Leap for Lupus 2015

By Christina Case – Midwest Freefall Sport Parachute Club

Valinda Mitchell’s Leap For Lupus Foundation will be having it’s annual boogie on Saturday, September 5th at Midwest Freefall Sport Parachute Club located at 62912 Kunstman Road – Ray, Michigan. You are invited to join for an exciting day of skydiving, raffles, live music, charity dinner, bon fire and good friends!

Load Organizers:

  • Relative Work: Rick DeShano
  • CRW:  the infamous CRW Dogs Jim Rasmussen & Joe Thompson
  • Freefly:  with Mike Gravell

Tickets are currently available online for the Leap For Lupus via their website (click on “Raffle 2015“.  Tickets are 1 ticket for $5 or 5 tickets for $20. All raffle tickets sales goes towards Lupus research and finding a cure for this difficult disease. Get your tickets! Drawing to be held at our Leap for Lupus event on Sept. 5th. Need not be present to win. 100% of all money from this will go to help find a cure.

The skydiving community has come together to provide us with some amazing prizes. We thank all the companies and individuals that have supported this event through the years!


DZOs: You Need Yelp

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The Power of Word-of-Mouth

In 2011, I was fortunate to check a major item off my bucket list: Visit New Zealand’s South Island. Knowing it would be an expensive adventure, I meticulously researched each hotel, restaurant and activity using TripAdvisor.com to ensure that I would get the best experiential value based on the reviews of others.

Advertising spent on brochures, web design, billboard advertising, TV or radio had no influence on me and where I chose to spend my money. Every decision I made was based on the opinions of others.

Well, I wasn’t let down. I had the time of my life!

Recently, while visiting a drop zone in the Midwest, I pulled into the parking lot of a recommended hotel and read reviews about it on Yelp.com. Had the reviews been negative, I would have carried on with my hotel search. My consumer behavior is consistent with Generation Y which places a premium on experience over expense and makes decisions from quick research using a smartphone.

This behavior is not limited to the service industry, as I, and others like me, have conveniently selected dentists, doctors, computer repair techs and a myriad of other services using review sites.

There has been a lot of criticism in the media about review sites like Yelp and others because of so-called review padding by owners of establishments who create positive reviews for themselves. If a business operator delivers a poor product or service, no amount of padding can outweigh the tidal wave of negativity that will crash on a business from savvy consumers.

Review sites are here to stay and effectively utilizing them is a key to a drop zone’s success today and in the future.

Embrace Change

Word-of-mouth (WOM) has always been the most credible and effective mode of marketing, but its transmission beyond our small social circles had been limited by our interactions. Prior to the smartphone, an average consumer would tell three friends about a great experience and 10 about a bad experience.

Today, Facebook and Twitter deliver opinions, both positive and negative, to thousands of people in seconds. A company’s survival centers around great service, selling an excellent product, and using new mediums for marketing.

Once considered to be in a different category from marketing, customer service has transitioned from being an extremity to being at the heart of influencing consumers on where to spend their money. Inspire your customers through exceptional service to utilize the technology available and create rave reviews.


Gaining Competitive Advantage: Leveraging WOM

Leveraging word-of-mouth is both effective and inexpensive when attempting to raise a company’s profile in a busy marketplace. An example of this is the story of my family and how they utilized TripAdvisor to transform their business.

My parents operate an eco-kayaking tour on the island of Antigua, competing with 67 other tour companies vying for cruise ship passengers arriving each day between November and April. How does a literal mom-and-pop compete with no advertising budget and thrive? The answer: Craft a five-star experience complemented with superior service and then ask your customers to review the trip.

The result? Their business tripled after they moved up the TripAdvisor rankings from 26th to number one in the country. Their customers became the marketing team and word spread virally about the Antigua Paddles experience. Any drop zone in the skydiving industry can adopt this strategy and be successful if implemented correctly.

The advent of the smartphone is a game-changer. At no time in history have consumers had the power to effect the success or failure of an organization. The very survival of a company not only depends on a product or service but also how the customer feels and most importantly, how that feeling is shared.

Tips for Leveraging Review Sites

  1. Know Your Ranking. Know where you stand and know what consumers are saying about you.
  2. Create Raving Fans. Make exceptional customer service equally as important as the product.
  3. 3 Deliver. Deliver great service consistently every day.
  4. Address Negative Reviews. Post responses to any negative review, but never take a defensive position. Be positive in your comments and implement necessary changes to avoid the same negative review again.
  5. Set Goals. Strive to break into the top-three ranked companies on various review sites.
  6. Buy-In. Get buy-in from your staff to embrace a customer service culture and drive to hold a top online ranking.
  7. Ask. Happy customers tend to be loyal and will happily write reviews to help with your success … you just need to ask them.

James La Barrie

Monthly Columnist

About the author: As a former drop zone manager for nine years with proven results, James La Barrie is a different kind of marketing professional. As the founder of DropZone.Marketing, he helps his DZ clients increase revenues by implementing techniques in word-of-mouth marketing (WOMM), social media, company culture, branding and world-class web design.

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Tunnel Kids: Casper and Conner


What’s that? You have kids? Sign them up! Registration is open until October 1st & many tunnels are offering great deals!

The National Kids Competition is coming in October and we couldn’t be more excited for it! This event will be the first of its kind and is sure to be incredible. Leading up to the competition we are highlighting various teams as they train. Casper and Conner are twins from Austin, TX that have been flying for 2 years. These kids are a force to be reckoned with. Read on for Casper & Conner’s interview – but first a quick chat with their parents!

Q: What first brought you & your family to the wind tunnel?
A: At the suggestion of a friend we took a family trip to the tunnel. We had a blast and were still grinning about it hours later.

Q: And what is it that made you return?
A: When I went to leave a review on your website I noticed the Kid’s Club section and asked the boys if they would like to participate and, as you probably know, they responded with a resounding yes. We went weekly that first summer treating it as kind of summer camp. I had planned to cut back to only on special occasions once school restarted but missed it so much that we at least tried to attend a couple of sessions a month. I didn’t imagine at the time that it would become such a permanent part of our lives and an aspect we enjoy so much.

Q: What is your favorite thing about watching your children fly?
A: Pretty much everything. we get a kick out of how far they have advanced and enjoy interacting with the staff [You all rock by the way] and other club parents. It is definitely a lot more thrilling to watch then a soccer or little league game [nothing against those sports]. I also love to hear the comments of other customers, both skydivers and the general public, who see them fly for the first time.

Q: How has the sport of indoor skydiving affected your children?
A: It’s made their college fund a lot lighter. [Ha you can strike that one if you want to]. They are in advanced Math and Science at their school and they love the physics of the tunnel and the science of body-flight. I can think of nothing but positives, physical and mental, that moving forward in this sport has brought them. Who knows if they get a degree in engineering they may be designing iFly facilities one day.

Casper & Conner’s Interview

Q:How old are you and what grade are you in?
A: We are 14 years old [twins] and are in the 9th grade but take 10th grade Pre-AP Math and Pre-AP Science.

Q: Do you play any other sports?
A: We started a Cavers Club [spelunking] last year and enjoy swimming and running but Tunnel Flying is our main sport. Outside of the tunnel our main hobby is guitar [mostly rock but a little bit country too]. At school this year we are in a class called Rock Band [we had to audition for it last year].

Q: What is your favorite thing to do in the wind tunnel?
A: Definitely dynamic flying, working on our routines and Freefly. We are enjoying learning the FS moves but are anxious to get back to progressing on the head-down flying and working on our layups.

Q: If you could fly with anyone in the world what would it be?
A: We had the opportunity to fly with some of the Red Bull Air Force when they were in Austin and would definitely love to do it again.

Q: How are you feeling about competing against kids all over the country? Excited, nervous?
A: We are feeling a combination of excitement and nervousness about the competition. Since this will be our first competition we are nervous about how we will perform or what we will be up against.

Q: What are your long-term goals for indoor skydiving? Where do you see the sport taking you?
A: We would both love to work part-time for iFly when we are old enough and while we attend college. Ultimately we want to become elite dynamic flyers and world-class FS and VFS competitors. Whatever the future holds we want to keep this sport as part of our lives.

Q: Are you interested in actual skydiving, once the time comes?
A: Casper: Of course! I haven’t always been interested in jumping out of a perfectly good airplane, however after experiencing what I have in the tunnel, I would definitely be willing to. We went to Vermont with my cousins this past summer to watch them jump, unfortunately though I was under the age limit.
A: Conner: Though it never occurred to me that leaping out of an airplane and plummeting to the ground and watching it get bigger, and bigger, and bigger, until throwing a parachute would be fun in any way, I actually have thought of skydiving before. Initially, this thought was met with great fear, entertained only by adrenaline and the thought of wind rushing past me. But as I grew to love indoor skydiving so much, it became more of a reality. My brother and I received the opportunity to fly with the Red Bull air force (they put the sky in diving), and this somewhat amplified my courage of one day mastering the art of patient falling (skydiving). This summer (2015), I got the opportunity to watch my cousins skydive. Tangibly seeing this made the flight seem more real, more precious, and considerably less horrifying. Considering all of this, I am hoping and looking forward to skydiving on my 18th birthday!

Q: What do your friends/classmates think about your flying?
A: Casper: To answer this question, you have to think about what my friends thought of me before I was a tunnel-flyer. I have always been considered a big “nerd” and on some occasions a “dork”. I love science and math, and this sport is as close as athletics comes to those two concepts. Now, back to the original question, it’s kind of cut into two groups. There are some of my friends who consider the sport that I do as “awesome”, and “one of the coolest things”. However, there are others who get tired of my ‘over-enthusiasm’ to jumping into a vertical wind-tunnel. A lot of people would rather do other things like soccer and football, however I can’t see where on Earth (or in the atmosphere for that matter) they could see those sports as superior. In the end, however, I believe that most people see this sport as a good match for me and my interests.
A: Conner: My friends and my classmates view my flying in one of two ways: They either think we are crazy, or they think we are so blessed to be able to do what we do. I typically gravitate to those who view it as a blessing! I bring my sport into everything I do, be it school projects, simple conversation, even introductions to new people. Almost everyone in my grade is familiar with our hobby. Unfortunately, due to the youth of this sport, it is not well-known, and I am met with much confusion whenever discussing it with my companions from time to time. In the end, I would say the overall reaction my friends take to my sport would be something along the lines of “WOW, that is cool!”

Fucking Facebook

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The saying used to be, “If it’s not on video, it didn’t happen!” The saying now is clearly, “If it’s not on Facebook, it didn’t happen.”

Social networking is, in my personal opinion, one of the best and one of the most fucked up things ever invented, and I can’t decide if it’s helping the world by bringing it closer together, or destroying it one post at a time.

There’s no doubt in my mind that everyone reading this has either heard of or been directly involved in the total annihilation of a relationship because of Facebook, MySpace, or some other social media site. It can turn the most innocent situation into what appears to be a torrid scandal, or simply air out a scandal for what it is, all depending on the picture posted or the words used. The truth is, if you’re stupid enough to allow pictures or video everyone shouldn’t see posted online, then you kind of get what you deserve.

If you post “fuck this person” or “that person is such a dick” without making sure they aren’t your “friend” on Facebook first, then once again you absolutely have it coming! Funny thing is, this isn’t the reason that I have a real problem with these sites. Those are actually a few of the reasons I love them!

The real problem I have with Facebook is that the powers that be have finally caught on. “They” are totally hip to the fact that on the whole, people are narcissistic idiots willing to hang themselves out to dry trying to look cool. I’m afraid that I, like most of the people reading this article have occasionally been one of those idiots, having posted the odd picture or random statement I wish I hadn’t. Consequently, I learned quite quickly and quite early where to draw the line. The problem now isn’t people hanging themselves out to dry, but someone else either accidentally or quite intentionally tossing their friends under the bus.

Recently, while flying loads at the drop zone, I was paid a friendly visit by a very nice member of the local FSDO office and badge-carrying representative of the FAA. She was stopping by the operation to perform her due diligence, in light of the FAA’s new policy of “higher visibility” in skydiving, and “ramping” me as the pilot in charge. Being ramped is kind of like being pulled over by the cops, only the FAA doesn’t need a reason to do it. You may not have done anything wrong, but they still want to see your license, registration and insurance, so to speak. Now I’ve always been very good about staying on top of all my paperwork as a pilot, and our aircraft were up to speed as well, so the ramp check went without incident. Without incident until she brought up Facebook, that is.

You may have noticed at the beginning of the previous paragraph that I referred to the FAA official as “very nice,” and the truth is she was. She was nice enough to let me in on the fact that her boss was, as she put it, “hot around the collar” over a number of pictures that he found on the drop zone’s Facebook page! She was even nice enough to slide behind the desk at manifest and show me exactly where these pictures were. I was breaking out in a cold sweat while she did, seeing that most of the photos in question were either of skydivers in or quite near clouds or aircraft performing flybys that didn’t exactly appear, in the strictest sense of the word, legal.

Now as I’m sure every jump pilot would agree, I would never EVER perform a maneuver in an aircraft not deemed completely legal, nor would I EVER allow a skydiver to maintain anything but the legal cloud clearance limits, but these fucking pictures didn’t make it look that way! It also didn’t help that in each and every one of the pictures, the pilot flying the aircraft was tagged in the photo. As cool as the photos were, if the FAA had decided to make a real issue out of it, things would have gotten very serious very fast. As it turned out, the photos were removed almost before the official’s feet were out the door, and no more of these shots have been put up…yet.

Think this is only an issue that pilots need to worry about? Think again. Just go talk to Steven Jackson. “Jacko” is a close friend and fellow instructor in the sport, with around 15,000 jumps and more skill than any one person deserves. He’s a talented freeflyer, great AFF instructor, and in my opinion probably the best tandem instructor on the planet. Even so, he not only lost all of his ratings for quite some time, but had to fly to the USPA Board Meeting in Reno to fight USPA and the manufacturers, face to face, to get them back. Why? All due to photos posted online of him flying tandems in a way they deemed inappropriate. Think it couldn’t happen to you? What pictures do you have up on your “love me” wall?

Facebook has, without a doubt, connected me to long lost friends and acquaintances I never would have seen or heard from again. It has opened doors and closed chapters in my life that would not have been possible without it, and in most ways it’s a tool I’m glad I have. Yet there is a very dangerous side to this very powerful tool. In our modern and very connected world, we don’t need Big Brother to watch over us, and why would we? We have twenty million little fucking cousins to do it for him!

Maybe that really sick shot of you on your head with a tandem will remain just a conversation starter and not turn into a USPA red flag. Chances are, the sunset shot of you flying the DZ Cessna really damn low over a hangar full of skydivers won’t amount to anything at all. What are the odds that the FAA gives a damn that there’s a wonderful picture of you straddling the tail of a Twin Otter? Probably pretty slim, but if they do care, and the tail number of that plane is in the shot…

The Fuckin' Pilot

Monthly Columnist

About the author: The Fuckin’ Pilot has more than 8,500 hours of flight time; 5,000 of those have been piloting jump ships for skydiving.

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