Lew Sanborn, D-1, was holding court outside the Bird House bar, relaxing with old timers whose jump totals were in the thousands. Just a few yards away at the other end of the facility, a couple of tandem students were gearing up for the experience of a lifetime. Nobody knew whether they would become skydivers or were merely weekend seekers of a thrill ride. In between, skydivers of every age, from everywhere and from every discipline, champions and casual weekend jumpers, gathered. It was the kind of atmosphere that epitomizes our sport. It was the International Skydiving Museum’s Hall of Fame weekend at one of the iconic locations of sport parachuting: Skydive City Zephyrhills in Florida.
When Museum President and CEO James F. “Curt” Curtis III surveyed the scene and looked at the size of the list for the banquet and induction ceremony, he immediately said, “We’re going to need a bigger tent!” And so the museum ordered a bigger one to accommodate the more than 400 registrants—a record-breaking crowd—for the ninth annual event. During the November 1-3 weekend, the museum raised approximately $100,000 and recruited nine new ambassadors (donors who pledged to give $5,000 or more over a five-year period).
Not only did the event attract more attendees than ever, it also featured more skydiving events, more exhibits and more seminars. The weekend covered the gamut. The For the Legends canopy piloting event attracted young swoopers, most of whom were not yet born when the 44 skydivers attending the Jumpers Over Seventy record attempts started skydiving. The JOS group took to the skies hoping to set a formation skydiving world record, and although they did not achieve it, they had fun trying despite a weathered-out day on Friday. And they managed to fill nearly seven tables at the Saturday night banquet and induction ceremony. Ski Chmielewski, who organized the JOS event with his wife, Donna, remarked with aplomb, “Hey, at least we got new T-shirts.”
The Gala Dinner
This year’s class of 10 Hall of Fame inductees was the largest since the inaugural event of 2010. The diversity of the inductees’ contributions to skydiving is remarkable. One was a parachute manufacturer who first sewed silk canopies together a century ago. Another designed the first ram-air kite and then a canopy that became the basic design for all those that we jump today. Then there’s the wingsuit innovator and designer, the formation skydiving pioneer, the world-record holder for the most jumps in a day and others who are outstanding national and international competitors. The museum honored this skydiving royalty—Ray Cottingham, Daryl Henry, Leslie Irvin (posthumously, represented by Airborne Systems’ Elizabeth Johnson and Rob Sinclair), Susan Hunter-Joerns, Domina C. Jalbert (posthumously, represented by his grandson Craig Oldre), Coy O. McDonald Jr., Roger Ponce de Leon, W.L. “Jay” Stokes, Tony Uragallo and Henny Wiggers—at the weekend’s gala dinner.
During the evening’s festivities, the museum anointed the 1988 Seoul Olympic Skydiving Exhibition Team with the museum’s first Path of Excellence Award. This new honor recognizes a group, company, organization or team for a significant contribution to the international skydiving community. Thirty years ago, the team built a 30-way formation in the shape of the Olympic rings over the Olympic Stadium in Seoul, South Korea, in front of a capacity crowd of 69,650. Some 1.6 billion viewers in 160 countries watched the live broadcast. With the participants rising to the challenge to perform the jump perfectly, it stands today as one of the most spectacular formation jumps in the sport’s history.
Phil Chiocchio received the Trustees’ Award, not only for his lifetime contributions to the sport, but also for creating and presenting the International Skydiving Museum & Hall of Fame’s inductee audiovisual programs.
The weekend’s marquee event was the 10-Way Speed Star Wars competition. In the past, the museum held its traditional 4-way Pro-Am Scrambles on the Saturday of the weekend event, but the event committee felt that the 10-way formation skydiving event was more appropriate for Z-Hills, known for its annual Thanksgiving 10-man (as they were known in the 1970s) meets. Old timers explained the no-show-exit rules—born of necessity in the early days, because planes such as DC-3s and Twin Beeches had small doors and no floater bars—to the sport’s youngsters.
Ten teams entered the event, including a pickup team captained by incoming Hall of Fame member Jay Stokes. At the briefing, acting meet director and Hall of Fame member Jerry Bird—an early proponent of getting the event recognized at the USPA Nationals—reminded participants that the world record for the fastest 10-way round (then called a star) is 15.8 seconds and held by his old team, the Columbine Turkey Farm. Set in the 1970s, it has yet to be broken. (Jumpers have formed 10-way formations faster but didn’t build them using no-show exits.) “If any team breaks it, I’ll buy them a case of beer,” Bird said to the cheers of 100 competitors.
At meet’s end, the California Gold Rush (with captain Celine Pelletier) from Skydive Perris in California took first-place honors; local team Z Land XP (with captain Derek Thomas) took second; and Insane Speed (with captain James Saine) took third. The fifth-place team, CPHeavy! had the fastest single-jump time of 18.21 seconds in the third round—not fast enough to earn beer from Bird but only a few seconds away from giving him a scare.
The For the Legends freestyle canopy piloting money meet drew a large contingent of spectators who lined up to watch high-speed pond swooping. Children of Fallen Heroes, Sun Path Products and Superior Flight Solutions supported the event. The sponsors provided $10,000 in prize money to competitors in several categories. Max Manow and Matt Leonard won the Raft Landing award, and Curt Bartholomew, Jay Sanders and Jesse Weyher took the Inductees’ Choice honors.
The weekend’s activities also included seminars by high-altitude skydiving experts Joe Kittinger, Alan Eustace and Art Thompson. Kittinger made his 102,800-foot jump in 1960, and the record stood for more than 52 years. Art Thompson was the technical project director for Red Bull Stratos, when Felix Baumgartner jumped from 127,852 feet in October 2012 and broke Kittinger’s record. Alan Eustace bettered Baumgartner’s record by more than 8,000 feet with a jump from 135,890 feet above the Earth a few years later. The three experts’ well-attended seminars expanded on the art and science of jumping from the stratosphere. In addition, Albert Berchtold and Ian Bobo hosted a Canopy Piloting Forum.
Later, at the book signing, Kittinger signed copies of his autobiography, “Come Up and Get Me;” Hall of Fame member Dan Brodsky-Chenfield signed his memoir, “Above All Else;” Hall of Fame member Jackie Smith signed her memoir, “Marooned;” and Norman Olson signed copies of his book, “Air Capabilities of the U.S. Navy SEALs.” The Parachute Industry Association and Dave DeWolf also hosted its annual Gear Thru the Years fashion-show presentation, which is always popular with attendees.
The museum has already chosen the site for its next fundraiser. Another legendary drop zone—Skydive Perris in California—will host the 2019 Hall of Fame celebration October 17-19.
About the Author
Doug Garr, D-2791, is a frequent contributor to Parachutist and a counselor to the International Skydiving Museum & Hall of Fame. He is active with the Skydiver Resurrection Award group, whose membership of returning skydivers is a perennial sponsor of the Hall of Fame weekend. His memoir is “Between Heaven and Earth: An Adventure in Free Fall.”