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On 10 January 2021, CYPRES celebrated its 30-year anniversary – and the outstanding achievement of having saved over 5,000 lives

We look back at how CYPRES changed the sport, with a timeline of over three decades of development and innovation…


In the eighties, the biggest cause of skydiving fatalities was people impacting the ground without sufficient parachute. Either they did not open their main, or they cut away and failed to deploy their reserve, or ran out of altitude for the reserve to open. No-one could interview these jumpers to find out the cause.

At that time there were AADs on the market but, due to operational flaws and inaccuracies were not generally worn by experienced skydivers, only by first time and early jumpers. Back then, AADs had injured and even killed their owners so there was a feeling it was better to have none. Actually people said: “Wear an AAD? Are you crazy?  Do you think I want to kill myself?”

1986 – An End marks a Beginning

In 1986, Helmut’s close friend Freddy Leising died because he ran out of altitude to deploy his reserve. Helmut was pretty sure Freddy’s death – all those deaths, really – were preventable. Helmut was an entrepreneur, an engineer, and an active skydiver. He was starting to realise that he could build the solution. The AAD concept was sound but it must be made 100% reliable. He identified failure points of existing AADs, and compiled a list of 13 points which he thought would define a perfect AAD.

AAD Requirement List 1986

  1. Never activate incorrectly
  2. Be absolutely reliable when required
  3. Be extremely accurate
  4. Not restrict the skydiver in any of his / her actions
  5. Have an own autonomous container opening system
  6. Require minimum attention
  7. Be simple to operate
  8. Not be detectable from outside the rig (because of the negative attitude towards AADs those days)
  9. Require minimal maintenance
  10. Be small
  11. Be lightweight
  12. Withstand all outside influences while parachuting, packing or traveling
  13. Be easily installable in all existing rig models

1986 – Vorsprung Durch Technik

The devil was in the details. Helmut and his team went through all possible technology options, including radar and sonar, before they designed the world’s first air-pressure-responsive digital altimeter.

1987 Onwards – CYPRES Development

The next four years saw thousands of hours of testing by experts in aerodynamics, thermodynamics, machinists, physicists and engineers, reinventing the AAD from the ground up. There were hundreds of challenges, from piddling to ‘Mission Impossible’. The device had to work for every skydiver, in all weather and humidity conditions, to have pinpoint accuracy, be tiny, use miniscule power, and be failsafe.

1990 – Manufacture

Now, perhaps the biggest challenge of all: series production with impeccable quality. Helmut rented premises in Bad Wünnenberg, Germany, designed a future-proof factory, recruited specialized staff and created a vigorous quality control system. Nothing was ordinary; everything had the idea of the highest possible quality level.

Helmut with astronaut Ernst Messerschmidt (one of the crew on space shuttle Challenger 1985) at the award ceremony

1990 – Best Safety Development in Aviation Award

The Berblinger prize was awarded to Helmut for the best aviation safety development. This one of the highest-valued prizes in the field of general aviation and rarely awarded within skydiving.

The original CYPRES

1991 – CYPRES Launch

CYPRES – the CYbernetic Parachute Release System – was launched, under the company name of Airtec, on 10 Jan 1991. There were three different models – Expert, Student and Tandem. 

The Expert CYPRES, for experienced skydivers would activate at 750 ft if the freefall speed was 78mph (35mps) or higher. The Student CYPRES had the same freefall settings but also activates under canopy at 1,000ft, if the descent rate is below freefall speed and above 29mph. This could occur for example, with a partially opened canopy. The Tandem CYPRES had a higher activation altitude of 1,900 ft (580m) AGL, to allow for the larger canopies and higher main opening height. These parameters were chosen due to extensive tests performed with canopies those days. Interestingly, they have not changed over time and have been adapted by other AAD manufacturers.

1991 – Helmut Warned

In public Helmut received accolades from the skydiving industry for his invention but privately he was warned not to go ahead – because at some point an electronic device would inevitably fail, and he would be sued, personally go bankrupt and possibly end up in jail. This has never happened, every unit in the field has performed impeccably.

1991 – First CYPRES Save

CYPRES celebrated its first save in April 1991, just weeks after the first device rolled off the assembly line. Helmut has never forgotten that phone call.

“It is one thing to design and test a device, the practice is always something completely different. The confirmation that our device had now saved a life was fantastic to hear. A young student from Dortmund survived her jump because of our creation!” 

Helmut Cloth
Tom Piras (left) and his US National 4-way team mates – Mark Harrington, Jack Jefferies and Troy White

1994 – Tom Piras dies

Tom Piras, 4-way World Champion and legendary US organizer, died in a skydiving accident, a death that could have been prevented by Cypres. Tom was knocked unconscious in a funneled 4-way exit and failed to deploy. Ironically, his rig was fitted with a Cypres but he had not switched it on. It was widely reported that Tom said “They can make me wear it but they can’t make me switch it on” – referring to the fact that all US team rigs had been supplied with a CYPRES but he did not have confidence in AADs. The tragic death of such a world-renowned skydiver and reports of his comment – whether real or not – saved countless more lives as it changed the perception of AADs. They became adopted by more and more skydivers and slowly became the norm. 

1997 – FAI Gold Medal

Helmut Cloth was awarded the FAI Gold Medal in 1997 for his outstanding accomplishment. This is one of the most prestigious awards bestowed upon any individual in the skydiving industry.

Helmut receives the Don Beck Award at the PIA Symposium 1999

1999 – PIA Don Beck Award

In 1999 Helmut received the highest possible PIA award, presented by the Parachute Industry Association at the Symposium. It is awarded for parachuting achievements that have stood the test of time.

2003 – CYPRES2 launched

In 2003 the CYPRES2 was introduced, with improvements on the original design after 12 years in the field. The new unit was smaller, lighter, water-resistant, had a battery that would last until the next 4-year service, and reminded the user when maintenance was due.

2003 Onwards – Other advanced AADs released

The Cypres and its rapid uptake had shown what was possible and other companies around the world were researching and building their own AADs. The Vigil was released in 2003 and other companies followed suit. These AADs have also saved lives, thus increasing safety, but none have achieved a fraction of the usage or the saves.

2005 – Speed CYPRES introduced

The Speed CYPRES, designed specifically for extreme canopy piloting, was released, with a high activation speed of 102 mph and a feature that switches the unit off below 330 feet.

400-way, World Team, Udon Thani, Thailand, 8 February 2006, by Willy Boeykens

2006 – World Record – CYPRES to the Rescue

BJ Worth and the World Team in Thailand experienced a setback on a C130 descent with an aborted lift from 23,000 feet. A too-rapid re-pressurisation in one of the Hercs led to 26 CYPRES1 units shutting down, and four Vigils firing in the plane. Both devices acted in accordance with their operational settings, it was an abnormal scenario created by pilot error. But it left the World Team 30 jumpers short with no chance to achieve a record. Helmut is first and foremost a skydiver, he despatched a rescue party sending Kai Koerner with 30 CYPRES2 units, which were fitted overnight into all the problem rigs. World Team only lost one day and soon set the World Record 400-way that still stands.

1991 – 2001 CYPRES Save Information

Two decades after the release of the CYPRES, the information jumpers recorded from the Cypres Saves was like being able to interview the dead and find out what happened. A pattern started to emerge in the nineties, with the main two causes for Cypres fires being loss of altitude awareness or the jumper being ‘frozen’ into inactivity with adrenaline in a pressure situation. This information led to increased emphasis on EPs, and more people wearing audible altis.

In the millennium and beyond, a worrying trend of new Saves began, where the owners cut away from a malfunction and simply waited for the CYPRES to activate. It was only ever intended a last-resort back-up device. Helmut never, ever intended jumpers to change their EPs from ‘pull the reserve handle’ to ‘wait for the CYPRES to fire’!

Helmut Cloth receiving the Jim Crocker Award from Prince Andrew at the Royal Aero Club

2012 – British Parachute Association Jim Crocker Award

Helmut Cloth was honored with the British Parachute Association’s Jim Crocker Award recognizing outstanding contribution to sport parachuting. The award itself is a British Infantry pattern sword and was presented by Prince Andrew, Duke of York at the Royal Aero Club.

2013 – Changeable Mode Introduced

The C-Mode CYPRES was launched, which could be changed to act as any one of four CYPRES models – Expert, Student, Tandem or Speed.

Video, Red Bull Stratos jump: October 14, 2012, Felix Baumgartner ascended 24 miles to the edge of space in a stratospheric balloon to set a new world record

2013 – Red Bull Stratos jump

Helmut Cloth and his crew developed a CYPRES specifically for Felix Baumgartner‘s Stratosphere Mission to the Edge of Space – a skydive from 128,100 feet (39,045 meters). The challenge was to create a device that would monitor a whole new set of parameters which included extreme acceleration (breaking the sound barrier) enormous changes in air pressure, extreme temperatures and cosmic rays. The goal for the device was to correctly interpret what was normal during completely abnormal conditions. Bear in mind no test jumps could be made! The Stratos CYPRES worked flawlessly, through all phases.

2013 –  Variable altitude settings introduced

The new mode made it possible for the owner to raise the activation altitude permanently. Some fatalities were recorded where AADs had cut the loop but the canopy had not fully opened. Raising the AAD firing altitude would combat this problem.  Jumpers were now deploying their mains a thousand feet higher than in the nineties, so there was more time available and less chance of a two-canopies scenario.

CYPRES Static Line System, for military use

2014 – SLS CYPRES introduced

The SLS CYPRES was launched, the world’s first AAD technology for low level static line jumps.

2014 – Project XCF

In 2014 Ernesto Gainza set a world record jumping the smallest canopy ever, 35 square feet. His special equipment for the jump included a supersonic rig, with 3 parachutes, a custom-built CYPRES for this unique situation, and a CYPRES-powered G-Force 3-ring release mechanism, because if the tiny parachute malfunctioned it was likely Ernesto would be unconscious. So, the G-Force Cypres was designed to cut away if necessary before a second Speed Cypres would activate Ernesto’s reserve.

Video, world’s smallest canopy: Ernesto Gainza achieved a Guinness World Record on 5 April 2014. by flying and landing the world’s smallest and fastest parachute

2015  – Skydiving Hall of Fame Award

Helmut was inducted into the Skydiving Hall of Fame, a creation of the International Skydiving Museum to recongize and honor those who have advanced skydiving for the future. He was truly humbled to be inducted with some of the greatest contributors to the sport.

Helmut is honoured with a place in the Hall of Fame, where future generations will read about his invention and how it changed the sport

2016 – Maintenance Relaxed

The 4-year service period became voluntary instead of mandatory.

2017 – CYPRES Lifespan extended

From January 2017 the unit life was extended from the original 12 years to 15.5 years, and the maintenance period extended from four years to five. Airtec had been testing longer service intervals since 2002.   

2016 – Wingsuit CYPRES released

Skydiving kept advancing with new disciplines and technology. Wingsuit pilots presented a challenge, because they could fly too slowly to activate a normal Cypres. Further, if the wingsuiter has a small canopy, their descent speed may be similar to freefall, as we can see from XRW. The Wingsuit CYPRES (WSC) was introduced at the CYPRES 25-Year anniversary boogie in 2016. It has two sets of parameters. The first set is for freefall, and when the WSC detects the main canopy opening, it switches to canopy parameters. For the canopy flight the WSC can be set to Expert or Speed. It can be used for all other disciplines.

Video, CYPRES in Space: Copenhagen Suborbitals, the world’s only manned, amateur space program, is 100% crowdfunded, nonprofit, and has a goal of sending one of them to space

2018 –– CYPRES in space

Copenhagen Suborbitals, the world’s only manned amateur space program, has a crowd-funded goal to fly one amateur astronaut over the Kármán Line (space’s official border, 100km AGL). From there, the capsule will freefall straight back down and land by parachute, in the sea. This complex project uses CYPRES cutters to reduce opening shock, and to begin the deployment sequence for the parachute.

Launch of “It’s Business Time” rocket from Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 1 on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand on 11 November 2018 – Photo source – Rocket Lab

2019  – CYPRES in space again

Cypres will once more cross the Kármán Line with a project to clean up space! Surprisingly, space is becoming increasingly cluttered with more than half a million pieces of debris – disused satellites and other human trash. High Performance Space Structure Systems (HPS GmbH) is working to rid our orbit of these dangerous objects. They came up with the concept of using a dragsail to deorbit satellites when its usefulness is done. The sail is attached to a satellite before it launches; at the end of the mission life, it will open, actioned by CYPRES. This increases the drag area so it slowly spirals in and burns up in the atmosphere. Over time, the aim is to slowly “scrub” low-earth orbit of junk.

2020 – Honorary membership

Helmut became the third person to receive an honorary membership from the German Parachute Federation (DFV).

The CYPRES2 Unit today

2021 – CYPRES Today

The device has been worn on 157 million skydives and Helmut achieved his goal of 100% reliability…. in 30+ years, none of the 246,000 units in the field ever failed to activate and cut the reserve loop under the set conditions (as of CYPRES’s knowledge, and given the loop was routed through the cutter). More than 5,100 Saves have been recorded. In all probability this equates to 5,100 lives (if the jumper pulled their reserve handle it does not count as a Save). The true number will probably be higher. And consider the anguish spared to countless friends and family of all those skydivers saved.

CYPRES – Changing the Face of Skydiving

In today’s world it seems unthinkable that AADs were once ridiculed. The eighties culture was to mock people wearing safety devices like AADs and RSLs… “Don’t think you can pull your own reserve then Bobby ?!!”  Thankfully the sport has evolved and undoubtedly, Cypres was an important catalyst to such change. Helmut created probably the most important skydiving safety device ever and altered the face of the sport. By making skydiving safer the sport was able to grow. AFF students had confidence in this proven lifesaver, more people tried and stayed in skydiving. And as the sport developed rapidly, Cypres responded to each new discipline and scenario, adapting their model to meet the new challenges. 

CYPRES windblades at Langar Boogie, September 2020

CYPRES – 30 Years of 100% reliability

Let’s consider 100% reliability. So easy to say but think of one hundred and fifty MILLION skydives. For a device that lasts over 15 years.

To ensure 100% reliability in one, a hundred or a thousand jumps can be related to luck or chance. But to ensure this in 30 years of business with over 157 million jumps is related to great dedication and even greater effort” 

Helmut Cloth

How many electronic devices have you had that have worked flawlessly for 15 years? For me I can’t think of a single one…  apart from my CYPRES.

Thank you, Helmet Cloth and the CYPRES Team.

Video Tribute to CYPRES by Juan Mayer

Juan Mayer’s 30 years of CYPRES tribute video
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Meet: Lesley Gale

Lesley has been in love with skydiving for 35 years. She is a multiple world and national record holder and a coach on 20 successful record events worldwide. She has over 100 competition medals spanning more than 25 years and has been on the British 8-way National team at World events. She started Skydive Mag to spread knowledge, information and passion about our amazing sport.
Lesley is delighted to be sponsored by Performance Designs, Sun Path, Cypres, Cookie, Symbiosis suits and Larsen & Brusgaard

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