Photo: Brent Finley
Free Flyers would call Formation Skydiving "belly-flying", with the earth always below, and the skies above. Formation Skydiving is much more than this, and entails quite a long history. Already in the 70's, freefall veterans experimented for a long time to hook up two people while falling straight down. Currently, the span of Formation Skydiving begins with a two-way and ends with a 246-way as the official world record. It's a social affair in the air: skydivers are holding hands and legs and both at the same time to build all kind of different formations of all sizes. Organizers and coaches are engineering the puzzle. Formation Skydiving has two different areas: recreational skydiving, also known as fun jumping, and the competitive arena.
Recreational Formation Skydiving
Bellyflyers meet on all kind of different occasions to build their formations in the sky. They are filling their local jump planes on the weekends, as well as weekday sunset loads, to the maximum capacity. As the number of bigger events with larger aircraft continues to grow, they meet with skydivers from all over the country, sometimes all over the world, to build their formations up to the present potential. The current world record is a 300-way formation.
Formation Skydiving Competition
More ambitious bellyflyers are sharpening their flying skills at training camps and go out to compete. Formation Skydiving has become a very well organized competition arena. Regional leagues and meets are offering competitions for all performance levels over the whole season. Nationwide championships bring the best teams of the country together (such as the National Skydiving League Championships and the U.S. National Championships). The national champions of all countries in the world compete each year at the World Cup or at the World Championships. The best teams of the world are invited to compete at the World Air Games. Formation Skydiving is slowly forging its way to becoming a part of the Olympic Games.
Photo: Brent Finley
The Formation Skydiving competitions are recognized by the IOC (International Olympic Committee) and sanctioned by the FAI (Federation Aeronautique Internationale), the IPC (International Parachuting Committee) and by the USPA (United States Parachute Association) in the United States. The sanctioned competition disciplines are: 4-Way 8-Way 16-way.
Competition teams perform up to six rounds per day at the competition. After exiting the jump plane, all teams have a certain amount of time available (4-way 35 seconds, 8-way and 16-way 50 seconds) to perform the same pre-determined sequence of formations and maneuvers. The team with the most accumulated points wins the round. At a competition, all teams must perform between six and ten rounds. Each competition round has a different sequence of formations and maneuvers. Freefall videographers are filming the performance and deliver the footage to the judges for evaluation. The major events have live broadcast of the freefall and live judging.
Photo: Brent Finley
U.S.A. and France have been the dominating the nations in Formation Skydiving. The 8-way discipline has never seen a different winner than the U.S. 8-way team in the history of 8-way competition. In 4-way, U.S.A. and France have been taking turns in bringing home the gold medal. Only the Swiss 4-way team "Blue Magic" has interrupted this series once in 1983. The French national team is holding the world record in 4-way with 36 points in 35 seconds. The U.S.A. is holding the world record in 8-way with 31 points in 50 seconds.
Twenty years ago, the world record holders in 4 way were scoring 8 points in time, and no one would ever have believed that our sport would have advanced to currently scoring 36 points in time. This rapid progression is testimony that formation skydiving is truly a professional, athletic sport with highly trained athletes, and is a skill that can be developed and cultivated like many other professional sports in our culture. We all look forward to where our sport will take us in the future. Until then, the belly flyers continue to train hard, compete well and enjoy the journey.