Features | Sep 01, 2019
Upright Citizens—Head-Up Formation Skydivers Make History

Jessica Brownlow

An international group of skydivers broke the Féderátion Aéronautique Internationale World Record for Largest Head-Up Formation Skydive by flying an 84-way during the Upright World Record Attempts at Skydive Chicago in Ottawa, Illinois, July 22-26. The team, which represented 18 countries—Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, France, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, Kuwait, Lithuania, Mexico, Poland, Russia, Spain, Turkey, Switzerland and the United States of America—gathered to break the 72-way FAI World Record set at Skydive Arizona in Eloy in 2016. The record participants and the excellent bench team (led by SDC Core) earned invitations by attending tryouts hosted in Australia, Spain and the U.S.

Amy Chmelecki and Sara Curtis headed up an ambitious organizing team, which included Mike Carpenter, Raphael Coudray, Steve Curtis, Luis Adolfo Lopez-Mendez, Andy Malchiodi, David Nimmo and Jason Russell, with the goal of building a 100-way head-up formation. Gustavo Cabana, Norman Kent and Jason Peters flew camera for the team. Although the official 100-plus-way record remained elusive, the team not only achieved a world record, it built to 103 skydivers during a 108-way attempt, undoubtedly the first time more than 100 jumpers linked up while flying upright.

For the initial attempt, a 107-way, the team exited at 18,000 feet from a Skyvan and four Twin Otters. On this jump and for the rest of the first day, the team focused on timing from the aircraft, learning new sight pictures and working out kinks with the 12-way base. New engineering this year had six upright jumpers breaking into a 6-way round to build the base. According to Chmelecki, “We wanted to do a 12-way base because it gives many areas a chance to build at once.” She then added, “The 12-way base proved to be really, really hard.”

By day two, the energy of the jumpers became more relaxed, and the waves throughout the formation subsided. After each jump, the team met in three smaller groups to address specific issues, providing an. intimate environment for video review and discussion. The 100-plus-way formation began to take shape.

By day three, the record was becoming closer to reality, with most sectors consistently building. Partway through the day, the team met to view a slideshow of the first triple-digit formations in other disciplines, including belly and canopy formation. Collectively, the team worked toward the goal of accomplishing this milestone for upright flying. On the last jump of the day, 89 jumpers linked up, unofficially surpassing the 72-way record.

At the start of the fourth day, the team had only five attempts remaining. On the second jump, while attempting a 108-way, the group built a 103-way formation, surpassing the triple-digit mark for the first time. The fine-tuning continued and the group remained committed to achieving a world record. With the setting of the sun, the team exhausted its 18th and final attempt. That’s when SSK Industries stepped to the plate. When it learned that the group needed another jump to achieve the record, it sponsored another attempt. Two anonymous donors also graciously offered to cover one more attempt each so the team could press forward.

On Friday morning, the group awoke to cloud cover but was ready to set a record if conditions allowed. The organizers scaled the formation back to an 84-way, and while the team was dirt diving, the clouds parted. On the 20th attempt of the event and the second of the day, the team successfully constructed an 84-way that flew for nine seconds. The smiles in freefall let the participants know that they had the world record. 

After landing, the group packed up and without an official announcement went back up to attempt a 101-way with teammates who had stepped out for the last two jumps. On the 21st record attempt, with just a few grips off, the larger record team flew a 99-way formation to conclude the event.

After achieving the FAI 84-Way World Record for Largest Head-Up Formation Skydive and the first unofficial triple-digit upright formation, the team celebrated its hard-earned success. Collectively this group helped advance the future of upright big-ways by experimenting with new engineering and bringing together a world-class team of organizers and participants. Although an official 100-way remained elusive, it will certainly fall when this team sets its sight on the prize once again.

*The print version of Parachutist contained a similar photo, which was taken just after the formation began to break apart flowing the completion. This is the photo of the completed 84-way world record.

About the Author Jessica Brownlow, D-30516, is a Northern California-based skydiver with 3,000 jumps who likes to freefly and fly her parachute. Outside of skydiving, she works in trade publishing and enjoys spending time outdoors with her young family.


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