Blessings from the Sky
by Jim McCormick
On January 30 at Skydive DeLand in Florida, the two questions on the minds of the team of 48 international skydivers were, “What does it mean and why are we doing this?” They were thinking of the Chinese character that the team was going to try to replicate in a freefall formation, a formation that consisted of six different pieces ranging in size from 2-ways to 20-ways. Organizers informed the team at the initial briefing that the character was a general greeting of good wishes but more specifically could be interpreted to mean “blessings from the sky.” Then it started to make sense.
But why would representatives of the Air Sports Federation of China go to such great effort—including traveling all the way from China—to see this formation built? Why would they ask world-renowned skydiver and organizer Solly Williams to assemble a team of highly accomplished jumpers from so many countries? And why would the event sponsors provide each member of the team with a custom red jumpsuit covered with Chinese characters and make it possible for the team to assemble in DeLand?
The answer was a television special to air on the eve of the Chinese New Year (also known as the Spring Festival), which falls on the first new moon after January 21 (this year, on February 16). With an audience approaching one billion, the television program is the most watched TV show in the world. (By comparison, the Super Bowl audience is commonly just over 100 million.) What more unique and innovative way to send New Year’s greetings to more than one eighth of the world’s population than by broadcasting a skydiving formation sending greetings from the sky?
So that’s what 48 skydivers and four videographers set out to do over the six days of jumps. With all the drama and ups and downs that are common at a large-formation event, the team pursued the goal. First, they had to get used to their brand-new jumpsuits, which they received at the event. Then the event sponsors from China had to advise the team on exactly how to shape the formation so it would read correctly. That involved the team laying the formation out in the landing area while people viewed the formation from above on ladders and balconies, as well as on a live feed from a drone hovering overhead.
Then came the hard work: coordinating with three pilots to skillfully avoid clouds when delivering the team to jump altitudes as high as 18,000 feet, building the complex formation exactly as prescribed and capturing it all from an exact video angle below the formation so it read correctly for the television broadcast.
On the 10th attempt, the formation appeared to look similar to the character. But only the event sponsors who could read Chinese could determine if the team had succeeded. They watched video of the jump behind closed doors as the team anxiously awaited their verdict. From inside the room came boisterous cheers. The blessings from the sky had been delivered.
About the Author
Jim McCormick, D-12379, is a Colorado skydiver, author and organizational consultant. He has earned numerous state, national and world large-formation records. McCormick is also the director of development for the International Skydiving Museum & Hall of Fame.