Foundations: Sit to Sit Backflip
The four stages of a backflip from head-up, by Axis Flight School...
What better way to start the day than make a skydive at 20,000 feet with 212 people from seven aircraft? … Well to set a record would have been glorious but we weren’t unhappy with our lot. Considering everyone was going home tomorrow so we knew we would not get to play with toys like these for a long time.
Last night was happy hour with a free bar, free food and a REA:LLY good band. I was expecting the place to go off, such is the Aussie reputation for partying.. yet, although the vibe was excellent, the loose consumption was moderate and most people left by 11, ready for another early start. Everyone’s desire to set the record was super strong.
The party included the drawing of the raffle prizes, some short speeches and presentations. The Aussies presented DZ owner Melanie Conaster with a beautiful large brass bell for the bar, to be rung whenever someone was buying a case of beer (first 100-way, first reserve ride, late to the dirt dive etc). Tom Jenkins, a much loved organizer had something terrible happen to him; his house in Houston was flooded, condemned and about to be bulldozed, so he’d basically lost everything he had. The Australians had had a whip round and presented him with over $1,000, with more to come.
This group of skydivers is super special. Their camaraderie, generosity, positivity, humour, and team spirit are incredible. Even on bad weather days they were such a pleasure to be around. Many of the group had been coached by Larry Henderson at Ramblers drop zone, Toogoolawah.
The second jump (120way was amazing!! It was smooth, quiet, clean, flying beautifully. Many of us thigh we had set the record.. yet we weren’t gutted when we found out there was one person out. The skydive was so lovely and no-one can take that away from us. Especially as there were so many low tim e jumpers on th load. People with less than 300 jumps who’d never been on anything larger than 30way were having the time of their lives.
Apart from the single person out the rest of the formation built wonderfully, held for 6 seconds, Some of the sectors are complete for 10 seconds. It was a bog boost to morale; no your challenge was to duplicate this success. It’s easy to fall into the good-jump-bad-jump syndrome; now the skydivers had to keep their nerve and bang out another stellar skydive… exactly the same but for the one person out who was now in the ground. We were now down to a load of 119 _ with 90 Australians and 29 FOAs, making a ratio of 24%… scraping the edge of the qualification.
The great advantage of using radios to signal the exit timing is they cut down or eliminate the jumps that can be completely lost on multiple aircraft loads due to totally screwed up exits… but not this time! The radio reception in the E Skyvan has been consistently poor. On 2 previous jumps the main person with the radio (me) has heard nothing at all. The intention is for me to repeat Dan’s audio count with a visual signal, counting down on fingers. I have a back-up person (Bob Stumm) also with a radio, he has taken over indicating the exit count on 2 of the jumps. This time both radios failed - not completely but both were cutting in and out. I began counting from 5, lost the signal, and decided to wing it, mimicking the timing to the best of my ability, as I could see from Bob’s face he didn’t have better intel than I. Unfortunately my count was slightly faster than Dan’s, so the right trail Skyvan began exiting a second or two before the base. That doesn’t sound long but you can empty a Skyvan in 2 seconds. Moreover, floaters on some of the other planes saw bodies entering freefall and, being on a knife-edge of anti
Split second timing is so critical on these multiple plane formations that this single factor screwed this jump. That said, everyone did an awesome job of coping with the situation of a completely different traffic pattern than expected, and it was a very creditable skydive - but unfortunately not complete. So we were down to what it so often comes down to on big-ways, the last jump of the event…
This we all knew was to be the last jump of the event, our final chance. The pattern subtly changed from what we had been used to; jump, pack, debrief, pee, kit up, dirt dive in full sun, emplane, repeat… This time there was no formal debrief with video, instead we were called to the creeper area for a pep talk, the aim being to remember the jump before last when everyone on the load did their job perfectly. Short wait, then kit up and meet again on the covered creeper pad (not in the blazing sun the other side of the runway, where you could feel the lines on your face getting deeper every minute). No drat dive - woo hoo! Words of wisdom from the one and only Dan BC, instilling confidence and belief in every single jumper. Gathering for some love and a mutual hug… call out for all the Aussies here to come and share the love. The energy was palpable, you could feel electricity in the air, goosebumps, that feeling that this was it, we were a huge team, and were going to rock this skydive. The jumpers who were no longer on the load, plus supporters and friends lined the path to the planes, high-fiving everyone as though we were at a world meet or maybe even rock stars or elite footballers. We felt super special. When we took off these amazing people lined the fence, waving Australian flags, boxing kangaroos, showing their booty – quite the send-off. The ride to altitude felt different. We knew this was it. We took the energy from the supporters and injected it into making the perfect skydive.
The exit was perfect, the best yet; the build smooth, quiet, purposeful; the pictures looked just as they should. Cameraflyer Norman Kent was sit-flying under the formation from about 10,000 feet. I was flying hard to keep the spine in place, level with the base and on the right orientation yet it was not as much work as on previous jumps. I was shouting into my helmet- “Come on, come on, come on”, willing everyone on the load to do their job.. “Please, please, please, please” .. some kind of prayer to the universe to grant us the skydive we deserved…
It seemed picture-perfect. Level. Smooth. Almost tensionless. Out of this world. A period of quiet when I could see no individual movement and felt that the formation was built. Now
Break off began, I felt that we had completed the record but of course knew we had to wait for video and then the judges. But I still felt the magic. Dan spoke on the radio for the first time under canopy “Yeah. YEAH! I think we had it”. I felt that too. On landing I cried with the overspill of emotion – happiness beyond belief for the Australians who had put up with so much crap to get this far; relief that my bad with the previous exit could now be a bar story not a source of constant guilt; and feeling overwhelmed with the end-of-event exhaustion, when we had all given so much our tanks were now dry.
Of course I knew we had to wait for the judges but this was such an amazinf jump we all felt the magic. Arriving back in the truck [having sensibly landed far way] the same fence that had been lined with supporters, flags and wallabies was still just-so, but now with congratulatory hugs, kisses and screams of jubilation. everyone hugged everyone else – I didn’t even dump my canopy, just wanted to hug my fellow skydivers, revel in the moment and enjoy the sweet sensation of achievement. Even if the judges decided they wouldn’t award the record because someone’s little finger was in the wrong place, they couldn’t take these moments of triumph away from us.
The jump videos were shown to a judge on site and sent off to 2 night owl judges in Auz. (They all had to be Australian to ratify the national record). Within a half hour we were called to the creeper pad for the result – yes, yes, yes! We had indeed set a new Aussie FS eRecord, the place erupted in emotion; tears, hugs, cheers, smiles, hands in the air. It was one of those unforgettable moments of life; the sharing of a common, tangible achievement with a large group of people, which multiplies the excitement and jubilation. At the end of the day we’re doing this for fun and the more happy people, the more fun it is. I felt differently about this record to any other I’ve been on; this was a record for AUSTRALIA, not me personally. I was proud to be part of making it['ll] happen.
This wasn’t a flash in the pan, the Australians have been working up to this event since 2013, running big-way camps and tunnel skills events. They brought P3’s Larry Henderson twice over to Australia to impart some P3 wisdom, running camps at Toogoolawah and Picton [Sydney]. Local stars including (but not limited to) Tracey Basman, Greg Jack, Dave Loncasty, Melissa Harvie, Andrew Barker, Stretch, Adrian Lloyd, took up the reins, with Melissa devising a big-way coaching syllabus, the other coaches happily following it. Tracey explained that after the last record in 2010, they recognised there was a huge gap between the big-way veterans and those with no clue due to inexperience. So a vital ingredient to make this record happen was to coach skills and impart knowledge for the up and coming jumper. What they achieved was nothing short of amazing.
When we asked for whom this was the biggest formation, three quarters of the load put their hands up. The lowest experience was 249 jumps, and I’d estimate that two thirds of the load had less than 1,000 jumps. It was a very different group to the 2010 record, probably two thirds of the load were new. The knock-on effect of this will prove to be way more than a single record jump. A whole new generation of jumpers have been given skills, techniques and confidence, and will take these gifts home to their disparate drop zones in Oz.
Congratulations to everyone who was part of this well-deserved success… especially Greg Jack for putting this together, and to the up and coming jumpers not on the load but who learned lots, lent us their energy and for sure will be on the record next time.
Aussie Aussie Aussie; Oy Oy Oy!