Outrageous stunts: The Pentagram

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The British Army’s Parachute Display Team, The Red Devils, recently pulled off a world first called ‘The Pentagram’

The Red Devils Pentagram – a world first

This involves 5 parachutes, connected by a single point. All the canopies are put into a downplane, sending the skydivers flying directly towards the ground at over 55mph. We asked the Red Devils stack pilot, Lance Corporal Cameron Clark, how this impressive feat was achieved…

How and when did the idea for the ‘Pentagram’ come about?

The idea for the pentagram was born in May 2023 following some jumps in my downtime with fellow CRW enthusiast John Bowles. This started as an exploratory 3-way down-plane manoeuvre. As a team, the `Red Devils are renowned for our tri-by-side down-plane; however this 3-way down-plane was exploratory due to the probes/straps John had introduced me to. Following successful jumps, we were all certain this formation could evolve into a 4-way down-plane, with some rigging adjustments made to the straps. With this seeming far too easily achievable, this is when I first proposed the idea of doing a 5-way down-plane, which was later dubbed the pentagram. The whole reasoning was the simple fact it had not yet been completed by anyone in the world.

The Red Devils – about to boldy go where no-one has gone before!

What did it take to make the idea a reality?

To bring this concept to life, I had to explore the mechanics of how this formation would transition and fly. Through an animation app, I was able to explain every stage of the formation and simulate how the pentagram would look from start to finish, enabling me to share the concept with my other teammates. The next stage was to assemble the equipment needed known as ‘probes or straps’, with the assistance of Cpl Stephen Handley and Pte Max Tork. We assembled these unique straps over 2 days from our own rigging room. The next stage was to select the 5 Red Devils that would be taking on this untried formation. The 5 selected were Cpl Stephen Handley, Cpl Richard Kingston, LCpl Louis Cuddy, Pte Max Tork and myself. 

The next stage was ground trials. We meticulously walked through and dry-drilled the formation on numerous occasions, talking through everyone’s roles and responsibility at every second on the formation. The initial ground trials revealed an area of improvement for the probes/straps, and although this carried low risk, we made a modification before continuing to the next stage. As stack pilot, I then led the team through two 3-way down-planes, followed by a 4-way down-plane. We took away valuable information on how these formations reacted, highlighting and managing any risks that adding another jumper would pose. 

On 19 July 2023 we completed the 4-way formation! We decided that shortly after was a good time to trial the Pentagram. The formation was a huge success; however we decided to keep this under wraps in order to launch the Pentagram formally at the closing ceremony of the Armed Forces Parachute Championships 2023.

Walking through every stage on the ground

How many test jumps were made and of what nature?

We made a total of four test jumps. Each jump had its own goals to achieve before we progressed onto the next stage. Our first jump consisted of a 3-way down-plane. The goals of this jump were to tests our new probes/straps after the successful initial ground trials; and also to introduce Cpl Handley & Pte Tork to this new sequence of achieving a 3-way down-plane. The next stage was to introduce Cpl Kingston & LCpl Cuddy to the same formation and probes with a second jump, this providing them with a wealth of information that would aid in the further stages. The third stage was the undertake the 4-way down-plane. We were now entering the unknown, so we made sure to spend every opportunity talking through every scenario this formation could throw at us. Once again due to everyone’s discipline and commitment to the goal we shared, the 4-way down-plane was completed flawlessly. With all this successful the only stage left to complete was to compile all the experience and knowledge we had all gained from these early stages and attempt the Pentagram. 

What were the rigging challenges?

 All rigging is done within the team, so our rigging challenges are tackled by the team’s parachute riggers. I am the Chief Rigger for the team, so it was down to me to coordinate the rigging tasks we had to complete. I first set about drawing some simple schematics of the probes/straps we would be building. Cpl Handley, Pte Tork and myself then set about bringing these schematics to life. During the 2 days it took to create these we remained versatile and changed some measurements and fine details that we collectively agreed on. During the ground trials we did come across a small issue with the release systems, however this was rectified immediately before commencing with air trials.

What canopy formations have you done that are similar?

The only similar formations to the pentagram were the training jumps we completed in stages leading up to the competition. Many would say our infamous tri-by-side down-plane is similar, however there are two main differences between these formations. The first being the probing-up stage. The order and location we connect ourselves together are completely different for each formation. This leads to the second and main difference, which is the down-plane characteristics. The tri-by-side down-plane is steerable, which is why we can perform this formation down to altitudes of 250ft before realising into display arenas. However, once the pentagram has entered the down-plane it is locked in and has very limited steerability. 

The Red Devils Tri-by-side downplane

How did the pentagram fly, did it give you any trouble?

Before even attempting the pentagram, we had doubts about the transitions from the 5-stack to pentagram. Everything we were going off for the first attempt was based on the years of CRW experience we had built up as a team, and previous build-up jumps. We were entering the unknown but were taking every step to make it as safe as possible. On the first attempt the top man in the stack (LCpl Cuddy) and the 5th man in the stack (Cpl Handley) collided bodies on the first transition with some speed. Both jumpers were fine and put the required inputs into their canopies to correct the formation. Note that we identified this may be an issue, therefore made sure there was a drill and steps to follow in case of an unconscious jump. Immediately after this jump we reviewed the jump media in detail and identified what may have caused this and how to avoid it on future jumps of the pentagram. 

Red Devils Pentagram downplane

How do the parachutists pull out of the pentagram?

Every person on the formation has their own probes/straps clipped onto their hip rings along with a large yellow handle that sits around belly height. When the pentagram is set, everyone has a pre-determined heights to split from the formation, they do this by simply pulling the yellow release handle. The risk of this handle not working is extremely low; however, we had talked and practised actions and drills for the event of probes not splitting.

How did it feel to pull off this world’s first?

The first time we completed the pentagram we all tried to stay composed as the job was not yet finished. We all knew our final mission was to perform at the closing ceremony of the British Armed Forces Championships, with the added pressure of a large crowd and many senior ranking officers attending. Once complete at that event, everyone was ecstatic, not just the 5 jumpers and the 3 cameramen but the Red Devils as a whole team, because every achievement we make as individuals is made as a team. 

The Pentagram, successfully built at the closing ceremony of the British Army Nationals

What can we expect next from the Red Devils?

This year alone we have completed 3 world firsts, the team is always progressing and trying to push the boundaries but always with safety in mind. We have some new ideas and formations we are working on in the background and with the 60th anniversary of the Red Devils approaching in 2024 it may be the perfect time to show off our next trick.

Is there anything you would like to say to our readers?

If you like what you have read or have any questions, please get in touch or follow us on our social media platforms here – Instagram and The Red Devils website.

Social Media

Check out the Pentagram Instagram reel here or watch below:

Red Devils Pentagram

Interview by Lesley Gale, responses by LCpl Cam Clark, Red Devils Stack Pilot and Chief Rigger

The Red Devils

The Red Devils are an elite unit of the British Army Parachute Regiment. The 15 members are highly-skilled paratroopers chosen through a rigorous selection process. Competition for a place on the team is fierce, and it’s an honour to be selected. The team remain serving members of the Parachute Regiment and can be recalled to duty at any time. As the Red Devils’ motto goes, we’re always ‘Ready For Anything’.

The Red Devils Parachute Display team

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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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