Wingsuit cutaways are a really big deal, so it makes sense to focus on a good main deployment...
The 21st annual Freeze Your Buns Off Boogie saw CRW jumpers from around the US and a few other countries converge on Lake Wales, Florida which in recent years has become a bit of a hotspot for CRW training, being home base for Canopy Formation specialists.
Last year's boogie had the group set the world record for the new category of big-way sequential CRW! Multiple jumps were made on the same day by slightly different groups setting the same 2-point 25-ways on the same day to set a world record. (If two different groups set the same record on the same day they are both counted as a record.) This year the organizer's goal was setting 3 world records in the same weekend.
Although the boogie runs Thursday through Sunday, jumpers almost always turn up early to get warmed up. The boogie has groups with a wide array of experience, from national team members, world champions and record holders down to beginners who are just starting out. It's very inclusive of everyone, even when we have such lofty goals as world domination
Thursday saw all jumpers splitting into 4-way groups with many doing 10-14 point skydives. For FS jumpers this may seem easy but for CF this is pretty amazing, considering experience levels and equipment sizing and compatibility! The differences between a well-worn canopy and a new canopy are like night and day and these have to be considered when engineering formations.
The groups merged to do multi-point 8 ways and eventually narrowed down to a single 16-way group to attempt the 1st record (night large-way sequential CRW) while the others continued with smaller groups. This goal was to be a 2-point 16-way night dive – but there is no point trying it at night if you can't do it in the day! The jumpers were selected based upon ability first, but with so many good jumpers present, the next criteria involved canopy sizing and compatibility to allow a solid formation. This resulted in some cuts being made based upon canopy sizes – but everyone wants the attempts to be successful. As with previous years the group wanted to work to achieve success for as many people as possible, changing personnel and going up multiple times to do the same dives.
The first 16-way in the day went great building both 2 points with runback in between formations, although this is different from how the final dive was planned it was to give people practice at flying approaches to the 1st point. The formation flew well and to be assured, the group decided to go and do it again and throw in a 3 point as well for good measure. The first point flew great but the 2nd point had problems which resulted in a formation funnel. Despite no wraps, one of the jumpers felt his canopy was flying very strangely and– unable to determine a cause – decided to use his reserve. This was a sunset jump and resulted in the 16-way attempt being canceled.
Despite being a little downbeat, the next morning the jumpers regrouped and decided that the less experienced jumpers would work with Brian Pangburn whilst the record attempt group would increase in size to a 27 way and work with Mike Lewis for a single point night jump. The idea, to focus solely on this jump for the entire day, 4 jumps, with the culmination being the night record attempt. This jump number may seem low but was set to ensure that everyone was physically able to perform, as CRW jumps can be pretty tiring. Organizing such a dive involved setting up radios for all involved and the special night jumpsuits plus lighting, to ensure the jump would be carried out safely and with the best chance of success. The first two jumps involved completely splitting the formation and rebuilding multiple times to ensure we had opportunities to shoot approaches although for this night record. The formation needed to be perfect because, although the jumpers were all on a similar loading, the canopy sizes varied. Although some slots are interchangeable with similar sized canopies other are certainly not interchangeable because certain positions would be carrying pyrotechnics – hot fiery pyrotechnics – that could only be used on some of the outside edges of the formation. The first 2 jumps went off great and jump number 3 we did a full dress rehearsal in daylight wearing helmets, radios, and jumpsuits to ensure there would be no surprises after dark. Successfully completed all that was needed was to wait for the sun to go down. The air cooled, the jumpers drove their vehicles out the light up the landing area, geared up and boarded the two aircraft being used.
The planes took off, the cabins in both aircraft were dim with a red, eerie glow many of us are used to for night jumps when we are typically worried about preserving night vision. With this jump, with so many people in the air, the organizers didn't want jumpers to be messing with lights after opening, so 30 seconds prior to exit all the lights on the jumpers would be turned on inside the aircraft. We went from a dimly lit red eerie glow into a very bright kaleidoscope of red, green, blue and white lights thrown in. The radio call came to exit and the jumpers started to fall away into the darkness one at a time. Those on the ground could clearly see as each jumper left the aircraft and came together.
Exit height was 13k with the formation building smoothly except for a couple of docks which caused some waves in the formation. But by 8k the formation was built, the call came up from the bottom “Complete'! We then turned the formation to directly face the DZ and the pilot called “Pyro, Pyro, Pyro”. The strategically placed jumpers all triggered their pyrotechnics at the same time and the formation lit up, leaving trails of sparks for another 30 seconds. Spectacular to those on the ground, and letting our cameraflyer capture the moment before flying up the side of the formation as the sparks faded. The starburst effect with lights looked amazing in the air as well for the group. It was quite literally a starburst in the night sky. Landing in the car headlights we knew we had made the formation. Watching the video later, the judges had problems seeing 2 of the grips. This turned from an amazing high to a much more somber atmosphere. The fact that formation was held for so long and flown around, it's virtually impossible to believe those grips were not present, but it is the jumpers' responsibility to show those grips. This will be logged as a Guinness record but not an FAI record, as the judging standards are different.
The next morning the team was even more determined to go for yet another record. We were determined to get an FAI record and surpass last year's large way sequential record with a 3 point 25 way. A few changes were made from the previous night group and up the team went again. The first point built quickly. The rules require at least 35% of grips to be dropped and jumpers move to different positions. With most large CRW formations being based upon diamond formations this involved the row 5 wings slots all rotating. The team was determined to show the grips more so than ever, to make no doubt we had them. The transition to the 2nd point happened smoothly and then the 3rd point. The winds were calm and we had overrun the DZ and were flying off into the distance. The call came from the pilot to starburst. Those on the bottom knew we had made the 3 point. Those on the top were just carrying out a normal starburst procedure. Upon landing at the airport, those at the bottom made it clear to all that point 3 looked had completed. Later review of the video revealed everything was correct and the judges determined this met FAI standards. The group was happy that they had achieved another goal.
Despite making things look relatively easy, this is definitely not the case. The records are and testament to the jumpers and organizers who are able to make this happen. The bar has been raised and the group made it clear they want to go bigger again very soon - by day and night!
Check out the amazing video below, by Scott Lazarus.
Photos by Scott Lazarus & David Gerstein