Max Pyro Event Sets Texas Sky Ablaze
By Jessica Brownlow
A brave team gathered at Skydive Spaceland-Houston in Rosharon, Texas, March 12-16 to do something extraordinary: attempt a 42-way Fédération Aéronautique Internationale World Record for Largest Head-Down Formation Skydive at Night. Adding to the visual display, each jumper wore pyrotechnics.
Konstantin Petrijcuk masterminded Max Pyro, which brought together two of his favorite aspects of the sport: big-ways and technical skydiving. A couple of years of research and development and many hours dedicated to this passion project led up to the event. Petrijcuk brought on top big-way organizers Sara Curtis, Steve Curtis and Matthew Fry to assist and invited the videographers and judges. Skydive Spaceland-Houston hosted the massive event with their team of pilots, ground crew, manifesters and packers.
Hand-selected participants from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Guatemala, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom and various parts of the United States traveled to Texas for the event. Nathan Roth, Garet Bloodworth, Nicholas Lott and James Kunze flew camera for the team. Alpena, Beyond Clothing, Larsen & Brusgaard, Orbital Elite, Skydive Spaceland, SSK Industries, Velocity Sports Equipment, Vertical Suits and Wicked Mounts sponsored the attempts.
On the first morning of the event, the team received briefings about the additional equipment they’d wear for the jumps and how it would affect emergency procedures. “There are plenty of risks already inherent to large formation skydiving, night jumps and pyro jumps. Putting them all together takes some serious consideration from a safety perspective,” commented Fry. Each individual wore full-body LED lights, a foot bracket housing pyrotechnics and two activators used to fire them in freefall and under canopy. The jumpers made three practice jumps during the initial day, and the organizers reinforced big-way principles while the team became more comfortable flying with the added equipment.
The second day allowed only one more practice jump before clouds filled the sky. While waiting for the weather to improve, the group rehearsed the formation in a dark field, relying on the light of their colorful LEDs. The weather hold lasted until 12:30 a.m., when the organizers finally released the team.
Conditions on the third day permitted three more practice jumps, and the window of opportunity at night looked promising. One hour after sunset, a team of 38 pyrotechnic-equipped skydivers and two videographers boarded two Twin Otter aircraft.
The ride to altitude was quiet and focused. Glow sticks dimly lit the planes as they flew in formation to 15,000 feet. Partway to altitude, the jumpers switched on their LEDs, and the cabins were aglow. On jump run, the exit light turned from red to green and the group prepared to enter the night sky.
Within seconds of leaving the plane, the jumpers activated their pyrotechnics, which trailed a stream of sparkling light 100 feet behind them. The formation became brighter as pods started to form. An observer on the ground described it as resembling a meteor that could be seen from miles away. Nearly the entire formation built with the exception of a couple docks. After breakoff and deployment, a second round of pyrotechnics trailed the jumpers under canopy to the ground. Everyone landed without incident to a cheering, awe-struck crowd.
Participant Chris Dare said, “The skydive was an amazing culmination of a tremendous team effort.” Natalie Pitts added, “It was one of the most challenging jumps I have ever done, and the most rewarding.”
As the group celebrated its experience, clouds filled in overhead. Two more days of gray skies followed, and the team made only one more practice jump and no further night skydives. Ultimately, in the five days comprising the event, the team was able to attempt only a single night record attempt. However, that was all this team needed to experience arguably one of the most visually spectacular skydives of all time.
Jessica Brownlow | D-30516