A New Decade—The International Skydiving Hall of Fame’s 11th Class of Inductees
By Doug Garr
Each year, the International Skydiving Museum inducts a select few men and women who have “defined, promoted, inspired and advanced the sport at the highest levels” into its Hall of Fame. This year marks the organization’s 11th class of honorees. Last year, the event took place in California; this year, Florida. The induction ceremony and gala dinner for the 11 newest honorees will take place on Saturday night during the 2020 International Skydiving Museum & Hall of Fame Celebration April 22-24, 2021 (rescheduled from October 8-10, 2020) at Skydive DeLand.
DeLand has hosted skydivers since 1959, when equipment manufacturers were few and inventors were still dreaming about the modern parachute designs that are so commonplace today. The drop zone is the anchor business for the parachute industry in the town of DeLand, the epicenter of gear production in the United States with 24 companies employing more than 600 local people in manufacturing, sales, technical and academic jobs. Skydive DeLand is also a hub for serious competitive teams and a popular host for state-, national- and world-record skydives (including the 72-way Fédération Aéronautique Internationale World Record for Largest Formation Skydive in 1983).
This year’s event will include the 10-way Speed Star Wars competition, back by popular demand. Another crowd-pleaser, the Classic Accuracy Challenge Demo, returns for a second year. The celebration will also include book signings, the Pioneers’ Luncheon, a number of forums and the Gear Through the Years fashion show that chronicles the history of our sport. Plans also include a tribute skydive to honor the 2006 World Team—the recipient of this year’s Path of Excellence Award—which set the still-standing 400-way FAI World Record for Largest Formation Skydive. The highlight of the Friday-evening festivities will be a canopy formation dive that promises to light up the sky, much like last year’s night formation skydiving record attempt that wowed the crowd at Skydive Perris.
The highlight of the weekend is the Saturday-night banquet and induction of 11 exemplary sport parachutists into the Hall of Fame. Per tradition, they will don blue blazers signifying the honor. The incoming members of the 11th class of honorees—eight from the U.S and one each from Belgium, China and Great Britain—bring this exclusive group to a total of 84 outstanding representatives of parachuting.
In alphabetical order, the 2020 inductees are:
Brokken made his first jump in 1980 in Belgium and has since made more than 26,000 skydives as a competitor, AFF and tandem instructor and aerial photographer. Brokken has flown camera for numerous medal-winning formation skydiving and freestyle teams at Féderátion Aéronautique Internationale World Cups and World Championships. He was also a world-class canopy piloting competitor who earned many international medals, including the overall gold in 2005 at the European Canopy Piloting Championships. Outside of competition, Brokken’s resume is similarly impressive. He flew camera for multiple FAI World Records, including the 150-, 282-, 300-, 357- and 400-way World Records for Largest Formation Skydive, the 100-Way World Record for Largest Canopy Formation and many others. He has performed aerial camera work on numerous music videos and commercials for multinational brands such as Giorgio Armani and Xbox. Brokken also contributed to the Camera Flying Guide, a training manual that British Skydiving and the Australian Parachute Federation use to educate aspiring cameraflyers. British Skydiving (then called the British Parachute Association) also awarded him its Certificate of Merit for making a mid-air save of a fellow skydiver.
Cox, an Australian competitor, drop zone owner and judge, made her first skydive in 1965 and was one of only a handful of female jumpers in a male-dominated sport. She has been one of the leading advocates of sport skydiving in her country for the past half century and served as the secretary general of the Asiana Parachute Federation from its inception in China in 1994 through 2019. She also headed up the Queensland Parachute Association, which was responsible for developing training and safety standards for various state-sponsored skydiving events. Along with winning several Australian national titles, Cox competed in five Fédération Aéronautique Internationale World Championships of Style and Accuracy. She was an FAI judge in several disciplines and is also an instructor, rigger and pilot. Cox is one of only six recipients of the APF Master of Sport Parachuting Award, the APF’s highest honor, which it awarded to her in 1996. Australia also awarded her the Australian Sports Medal in 2000 for her numerous achievements in parachuting.
Chris J. Gay
Gay, D-11504, made his first jump in Georgia in 1986 and has logged more than 15,000 skydives in a 34-year career, making his mark mainly as a canopy formation skydiver, coach and organizer. He participated in and engineered numerous Fédération Aéronautique Internationale World Records, including the 100-way diamond FAI World Record for Largest Canopy Formation Skydive. The record, set by the Canopy Formation World Team in 2007, still stands today. Gay has picked up a staggering number of medals—58 in all—at the USPA National Collegiate Parachuting Championships, USPA National Parachuting Championships and FAI World Cups and World Championships. He shares his training techniques through camps and has inspired a legion of emerging CF fun jumpers and competitors in several countries. USPA awarded Gay with its Gold Medal for Meritorious Service in 2007 for “innovations that have redefined the discipline of canopy formation.” He also received a British medal—presented by Prince Andrew—honoring him for saving a fellow skydiver in mid-air.
Russ Gunby (posthumous)
There is no doubt that skydiving safety and training would not have reached today’s level of excellence without the early outstanding contributions of one of the modern sport’s founders, Russ Gunby. He was an instructor, meet director and, consecutively, the executive director and president of the Parachute Club of America (USPA’s predecessor organization). In 1960, he published “Sport Parachuting—Basic Handbook for Sport Parachutists,” for many years the only manual that budding novice skydivers could turn to. Tens of thousands of copies of the manual were in print in the early 1960s. His work codifying skydiving standards led to the first set of USPA Basic Safety Regulations (now called Basic Safety Requirements). He also instituted the first nationwide program for Area Safety Officers (now called Safety and Training Advisors). In 1977, Gunby received the USPA Lifetime Achievement Award with a citation that reads, “A founding spirit who saw the future when others doubted. As author, executive director and PCA President, he gave countless hours to build the early framework of our sport.”
Skydive Arizona in Eloy is one of the world’s premiere DZs, and it took the dedication and effort of Larry Hill, D-3132, to build it over the past four decades. He began his venture in 1977 with the Wild Horse West Parachute Center in Phoenix, where he flew a single Cessna 182. (The DZ took the name Skydive Arizona when it moved to Coolidge and retained the name after its move to Eloy.) Today, the DZ can provide up to 500 skydives an hour from its five Twin Otters, seven Skyvans, a Pilatus Porter and a DC-3. Each year, jumpers make an average of 135,000 skydives there. Skydive Arizona has hosted eight USPA National Collegiate Championships, 13 USPA National Championships, two Féderátion Aéronautique Internationale World Parachuting Championships and four FAI World Cups. Hill’s determination to make his operation first-rate is coupled with how much he’s given to the sport during his long career. He was the first to sponsor a serious formation skydiving team, Arizona Airspeed, which won multiple national and world titles. First elected to the USPA Board of Directors in 1997, he has served consecutive terms through 2020, the board’s longest current continuous tenure. Hill also co-invented the OmniSkore live digital feed that is in use worldwide to score skydiving competition in several disciplines. For that contribution, the FAI presented him with its Faust Vrančić Medal for technical achievement in parachuting in 2007. He also served as the U.S. Team’s head of delegation for events in Turkey, Spain, Australia and Russia.
Before she was a teenager, Lai was a Chinese national diving champion. She switched to skydiving at age 14. Quickly adapting to the skies, she became a member of the Chinese Parachute Team in 1988 and four years later was appointed captain. With more than 7,200 skydives, Lai accumulated 31 national and international medals in the classic events during her career, including 22 golds. From 1991 through 1997, she won seven consecutive national accuracy championships in her home country. She worked for the Aero Sports School of Sichuan province for more than two decades. As a Chinese sportswoman, she received her nation’s highest athletic honors, including participating in the lighting-of-the-torch ceremonies at China’s quadrennial international athletic competition. When her competitive skydiving career was winding down, she received a visa to work in the U.S. at the North American Aerodynamics parachute company, which John Higgins (also a member of the International Skydiving Hall of Fame) ran. As part of her apprenticeship in skydiving equipment manufacturing, she learned to sew by hand every single product in the company’s inventory.
jeanni McCombs (posthumous)
McCombs, D-251, was a pioneering American skydiver in an era when women were a rarity on the nation’s DZs. Over her lifetime, she made 2,985 jumps. Only the fourth woman to earn a D license, she organized many woman’s formation skydiving records (back when it was called “relative work” and rounds were called “stars”). McCombs was a fixture at the USPA National Championships, competing every year from 1961 through 1980. She earned a slot on the U.S. Women’s Team that competed in style and accuracy at the Féderátion Aéronautique Internationale World Parachuting Championships in Orange, Massachusetts in 1962, as well as the 1963 Adriatic Cup at Potoroz, Yugoslavia. But McCombs contributions to skydiving went far beyond the DZs. She formed numerous women’s exhibition teams and took great joy in doing demos into colleges, schoolyards, rodeos, county fairs, shopping centers, beaches, rock concerts, the Olympic Trials and even Soledad State Prison. From 1971 through 1980, her demo team, the Stardusters, opened up every event at the Reno Air Races. She died young, on the day after her 50th birthday. “My mother would be more than honored that she is now being inducted into the Hall of Fame,” said Lisa McCombs Gardner. “She was an inspiration to other women (and men) who became passionate about the sport, including her daughter!”
McGowan, D-5709, made his first jump in 1964 when he was 18. Now with more than 15,000 skydives, he is one of the world’s premier freefall photographers and videographers. Numerous national magazines have printed McGowan’s photos, and countless commercials and videos have featured his work. Parachutist alone has run hundreds of his photos, many on the cover. He was responsible for filming the first air-to-air video used for scoring purposes at a 20-way meet at Skydive City Zephyrhills in Florida in the mid-1980s. USPA adopted the system the following year for its sanctioned competitions. McGowan was a principal videographer on the world’s first 100-, 120-, 144-, and 300-way formation skydiving world records, as well as numerous women’s world records. He was the official photographer for several USPA National Championships, three USPA Collegiate National Championships and two Féderátion Aéronautique Internationale World Cups. And USPA used his footage to create accelerated freefall training videos. But his contribution to sport parachuting goes far beyond being behind the lens. When he began using the technique of telling a story with his tandem skydiving videos, cameraflyers at DZs around the world adopted it. He is also a Federal Aviation Administration Master Rigger and USPA National Director. In 2004, USPA awarded McGowan with its Gold Medal for Meritorious Service for “promoting our sport through professional aerial photography as a freefall cameraman, and for his innovation in developing freefall photography techniques.”
Paul Rafferty (posthumous)
Paul “Raff” Rafferty, D-9477, made more than 16,000 jumps before his untimely death at 40-years old. A stalwart member of the U.S. Army Parachute Team Golden Knights, he was a consummate competitor, specializing in 8-way. Rafferty tried out for the Golden Knights in 1986 and earned a coveted slot on the 1987 demo team, where he represented the Army at airshows and other events around the country. That same year, he moved to the Knights’ competition team as a member of the 8-way formation skydiving team. He soon found himself at the center of epic battles between the U.S. and French teams at international competitions. Rafferty was a member of the Golden Knights the year that the team had its great comeback and beat the French team at a world meet the year after losing to them by 20 points. Rafferty became the team captain in 1995. All told during Rafferty’s tenure, the team won five consecutive gold medals at the Féderátion Aéronautique Internationale World Championships, and a gold at the 1988 FAI World Cup. He was a 10-time USPA National 8-way FS Champion, as well. Additionally, Rafferty was part of the team that earned the 300-way FAI World Record for Largest Formation Skydive. After his retirement from the Army after 20 years of service, Rafferty was the Safety and Training Advisor at Skydive Cross Keys in New Jersey.
With roughly 30,000 skydives spanning a 33-year career, Kirk Verner, D-11059, epitomizes the standard in formation skydiving. Perhaps the most decorated competitive FS skydiver of his era, he has accumulated 66 gold medals in national and international competition, many as the captain of the legendary Arizona Airspeed team from 2000 through 2006. Verner pioneered modern training techniques in 4-, 8-, 10- and 16-way FS events in both the sky and the wind tunnel. Verner—who did a stint running his father’s DZ in Sparta, Illinois, in the late 1980s—is currently the manager of Skydive Paraclete XP in Raeford, North Carolina, and the well-known Paraclete XP wind tunnel. As a big-way participant, Verner was a plane captain on the 300- and 400-way Féderátion Aéronautique Internationale World Records for Largest Formation Skydive. Today, he mentors a long list of competition skydivers who compete at the highest level. A USPA National Director, Verner is the chairman of the Competition Committee and delegate to the FAI’s International Skydiving Committee.
Bruce Wicks, D-3493, is one of those rare individuals who sees a void in leadership and immediately steps in to set things straight. With a nearly 30-year career in the military, he commanded the training of thousands of airborne soldiers at Ft. Benning, Georgia. Wicks then went on to coach and inspire dozens of members of the U.S. Army Parachute Team Golden Knights. As commander of the Knights’ style and accuracy and 4-way and 8-way formation skydiving teams, he oversaw the training that led to 13 team members winning national and world championships. Wicks was team leader of the U.S. Team that competed at the world championships in Sweden in 1988. Four years later, he again was team leader for the U.S. Team competing in Austria. Wicks also had a stellar career as a judge in national and international events, traveling to competitions held in far-flung locations from Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates to Indonesia, South Korea, Thailand, Turkey and several other nations. A high point in his career came during the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, where he was one of the main architects in putting together one of the greatest demos in skydiving history: the Olympic Rings formation live feed at the opening ceremonies, which millions around the world saw.
About the Author
Doug Garr, D-2791, is an author, journalist and regular contributor to Parachutist. He made his first jump in 1969. Garr is now active with Skydivers Over Sixty, the Skydivers’ Resurrection Award group and the International Skydiving Museum & Hall of Fame, which awarded Garr its 2019 Trustees’ Award for his many efforts on behalf of the organization.