydivers and have made more than 20 attempts this week.
Tragically, one of our team was killed in a free fall collision on one of those attempts.
We have all opted to continue the record attempts.
Today is the last day of the week long event.
The team has been paired down to 246.
It is the first jump of the day.
We meet in a field with full gear, standing in groups representing our airplanes.
On a signal we walk toward the center of the field, taking up the grips we will have in free fall.
The six jumpers in the middle of the formation form the base.
We all build the pattern (dock) from the base to the outer most edges.
This is called a dirt dive and is practice for what we will do in the air.
The organizer gives the signal to go to our planes.
We board the planes in a predetermined order, the first to dock closest to the door of each plane.
We will exit the planes at 20,000 feet, so we breath oxygen from tubes on the way to altitude.
Looking down the aisle of the plane it looks like the oxygen ward of a hospital.
The airplanes are flying in a “V” formation with the base plane in the lead.
The airspeed of the planes is 80 miles per hour.
I am in the right trail plane, aft, near the door.
From the cockpit comes an announcement:
I do a last minute gear check.
“Three buckles, three handles, three accessories,” I say to myself.
The bench in the airplane is lifted and stowed as we all stand up.
A light near the door shines red.
The door of the airplane is thrown open. Cool air rushes in.
We crowd toward the door.
The red light turns green and someone yells, “EXIT, EXIT, EXIT…”
I am the front floater so I climb out through the door clutching a hang bar on the outside of the airplane.
I look toward the lead aircraft.
In the lead plane the captain of the base has poised his crew on the tailgate of the Skyvan.
The super float clutches the plane behind the base with tip toes on the tailgate.
The captain yells, “READY…SET…”
The super float lets go of the plane.
I let go.
The base seven jump off the tailgate.
I face the 80 mile per hour prop blast and am immediately flying.
As I peal left I spot the base, trailed by a string of skydivers.
5 seconds elapsed.
The trails of skydivers from the other planes resolve in my view.
I am now in free fall facing a 120 mile per hour vertical wind.
Pulling my arms back and sticking out my legs I increase my horizontal speed and fly across space toward the formation.
Others from the lead plane are approaching and docking on the base, clutching leg grips.
I arrive near the fast building formation, stop my relative motion and pause 10’ above and 30’ away.
Scanning left and right, up and down, I see the person that I dock on pick up his grips.
My legs stick out instinctually and I fly forward to my position (slot).
Stopped just inches from my slot I take a deep breath.
My hands drop onto the leg grips. I am docked!
Now is the time to fly my hardest.
I must stay with the fluctuating fall rate of the formation.
As more and more people dock the formation slows from 120 miles per hour to near 100 miles per hour.
I cannot drag it down and I must not float it up.
Tension is everywhere.
A medieval rack must feel like this.
Everyone’s focus is on the center of the formation.
I keep eye contact with my clone on the other side.
The last person docks on the formation.
There is a slight pulse inward, then calm.
Pure quiet, accented with a 100 mile per hour wind.
There is a real static electric current which flows through all our hands.
At 6000 feet above the ground members of the base kick their legs in a signal to break off.
Skydivers on the outer edge of the formation let go, turn and fly (track) away.
They will open their parachutes low, at 3000 feet.
The next wave of jumpers turns and tracks. They open at 3500 feet.
My wave opens at 4000 feet.
The base opens at 4500 feet.
From the ground the sound of parachutes opening is like a freight train coming.
In the quiet of my parachute ride I hear other skydivers hooting and hollering.
We all think the formation completed.
A carousel of parachutes spirals to the ground.
We all land safely.
Back in the hanger we watch the video and the judges announce:
“You all have just set a new 246 way world skydiving free fall formation record.”
We cry and we cheer.