Skydive SAFETY – The CRUX
Dan's Dan's Thought for the Day...
Insight to the Women on Wings (WOW) World Record Event in the Ukraine
I’m Kiera and I jump mainly at Netheravon but also Peterlee, Langar, Hibaldstow and Skydive London. I flew out to the WOW event with 250 jumps after being invited off the back of a Euro Big way camp by Lesley Gale. Initially the goal was a 120-way single point European Women's Record but the military aircraft fell through just before the event. So the organisers set a new aim of a Sequential Women's World Record 60-way, where we needed to make 3 points in one skydive to qualify. Here’s an insight to the event from my perspective…
People started arriving on the Saturday 28 July, with numerous missing bags and rigs due to the short transfer times! Not ideal! By the time jumping started the wandering luggage had made it. We settled into out 4 hotels and headed out to experience the local food and obtain some money that none of us could pronounce.
We ventured to the drop zone for the first time on Sunday 29 July. The landing area was huge and we were surrounded by so many different aeroplanes. 11 of us did a tailored Flight1 canopy course, '309 for big way' with Maxine Tate. It encompassed the key parts of Flight 101 and some of Flight 102 that related to flying in a big-way scenario. All I will say is symmetry!
We completed a hop and pop from the AN28, which was a bit dramatic as the pilot miscounted jumpers and began to turn the aircraft as Becs Bradley was exiting! She technically got hit by the plane as the side of the tailgate caught her arm. Luckily just a bruise. We then had the chance to jump from the AN2, a fantastic old aeroplane. It takes a while to get to 5,000ft, but it was worth it. The final jump of the course was an 11 way from 13,500ft to practice tracking and canopy skills. All in all, it was a fantastic course and I personally learnt so much! I previously thought standing up the landing, and landing near the cross meant I was an alright canopy pilot. Do Flight 1 courses people!! As well as running the canopy course,, Maxine gave us all advice on big-way canopy flight during the WOW jumps; discipline and safety were excellent throughout.
The rest of the WOW group and the 'friends of WOW', led by Milko and Herman arrived on Sunday at Kharkiv. We had support from Sun Path, Cypres and Aerodyne for the week as well. Thanks to Rob, Sun Path & Cypres for the freebies!
On Monday and Tuesday we were split into two 52 way warm up dives. My group had Kate on day one and Lise day two, we were all slotted by the organisers and had to fly our slots consistently and accurately.
Tuesday was a tense night as the selection for the 57-way 3-point record was taking place. After a long night and morning for the organisers the world record team were selected, and the other remaining jumpers were known as the “Bridesmaids”. It was a day of contrasting emotions for the groups. The selections were made based on who flew the slot best between the two groups on the warm up jumps. Since the event had gone from a 120 Way Euro record to a smaller world record we all knew that we may not get a slot. With pretty much the lowest experience there, I knew there was a good chance I wouldn’t make the record. I knew this before flying for the trip out due to the aircraft changes the week before the event. But my focus was to learn from the best women in the sport and get as much experience as possible. Still plenty of beer fines to be had!
The support for the record group was incredibly strong and they nailed it on the first attempt after a couple of non-sequential jumps. A mean feat based on the aircraft exits (the Turbolet with a side door and C of G line a long way back from the door was used for the lead aircraft, the AN-28s with tailgates were the trail aircraft). Those jumping from the Turbolet would especially agree!
By Thursday the bar was raised the group was up to 60 and the record dive went again. Meanwhile the other group were able to fly different slots and from higher altitudes that the previous days with oxygen; which for some was a new experience, me included! It was a bit daunting controlling the oxygen for the plane on my first time using it!
The record dive was successful first time once again and the call was made to switch 11 jumpers out from specific slots to allow a new 11 people to join the record. Due to the FIA record rules, if the same dive is made with different jumpers on the same day, all jumpers involved in both dives hold the record.
The 11-people chosen to join the record were all jumpers who had successfully completed a record in the past. Their experience was key to handle the pressure of being called up to join the record with an already successful group. The girls whose slots had been replaced passed their visualisations onto to the new girls along with tips about how to fly that slot and what amount of lead they’d recommend wearing.
The Bridesmaids group were waiting in the shadow of the iconic AN2 aircraft waiting to back up the record jump. From the ground the jump looked as good as the first and when the girls were under canopy we could hear them celebrating. Lise landed right next to us and she was confident they done it again! That’s 2 World records in the same day! 71 world record holders!!
After a while everyone came in the hangar to watch the video and debrief, and the atmosphere was electric! After the noise died down the organisers said, “we have time, shall we do it again?”. It genuinely gave me goosebumps!
My name was read out first of the new 11 and I was so excited I missed what slot I was supposed to be taking! Thankfully Kate told me again; B10, diamond wing and mid to late diver from the lead aircraft.
I grabbed my jumpsuit and ran outside for the dirt dive. The girls around me in the jump were fantastic! Wear this much lead, point 1 you are here, point 2, she is on your leg and point 3 she has your arm, break at 6,500ft and this is the tracking group following her. It was all so fast, no time to even remember the names of everyone, they were all colours and rigs to me. Kit on and let’s do it! I hardly had time to be nervous but in the plane, I was so excited but scared that I would make a mistake or do something wrong! Everyone here was a lot more experienced, but I knew if Kate had selected me she knew I could do it, that gave me the confidence and focus I needed.
We got to about 18,000ft and the floaters began to climb out, this was happening! By now I was taking my last bit of oxygen and was completely in the zone. Once our noticeable white super-floater, Nadja, had gone we all followed out. The dive was easy, I followed the zipper stinger all the way down and took the grips on my slot. The key came for point 2 and I felt the grip being taken, a few seconds then key again. I couldn’t help but look and see that it was complete, thumbs up from every sector! Shortly after the kick came to leave and under canopy again we were all ecstatic. I felt confident that we’d done it, but we were all keen to see the video.
I don’t think I will ever forget jump 266! It had been an emotional roller coaster of a day and we were ready for the party with 82 new World Record holders, from 22 countries! The onsite judge and two off-site judges had now confirmed all 3 records (although there is still a process to ratify the records officially). It still hadn’t sunk in for me!
On Friday an attempt was made to do a 59-way 4-point sequential record to try and get the remaining girls from the Bridesmaids involved in a record but sadly the Turbolet left early so it was not possible. We stopped jumping just after lunch and headed back for a final night of amazing steak and celebration drinks. It was a great group from lots of different countries!
Personally, I would like to thank everyone who was jumping in Kharkiv that week, all the ladies and the mainly-male support group, the organisers, Skydive Kharkiv staff, packers, judges and the pilots. You all made it happen. To the few ladies who just missed out on a record, you guys were absolute legends. I hope to see all the WOW ladies again soon and thank you for having me! Well done everyone! Blue Skies!