85 Way CRW World Record Set
Photos: Pam Pangburn
A view like no other - until you have flown up next to 81 multi-colored parachutes, all hooked into formation, flying briskly through the sky, its hard to explain the sheer beauty of it all. A diamond of parachutes, more than 250 feet tall, weighing in at over 8 tons, yet flying quickly and effortlessly through the sky. Its large enough to show up on local air traffic radar, visible for miles around - yet consisting merely of 85 individuals flying through the sky as one. You fly up next to it, watching people dock, encouraging them on while waiting your turn. Listening to radio calls as the size the formation has built to is being announced. Flying in flat and level from the side, coming to a stop right before you dock on the formation, and inching in the last few feet. Looking across the formation at your mirror image, and seeing them docked and flying well. Knowing that the formation is of record size, feeling the breeze in your hair and the wind on your face, Waiting for the starburst call, and shortly after break off the air is filled with whoops and hollers as everyone can now celebrate. The feeling of accomplishment on finishing the 85 way on our first attempt. Especially knowing that their were a few jumpers on the load, who albeit very skilled, had never been on anything as large as a 25-way. The awe-inspiring view of seeing a formation this size - especially for the first time - is something that is so difficult to explain. Pictures just don't do it justice.
The view from the inside would be just as spectacular. After you dock, people continue to dock all around you. Every direction you look is a parachute, and everywhere you look is a person who is arched and looking up. Hearing the radio calls, knowing that the formation is building well, mentally cheering those on who have yet to dock. Absorbing all of the waves and bumps that pass through the formation as it builds, yet knowing without looking when each point of the diamond comes on as you can feel the formation lean over and fly. Looking over your head at a tower of canopies as far as the eye can see - with nowhere to run to if things go wrong.
In the daytime, the formation glowed in the sunshine - so many bright colors in stark contrast to the ground below. Flying so fast in the center that the outsides are cupped back. Anyone who got behind would not be catching back up. On the sunset loads, the colors all fade in the dusk sky, silhouetted against the fading sun, the local lakes still shimmering on the ground. All canopies look the same, making the formation appear whole, instead of 81 individual pieces... That is until the starburst call occurs, and all grips are dropped and the formation looks like fireworks going off in the sky.
It takes teamwork to build something as spectacular as what was built over Lake Wales last week. Everyone must have a good jump, no malfunctions, or miscues can occur or the formation won't build. Break offs are carefully coordinated, with everyone leaving at their assigned times, so that everyone can separate safely from the diamond just built. Much gear was swapped without thought - canopies weights, connector links among many other things were freely traded as needed because everyone knew we had to work together. Rusty Vest worked tirelessly doing repairs and repacks as need be over the week, as did other riggers. We had a whole team of people just working on getting the radios working well and set up correctly so that everyone could hear as needed. The video crew did a great job of filming all of the dives, both big and small, and sharing with us the film for debriefs. Our pilots did a great job as well - unlike free fall loads where all planes fly in formation, our planes fly by at different altitudes, needing to match not only the altitude of the ever-sinking formation but also while maintaining a slow airspeed for exit.
Our leaders did a good job encouraging that teamwork - having wings work with their teams so everyone knew how to fly, to having safety seminars so everyone knew how best to handle emergencies. They kept the team encouraged while fighting issues at the beginning of the week, and engineered a beautiful formation that was so solid it was never in danger of having problems. The formation seemed to grow more solid the larger it built, leaving no doubt in anyone's minds that a 100 way will soon be built. It was only in 2002 that the organizing committee - Chris Gay, Mike Lewis, Dave Richardson, Chris Balisky, and added for this event, Brian Pangburn broke the then world-record of a 53 way with a 57. That had stood since '96, and since 2002, we have grown the record by 50%.
The dives are carefully engineered - from a VERY fast base - the top canopies are using micro-line, trailing pilot chutes, and removable sliders, to faster, more heavily loaded canopies down the center line, to smaller canopies on the outside - this formation was designed for speed, and fast it did fly. When building a formation of this size, everything from canopy size, to body height to wing-loading to jumpsuit style must be considered to keep the formation flying well. If the formation slows down, the outside canopies - those who only have one grip taken on them - can start to out fly the formation and when they go too far forward, can wrap around the formation. We've never built a formation this wide before - it was only in 2003 that we added the first row 9 wings, and now we've added row 10's.
It takes experience among the participants as well - the pilot of the formation - Mike Lewis - had to step down from piloting for personal reasons, but Chris Gay stepped up to the plate, donning 90 pounds of lead plus gear so that he could jump the 193 up top and keep the formation flying fast. 5 second splits were what were needed in between docks to have time for us to build this, and people came through. Steve Sassetti and Liz Godwin, both with ankle injuries, continued to jump because they were needed on the record. Steve hobbled to the airplane on crutches while taking the ashes of two of our former CRWmates - Scott Fiore and Joel Zane, on the record with them. They died in a skydiving accident the previous year, but they flew on the record with us.
The week was a spectacular one - skydivers and old friends coming from all over the globe - from as far away as Australia and Russia. Listening to Aussie Sarge yell "Arch and look up" into the radio in our ears all week created quite a lot of chuckles and a lot of imitations. I love the Australian Cane Toad I now have mounted on my rig, although I'm a bit hesitant about the Vegemite I received as well. After Sarge was goaded into trying a southern delicacy - pickled pigs feet - he got his revenge by forcing Chris to eat some Vegemite on toast. Judging by the expressions on their faces, I think Chris got the better deal! Watching Chiara, a skydiver tot who is everyone's favorite, run around with Eugene's blow up doll was a source of great amusement. The rubber band fight at the banquet where some of the judges seemed to be facing the most abuse luckily didn't sour them on us as they still awarded us the record the next day. Remembering Marylou spraying champagne on everyone as her very poor poker face gave away the fact that we had gotten the record. The celebration Friday night wasn't enough to keep us from breaking a record the next day, but luckily for us, we didn't have to jump on Sunday, as the party at Ernie's house Saturday night probably would have. Watching wrap videos, drinking beer, and eating well provided a spectacular celebration to end a most festive week.
The fun, the views, and the friendships are things never to be forgotten at an event like this. So much knowledge is spread when you get a hundred of the best CRWdogs from around the globe together to accomplish a common goal.
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