Hall of Fame 2019

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Hall of Fame Celebrations

2010 Hall of Fame inductees – Image by Byrd’s Eye Studio

The International Hall of Fame celebrated a decade with ten new inductees…

It was one helluva week at Skydive Perris. World records, competitions, speakers, demo jumps, book signings and celebrations, making for an amazing atmosphere at the drop zone. The momentum built up in the week, culminating in the Induction ceremony at March Field Air Museum, 19 October, to welcome the 10 new 2019 inductees.

This was my first time at a Hall of Fame ceremony (yes I bought beer!), so I didn’t know what to expect. I was truly astounded by the range of activities, the number of skydiving legends and the fascinating seminars.

Total break between the 2 points of World Record Sequential 130-way
Image by Andrey Veselov

World FS Record

14 October at Skydive Perris saw the Sequential Games team build a Sequential World Record 2-point 130-way, under the new Total Break IPC rules. We did this on the first attempt, pretty classy!  Full story here. The rest of the week we threw jumps at attempts at a giant sparkling jewel, finally set in its crown on Friday.

World Sequential CF Record, 3 points – Image by Gustavo Cabana

World CF Records

While the FS jumpers were waiting to board our planes for the jewel, we were treated to the wonderful sight of the Crew Dogs making history with first a 2-point World Record Sequential, then a 3-point and a 4-point 48-way (consecutive days, all canopies PD Lightnings). Watching them leave the two planes and move, snake-like together was enthralling, and the speed they built formations was very impressive. Some of us snook into the back of their debrief and found it riveting. Full story here.

Participants of the 100-way World Record CF receive the Path of Excellence award
Image by Byrd’s Eye Studio

Path of Excellence Award

Many of the Crew Dogs were there to receive the Path of Excellence award, from the International Skydiving Museum and Hall of Fame, for the 100-way World Record built on 21 November 2007, that still stands today. The formation weighed 20,388 pounds and was 290 feet tall and 175 feet wide. (Compare to a 747-400 jet, which is 231 feet long.) It was built on the fifth attempt, with jumpers from 14 countries being dropped from 20,000 feet, 18,000 feet, 16,000 feet and 13,000 feet, in successive passes.

100-way Canopy Formation World Record – Image by Keith MacBeth

The organisers had pioneered new techniques and standards in five years from 2002, to double their own record of 50.  In 2003 they built multiple 64-way World Records in a single day, then a 70-way record. In 2005 they built multiple 81-ways in a day, then an 85-way World Record, all important steps to the big 100. The Path of Excellence Award is a tribute to team entities who make significant contribution of enduring high value to skydiving.

Luke Aikins in full flow – Image by Ray Cottingham

Speakers and Seminars

An intriguing list of forums (Friday and Saturday) included Luke Aikins with ‘No Parachute, No Problem’ and Alan Eustace on ‘Skydiving from Space’. Both were excellent speakers who enthralled the audience with their first-hand accounts of history in the making.

Alan Eustace and his space suit – Image by Jim McCormick

A presentation on Gear Through the Ages started with parachute equipment in the fifties going through various evolutions to the modern wingsuiter. The gear was modelled by various people; the granddaughter of the owner of the 50s gear, Bill Booth wearing the first rig he designed with the pilot chute outside the container and Tom Sanders modelling his first helmet-mounted camera. There was also a Camera Gear through the years presentation, the heavy cumbersome camera equipment made us truly grateful to live in the age of the Go-Pro.

Book signing and sharing – Image by Ray Cottingham

Skydive Perris had put up photos of Perris through the decades, information boards to honour the new inductees, and posters with the various events, giving the DZ a festival feel. A book signing with authors Dan BC, Joe Kittinger, Michael McGowan, Melanie Curtis, Andy Keech and more was well-attended. The whole dropzone was buzzing with skydivers; pioneers, legends and leading figures in the sport, from today, yesteryear, and everywhere inbetween.  It was well worth talking to anyone who looked like a pensioner, they all had interesting stories from, the good ol’ days. This mingling of skydivers of all ages, nationalities and genres was the crux of the whole event.

Kate’s Cronies, the winning 10-way team’s Round 3, with a groovy second point
Video by Andrey Veselov

Celebration skydives

On Friday there was a 2-way tunnel competition and Saturday was a throwback (for me) with a 10-way speed competition, ‘Star Wars’. 17 teams entered, with the winning team of all-stars looking like the ‘Who’s Who’ of skydiving, posting some cool times and imaginative second points (above).

24-way star World Record reenactment dirtdive – Photo by Andrey Veselov

24-way World Record star

On Saturday there was a re-enactment of the 24-way World Record star, set at Perris in 1972, with two of the jumpers from the original load taking part, and many others on the ground.

Andrey Veselov takes photos inside the 24-way star (spot the oldies!)


The afternoon, evening and night were packed with demo jumps – classic accuracy, Red Bull xRW and a night 20 way demo jump, with lights and pyrotechnics. Together with barbecues, dinners and drinks by the pool, the whole weekend was a marvellous, jam-packed programme.

Night CF demo – Image by Bruno Brokken

Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony

The climax of this terrific event was the Hall of Fame banquet and induction ceremony on Saturday night at March Field Air Museum, Riverside. This stunning venue boasted a wonderful collection of 80 fine old aircraft spanning almost a century of aviation history.

Excerpt from “The Walking Dead” Season 5, Episode 8
Hannah is closest to the camera, with a Katana through her head

What is the Hall of Fame all about?

I wasn’t quite sure what the HOF was all about, so I asked around. Created in 2010, the International Skydiving Hall of Fame recognizes those who, through leadership, innovation or accomplishments have promoted, inspired and advanced skydiving. Harry Parker summed it up, “It’s to honor the amazing people in our sport before they are dead.” Check! Three of this year’s inductees were awarded posthumously but the other seven were very much alive, kicking and very proud at the recognition.

Ultimately, when the International Museum of Skydiving is built, it will include a Hall of Fame gallery of all of the inductees over the last decade.  Jim McCormick, the Museum’s Director of Development, explained,

“Our goal with the Hall of Fame gallery is to create an experience that is hard to walk by and inspires our visitors to seek information on at least some of the members of the Hall of Fame. It’s a work in progress. Concepts include touchscreens that offer the visitors the option of receiving detailed information and videos on any member of the Hall of Fame they choose.  Our goal with that detailed information is to not only explain the member’s significant contributions to the sport but to give the visitor the sense that they have met that person.”

Past and present Hall of Fame members

Cool! It was a privilege to meet those inductees I hadn’t already met, and to congratulate those I had. In attendance at the dinner were many previous Hall of Fame inductees, who were honoured at the start of the evening.

Pat and Melanie Conatser, owners of Skydive Perris, received a standing ovation as they welcomed guests from all over the world. Both brother and sister were clearly moved, especially Mel, who shed a couple of emotional tears.

Trustees Award

Doug Garr receives the Trustees Award 2019 – Image by Byrd’s Eye Studio


DOUG GARR received the 2019 Trustees Award, which is only given occasionally to thank people who have made a huge difference to the museum. Doug, a journalist, writes for the Museum, serves as its counsellor and has been an active fundraiser through the Skydivers Resurrection Award Group (jumpers who return after more than a decade). Doug began his journalistic career by writing an article for Popular Science, ‘The Parachute that Glides Like a Plane’, earning him an ‘A’ for his journalism course and a junior editor job offer at Popular Science in due course. Doug started jumping in 1969, stopped in October 1983 and next made a jump in 2008, just to finish his autobiography in style. 3 jumps later he bought a set of gear and is still active in the sport today.

Hall of Fame Class of 2019

Each inductee was presented with their Hall of Fame blazer and plaque, below is a summary of each of their achievements. For me it was especially wonderful to see my ‘bestie’, Kate Cooper-Jensen, receive this well-deserved accolade. I also loved watching Derek Thomas (my friend for over 30 years) get emotional on stage receiving his father’s award, I’ve never seen him shed a tear before. Congratulations to each of the 2010 inductees, who have all made an outstanding contribution to the sport…

Irena Avbelj receives her HOF plaque from Cheryl Stearns – Image by Byrd’s Eye Studio


IRENA AVBELJ (Slovenia) began jumping in 1986 and became a member of the former Yugoslavian National Parachuting Team in 1988.  After Slovenian independency in 1991, she became a member of the Slovenian National Team. She joined the Slovenian Army in 1992 and became commander of the Parachute Training Unit until 2011 when she retired. In 2006, she received the Blovdek Award, the most prestigious Slovenian sports award. Irena has 11,093 jumps and has competed all over the world in various world championships— European Championships, Paraski Championships and CISM Championships.  She has placed first overall, first in style or first in accuracy in over 20 championships.

Dana Engelstad receives the Hall of Fame plaque on behalf of Chuck Collingwood
Image by Byrd’s Eye Studio


Chuck Collingwood

CHUCK COLLINGWOOD  (USA) was on practically every style and accuracy awards podium (National and International) during the 1970s. He was a member of every US Style and Accuracy National Parachute Team during his competing career. Representing the United States in four world championships, he placed in the top 10 overall position three times and brought home gold and silver medals from the 1976 World Championships. He was US Individual Overall National Champion in 1973. As a member of the US Army Parachute Team (Golden Knights), Chuck was selected to six US C.I.S.M. Teams while winning Overall Military World Champion honors three times.  He was named Golden Knight of the year in 1973.  Chuck has always been a quiet leader inspiring and motivating his fellow competitors and teammates.

Kate Cooper-Jensen – Image by Dennis Sattler


KATE COOPER-JENSEN (USA) started jumping in 1978 and quickly became a prominent figure in the sport.  In 1983, she created Square 1 with Tony Domenico.  This was one of the first skydiving stores to also sell through catalogs. In 1997, she started to organize women’s formation skydiving world record attempts as well as raising money for breast cancer charities.  The group set four FAI Women’s World Records for the largest formation skydive. These records are: a 118 way in 1999, a 132 way in 2002, a 151 in 2005 and a 181 way in 2009.  More than 1.9 million was raised. Kate has participated in numerous movies, television shows and commercials.  She’s been an ambassador of the sport for many years and has never stopped stressing safety as a critical part of skydiving.

Patrick Passe receives the award on behalf of Patrick de Gayardon


Patrick de Gayardon – Image by Philippe Fragnol – ParaMag Archives

PATRICK DE GAYARDON  (France) was the originator of modern wing suiting.  The innovation and validation of his designs of adding viable functional wings to jumpsuits was the genesis of literally being able to cover more horizontal distance than vertical. He was the first person to attempt what became known as “proximity flying” by flying near mountain walls in the French Alps in 1997. In the same year, Patrick validated the glide ratio of his wingsuit designs by exiting and then returning to the same aircraft (Pilatus Porter) in flight. Patrick’s true contribution to skydiving was adding sustained lateral movement, allowing falling to become flying. Patrick was an innovator. He took concepts that lay dormant for decades and applied them successfully with the benefit of his ingenuity.

Alan Eustace fittingly receives his award from Col Joe Kittinger (Retired)
Image by Byrd’s Eye Studio


ALAN EUSTACE (USA) self-funded a project to find innovative ways to simplify and reduce the costs of jumping from space.  In doing so, he set a world record for the highest free fall jump on October 24, 2014 over Roswell, New Mexico.  He ascended to an altitude of 135,889 feet and his distance in free fall was 123,414 feet. His engineering abilities led him to numerous innovations/inventions including a method to be lifted to jump altitude without the need for an expensive capsule by simply being suspended in his pressure suit from a balloon;  a method to keep the drogue chute from entangling in the absence of resistance in space; a means to significantly reduce the likelihood of potentially fatal flat spins while in descent; and a way to remove body heat and moisture from the heavy pressure suit.

John Higgins (left) receives his award from Bruce Wicks – Image by Byrd’s Eye Studio


JOHN P. HIGGINS (USA) made his first parachute jump in 1959 making him a true pioneer. In 1964, along with two other partners, he opened “The Chute Shop” in Flemington, New Jersey.  John became the sole owner in 1968 and the company name was changed to North American Aerodynamics, Inc.  They were the first company to receive approval to modify the Army T-10 and Navy conical reserve to make them steerable and they were one of the first companies to receive a TSO to manufacture a sport harness/container.  This first container was the “mini System”.  North American Aerodynamics designed and manufactured the Jalbert Parafoil Accuracy parachute in the early 1980’s.  The Parafoil remains today the most popular accuracy canopy in the world. John was awarded the Parachute Industry Association Don Beck Memorial Achievement Award in 2015.

Andy Keech (left) is presented with the Hall of Fame award by Jerry Jackson
Image by Byrd’s Eye Studio


ANDY KEECH (Australia) is best known in parachute circles for his three “Skies Call” books of free fall photography.  His free fall photography assignments included venues in the United States, Asia, Europe and Africa as a photographer for Time, Sports Illustrated and the London Times. Previously, he has been an Australian National parachute champion and one of the top scorers on the Australian Team at world competition. He was on the first four-man formation photographed in the world and holds Australia’s Master of Sport Parachuting award. As a pilot, Andy has flown for 60 years holding both private and commercial licenses.  It was in autogyros that he set three transcontinental speed records across the US and 29 world class performance records. He is one of only two pilots since the Wright brothers to hold world-class records in all four realms of performance—speed, distance, rate of climb and altitude.

Tom Sanders (left) receives his award from Bruce Wicks – Image by Byrd’s Eye Studio


As an aerial photographer, TOM SANDERS (USA) is an icon.  His photography work in countless TV programs, commercials and movies has brought positive attention to the sport.  In 2005 he received the Meritorious Achievement Award from USPA through his photography and cinematography seen worldwide; several James Bond films, Point Break, Cheers, Terminal Velocity and Drop Zone, to name a few. In 2015, Tom was made an Honorary Golden Knight for his voluntary consultant work in helping the team’s aerial photographers perfect their skills. He has also worked with the Army’s Delta Force teaching free fall camera techniques. Tom was in charge of the first live video transmission of skydiving, at the Opening Ceremonies of the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, Korea. He also was in charge of free-fall camera for two of President Bush’s parachute jumps.

Deke Sonnichsen’s plaque, presented by Kim Knor – Image by Byrd’s Eye Studio


In 1956, DEKE SONNICHSEN (USA) founded the California Parachute Club (CPC).  This was the first parachute club in the US and was affiliated with the National Parachute Jumpers and Riggers. Through the late 1950s and 60s, he served as Executive VP and later President of the Parachute Club of America, the predecessor of USPA. He was a competitor and a team leader for many US Parachute Teams. Among the competitions that he participated in were: 6th World Sport Parachuting Championship in Orange, MA, 4th Adriatic Cup in Yugoslavia and 7th WSPC in Germany. Deke was instrumental working with the Security Parachute Company, in 1963, to design, test and produce a new system, placing the reserve on the upper back, instead of the front, and with Pioneer Parachute Company, incorporating their Lemoigne Canopy System. He made the first live test jump using this system.

Siblings Derek & Sarah Thomas present their father’s plaque to their mother, Grace Thomas – Image by Byrd’s Eye Studio


Lofty Thomas

JOHN “LOFTY” THOMAS (Great Britain) started skydiving in 1967.  In 1969 he took his master rigger rating in the USA with Ted Strong.  Soon after that accomplishment, he formed the Thomas Sports Equipment Company in England. Along with Ronnie O’Brien, he developed the bag deployment system which is still in use today. Over the years he has worked in many films, supplying parachute equipment, giving advice and occasionally appearing. He was an active member of the British Parachute Association for 25 years, serving on the council and taking the roles of vice chairman and chairman. As Head of Delegation, he took various British competition teams all over the world. Lofty has been an inspiration to many skydivers of all abilities and levels. He was always willing to make time to listen to them and to offer encouragement and support.

Nominate for 2020!

Any skydiver anywhere in the world can nominate someone for inclusion in the Hall of Fame 2020, via the International Skydiving Museum – here.

Support The Museum

Various ways to support the International Skydiving Museum project are presented here:  https://skydivingmuseum.org/support-the-dream
There is a donation link at:  https://skydivingmuseum.org/donate

Description by Lesley Gale, citations kindly supplied by the International Skydiving Hall of Fame.

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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.
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