When you're engineering a blueprint to construct a world skydiving record, you have to start with a solid foundation. Roger Nelson, at Skydive Chicago, was building the 300-Way World Record attempt on Chicago native, Norge Roi.
The objective of Skydive Chicago's endeavor to break its own world record was simple. Position twelve aircraft in formation at 21,000' above the ground. Have 300 skydivers jump out of the airplanes. Then, they will fly their bodies and dock on each other to form a pattern of concentric circles as big as a football field.
Last, at predetermined altitudes, they will let go of each other, make a 180° turn, place their arms in a delta-wing position, and speed away from each other, deploy their canopies, and land. They have 70 seconds to create the formation while they're dropping through the sky at about 120 mph.
Norge isn't just a team player, he's a team builder.It sounds scary, doesn't it. Yet, this effort wasn't about fear. It was about discipline, concentration, and team work. That's why Roger Nelson chose Norge Roi to be in slot "001"- the Captain of "Da Base". Norge isn't just a team player, he's a team builder.
Many of the other 299 skydivers who participated in the World Record Camp arrived with thousands of jumps in their logbooks on August 12 to start building the formation. They were committed to making 24 jumps. But Norge's 6 to 15 person Base Team had been practicing all summer. One member drove six hours to practice each weekend. Another drove four hours. The Base Team had launched nearly 200 times, and successfully completed Da Base 97 % of those times. As a union carpenter, Norge understands the value of a cornerstone. Da Base was the cornerstone of the 300-Way.
When asked what his duties as Base Captain were, Norge explains, "I was responsible for launching Base on heading, at the right speed, with nice, set back-up plans."
Da Base grew from 6 to 15 and then to 60 on the record. But, Norge's responsibility didn't end there. He signaled the entire 300-Way skydiving formation when it was time to stop flying and start deploying their canopies. Break-off altitude for this formation was 6,500'. The team member opposite Norge wore his chest-mounted altimeter upside down, so that Norge can read it without turning his head.
Conversation is impossible in freefall. Nevertheless, Da Base Six: Norge, George Wright, Duane Klinefelt, Christa Cross, Robert Lawton, Doug Durosia, and Mark Folkman communicated. "We had eye signals and head gestures-- we were very intimate with each other. My guys were spotting for me, all around me, watching for me."
At 6,500', Norge threw out his pilot chute, a piece of fabric that in seconds catches the air, and deploys his main canopy. His pilot chute was the first signal that the dive was over.
On video, when Norge's canopy deploys, he appears to be rocketing straight up from the center of the formation. In reality, the formation continued to fall while he was suspended above them.
This is unusual because, at the end of a skydive, most skydivers turn and track away from the formation, for collision avoidance, before they deploy.
When asked, as the centerpiece of the 300-Way, what he saw, Norge replies, "It was a beautiful thing. It was a trip. I've probably been extracted from 2,000 formations. I watch it every time. It almost looks like I'm taking off from it. It's a beautiful thing, the huge circular platform of colorful human bodies."
"It's a beautiful thing. It's a romantic thing. Especially the sunset load." Only a very few people in the entire world have seen what Norge saw under canopy high above the formation. He adds, with wonder, "The deployment sequence looked like a fireworks explosion-- people were tracking away, then their canopies opened." Norge nods and repeats, "It's a beautiful thing."
Norge's aesthetic appreciation may, at first, seem in-congruent. He's an imposing figure in his bright yellow jumpsuit, solid at 6' and 225 pounds. Rugged, with an easy grin that makes him seem much younger than his 45 years, his tone shifts. "I could see everything from up there, and I go into a defensive mode. I look for cutaways, wraps. Because I'm at 6,500', I could spot canopies on the other side of the river. As soon as I landed, I reported them to manifest so the divers could be picked up. I identified my guys by their parachutes. I wanted to know that they were OK. "
As he continues, Norge softens again. "I was up so high -- I could see the twelve planes lined up on the horizon for the traffic pattern." And again he adds, with sincerity, "It's a beautiful thing. It's a romantic thing. Especially the sunset load."
He explains, "I set up. I land. Then I reported on who's here. Who wasn't. Then, I went to the captain's meeting for the debriefing."
Norge was also the Base Captain on the July 26, 1998, 246-Way World Record at Skydive Chicago. He has made nearly 3,000 jumps since he began in 1985.
Why does he do it? Why does he keep skydiving? He gazes off into the distance while answering, "We're magic people... There's something in our composition... We have a high artistic value... Everybody here has a life wish... The camaraderie inspires me... We experience things that most people never experience... It's a special life... I really feel blessed... Not many people get to do this... Especially at this level... These are some of the best skydivers in the world."
Roger Nelson was trying to create another world record, and he put a Chicago carpenter in charge of building the foundation. The efforts to break the record concluded on Sunday, August 20th. For more information about the record attempt, visit www.skydivechicago.com.
Marcelaine Wininger is an instrument-rated commercial pilot, flight instructor, Grand Rapids FSDO Safety Counselor, and a skydiver. Her free-lance writing has appeared in McCall's, The AAA magazine, and Michigan Living, The International Journal for the Fantastic in the Arts, Teaching Theater, Michigan Education Association Voice, English Journal, Midwest Poetry Review, Superiorland, UP Catholic, Above the Bridge , Marquette Monthly and many newspapers. For three years she was a national-level American Red Cross Disaster Public Affairs Officer. In addition, she's an English teacher of at-risk high school students at Houghton High School in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.