Head-up Record – Day 2: It’s a wrap!

Photo by Lawrence de Laubadere

This just in from Lawrence!

After two attempts, on the 21st of November 2014, 44 skydivers set a new Upright/Head-Up Largest Formation record. The organizers contemplated stopping here but deciding the jumpers are having so much fun during these jumps they decided to keep going and attempt a 53-way formation. Andy Malchiodi commented “nine years ago we did a 53-way head-down formation and today we’re going to do a 53-way head-up formation”. The organizers did make it clear that for rules and logistical reasons, if a new larger record is set today, the 44-way would no longer be claimed but if the 53-way is achieved tomorrow then both will be claimed.

Congrats to everyone in Eloy!

Below a picture from a jump this morning.  A bit of a gloomy arrival allowed the participants to relax and warm up nicely prior to the first jump.  The cloud base was high, and allowed for a jump from approx 15,500ft.  Lawrence noted a major change in organization with three planes instead of two – allowing for 1) faster and more efficient build, 2) letting the other group (also working on head-up formations) to go up to max altitude and do a formation jump (prior to which they were only jumping from one plane from regular altitude), 3) if/when we go bigger, it will make the transition seamless.

Photo by Lawrence de Laubadere

Photo by Lawrence de Laubadere


Sunset Record Attempt

Photo by Lawrence de Laubadere

10819001_10152848152244367_834937499_nYesterday concluded after 5 jumps of intense work and pressure – venturing into the new and uncharted territory of large head-up formations.
The group came just two slots away from the attempted 44-way record. Absolutely amazing performance on all accounts for the first day.  Lawrence will continue his updates throughout the day, as he’s able. Here is a note from him setting the stage for today. The jumps are now a 44-way, after one

On the fourth jump an issue occurred with the base, which resulted in many throughout the formation to let go of their grips.
Normally the doing sequence dictates that you should only dock if what you are docking on is built and ready. When it’s the base that has an issue, rather than a pod, things get a little confusing. Stay on or let go? The take home point for the group was that if you feel yourself adding to the stability of the formation – stay docked – but if you feel that you are a part of what is leading to instability, let go in a controlled manner. Stay on level and in your slot, and rebuild as soon as possible.

Managing levels remains super important and good presentation of grips as well. This is something the group will continue to work on throughout the event.

Today, day 2 (out of 3) the group assembled at 7:45 AM (Eloy time!) to implement some changes.  The pressure will increase and the group is expecting wheels up  shortly for attempt #6! I’ll leave you with one last sunset photo from Day 1!

Photo by Lawrence de Laubadere

Photo by Lawrence de Laubadere


Click here to visit the update from Day 1.

PRO Pass




Chicagoland Skydiving Center is offering up a PROpass again for 2015 season!
The PROpass is an all-you-can-jump season pass, available for a flat fee paid up before the start of the season.

Applications for the pass are accepted until the end of this month (November) from interesting parties.

The PROpass includes unlimited jumps from CSC aircraft (on visiting aircraft on a space available basis) from April to November, 2015.
Hop ‘n pops, full altitude – whatever you desire. You can get out at any scheduled pass between 3.500 and 14,000 feet. Jumps are good during boogies, canopy courses, skills camps, etc. The only thing ruled out is turn loads, but back to back loads with a shutdown in-between are fine.

For those of you that already dug out your calculator, break-even point for retail is at just under 200 jumps. During the past several years, people have put an average of 300 – 450 jumps on a pass. The record is 660 jumps in a single season! Teams have purchased passes to do a ton of training in a season, individuals purchase them so they can work on video flying or get the jumps needed for instructional ratings – and fun jumpers planning on a huge season of jumping.

PROpass applications are currently being accepted – get yours in before November 30th!  Please contact CSC directly with any questions you might have.

Head-Up Record Attempts at Skydive Arizona

Photo by Lawrence de Laubadere

Lawrence de Laubadere is one of the jumpers currently at Skydive Arizona, in Eloy, AZ – working to set a new head up record! Lawrence will be sending a few updates and photos from the attempts throughout the event. Two skills camps have been held prior to the event to get everybody warmed up and ready, because as Lawrence says, “this stuff is hard!”.

1st jump was a 43-way exiting from 16,000 feet with a Skyvan in the lead and a right trailing Otter. The base had some issues which disabled anyone from building. Break-off is in three waves 6,500 pulling no lower than 5,000; 5,500 pulling no lower than 4,000; 4,500 pulling lower than 3,500. Currently on a 15 minute call, time to dirt-dive and go for a second attempt.

Photo by Lawrence de Laubadere

Photo by Lawrence de Laubadere


The base having sorted itself out the jumpers were able to build on this second jump. From the below picture we can see a good chunk of the formation building. It seems at least three pods built with some of the stingers on the pods before the first break-off wave at 6,500. Waiting patiently for debrief before dirt-diving for the 3rd attempt.

Photo by Lawrence de Laubadere

Photo by Lawrence de Laubadere

On the second attempt there was one cutaway – but everyone is ready to rock and roll for the next one. We wish everyone the best of luck – their mad skills are already a given!

The Way of the Jump Pilot

Online Reprint

Originally printed in issue #59 (Nov. 2014) of Blue Skies Magazine.

F*ckin’ Jump Pilot. It’s not exactly the job title most pilots look for when entering aviation. Indeed, most pilots who find themselves spending any time dropping jumpers usually only do so on their way to bigger things. But for some, it’s not only the most exciting, challenging and rewarding flying they’ve done, it’s the top of the pyramid.

Working as a pilot in skydiving offers a number of unique challenges that not everyone in aviation has had experience with, and as such it tends to attract a rather small percentage of commercial pilots. As a six-thousand-hour airline transport pilot, with almost five thousand of those flying skydiving operations, jump aircraft have been my home almost since the beginning of my career. Flying skydivers helped me refine stick and rudder skills, learn to fly an aircraft at its maximum performance, and deal with unique and challenging conditions not found anywhere else in aviation.

Nowhere else in flying does a pilot have to learn to deal with a shifting load of crazy jumpers, but passengers who leave halfway through the trip—all while making sure passengers exit in exactly the right spot, at exactly the right altitude and at the perfect speed every single time. Add to that the need to read and understand the effect of winds for jumpers both in freefall and under canopy, then toss in having to land an aircraft literally thousands of times a year, and you end up with a skill set unique to jump pilots. It’s a type of precision flying that isn’t easily understood or mastered. Yet like most pilots, I was lead to believe that flying jumpers was not a goal, but rather a steppingstone to a more fulfilling career, and so I moved on to bigger and better things.

… it became glaringly obvious that the dream job I was after was the one I had walked away from …

Having spent two years flying for a regional airline in the United States, I had the opportunity to immerse myself in the side of flying that most people envision when they think “pilot.” What I discovered may surprise you. Bottom line: IT F*CKING SUCKED! Not only did I spend drastically less time actually flying an aircraft, but while flying, I spent much of my time simply monitoring systems and meeting paperwork requirements rather than actually piloting the craft. Add to that having to play stewardess for the passengers because an Otter is too small to have a true cabin crew, you can imagine what a fucking dream that can be. The whole experience turned out to be much less than I had expected or hoped for, and it became glaringly obvious that the dream job I was after was the one I had walked away from. So when the opportunity to come back to the sport I enjoy and the aircraft I love arose, I jumped at the chance! As it turns out, I’m not the only one.

Paul started out like many in aviation. Having started working as United States Federal Aviation Administration instructor pilot in Southern New Jersey, he eventually transitioned to jump pilot for a number of reasons.

“I needed a way to build time flying, and realized pretty quickly that as an instructor I was not only not building a lot of time, but wasn’t even flying the aircraft! When the chance to start flying skydivers in a Cessna 206 came up, it was a pretty simple decision to make. The more I flew jumpers, the more I enjoyed the challenge, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the larger aircraft the DZ had for their operation. And when I started flying the Otter … I was hooked.”

The de Havilland Twin Otter is widely considered the overall best aircraft in skydiving, and there are a whole lot of reasons why. Originally built for passenger operations and short haul cargo, its reputation as a short-takeoff-and-landing (STOL) monster grew quite quickly. Because of the Otter’s short-field and rough-terrain capabilities, skydiving operators quickly recognized how wonderful a fit the aircraft was. Its popularity and reputation in the sport grew to such a degree that a special variant was designed specifically for the United States Air Force Academy, and the 400 Series specifically for the United States Army Parachute Team.

“The Otter simply does things you would never imagine an aircraft of its size could,” says Paul. “It’s probably the most incredible aircraft I’ll ever fly, and I came back to the sport when I realized that the only real flying I’d ever done was for jumpers. There just isn’t anything more incredible than flying a formation of four or five Otters while jumpers stream out into the sky!”

Like me, Paul left a career in what most would consider the sought after path in aviation to return to the jump-pilot life on the East Coast of the United States, and the larger-than-life Twin Otter.

Yet bigger isn’t always better, and doesn’t always fit. Probably the most well-known aircraft type used in skydiving is one that’s been around for ages, and is the daily workhorse for skydiving operations around the world: the venerable Cessna.

It also happens to be one of Chris’s favorite aircraft. Chris, a U.S. commercial pilot flying just outside of Austin, Texas, has been enjoying his flying career immensely. “I love the challenge of having to eyeball the spot without a GPS. I love having the jumpers right there next to me, and I have to admit that every time the door right next to me opens up, I get one heck of a rush!”

Cessna Aircraft currently manufactures 10 different models; the C-172, C-182, the C-206, and the larger, widely popular Turbine C-208 Caravan and Grand Caravan have arguably taken more jumpers aloft than any other type of jump ship in existence. Nicknamed “Time Machine” by jump pilots, it’s usually the first aircraft most will fly, and with an average load time of 30-plus minutes, a pilot’s logbook can quickly fill up with the hours needed to tackle the larger and more complex aircraft most desire. It’s the same route Brent took. Flying out of Northern California with Skydive Sacramento, Brent knows the sport from both sides, being a tandem instructor as well.

Having made the transition out of Cessnas, Brent was at one point one of the highest time jump pilots in the aircraft that became his favorite jump ship. Standing out in skydiving as the only aircraft specifically designed from the ground up for parachute operations is the PAC-750XSTOL. Developed from the Cresco, a New Zealand crop dusting aircraft, the PAC took its roots from a heavy hauling yet nimble ship. Its light weight and high lift wing has made it one of the most efficient aircraft in the sport. Its very high power-to-weight ratio makes it possible to reach 12,000’ and return in just over 10 minutes.

“The fact that it has a stick control instead of a yoke control in the cockpit, lots of power and a responsive feel makes it a blast to fly. It’s got all the bells and whistles—including top-of-the-line GPS, which makes spotting a piece of cake—but when you’re flying it, she feels like a dive bomber, she comes down so fast! Watching jumpers that just exited your plane landing while you’re loading the next group is just cool.”

Yet there is no denying that sometimes the most popular aircraft has nothing to do with speed, efficiency or even comfort. Sometimes you simply want unique and cool! Take Perris Valley Skydiving in Southern California. When their fleet of two Twin Otters, a Skyvan and a few Cessnas didn’t seem to be enough, they added a big brother to the family. Delta Airlines first introduced the McDonnell Douglas DC-9 into passenger airline operations in 1965. Primarily used for passenger and cargo operations, the idea of using such a large jet-powered aircraft for skydiving was an idea that didn’t take shape until Ben Conaster, owner of Perris Valley, took a closer look. After years of research and planning, in 2008 the FAA made it the only airline transport-class jet certified for skydiving operations. It is by far the world’s largest and fastest tailgate jump ship, and the crews that fly her are unique in their field.

Not all popular and efficient aircraft used in skydiving come with wings though. For many years now, Skydive Cross Keys has operated the very popular Aérospatiale Alouette II helicopter. This ship provides a strong enough platform for jumpers to leap from at over 9,000’ while hovering, essentially allowing a zero-airspeed exit. Using the Alouette for everything from lower-altitude fun-jumper operations to tandem skydives, Cross Keys has thrilled jumpers and non-jumpers for years.

“For as much of a challenge as flying jumpers in a fixed wing aircraft can be, holding a hover over 2,000 meters up while jumpers hang from the skids is intense!” says Tom, a long-time rotor jump pilot. “It’s the most exciting passenger flying I’ve ever done.”

Toss into this wonderful aviation mix a wide variety of both fixed wing, rotorcraft and lighter than air, along with all the different pilots that fly them and you’ll find an incredible variety of ways to take to the skies and make a jump. As skydiving and aviation both continue to progress, we can only wonder what ships will be taking jumpers aloft in the future, and what pilots will decide that skydiving is where it’s at.

Dean Ricci

Monthly Columnist

About the author: Dean “Princess” Ricci has more than 6,000 hours of flight time; 5,000 of those have been piloting jump ships for skydiving. He calls Skydive Dubai home now after a grueling stint in the Caribbean flying for The Man.