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Book Review: Flying the Camera - by Patrick Weldon

It would be difficult, at best, to write a complete and comprehensive guide to freefall photography. Patrick Weldon's "Flying the Camera" is the first attempt I have seen to do so, and is well worth the $34.95 purchase price for an aspiring freefall photographer. It covers a lot in a short book, and may fall just short of being 'complete,' but it sure is a great way to learn the basics. It may even save you some money by helping you avoid common 'beginner' mistakes.

  By covering a complex subject in a short book, Weldon leaves a lot out - but he does so effectively, by making the information easy to read and follow. The information he leaves out is the sort that is usually more easily learned through personal experience anyhow. Most of the missing information is of the advanced or expert variety.
If I noticed one thing that detracted from the overall impression I got from the book, it would be the quality of the illustrations and photos. The hand drawn illustrations were crude, but effective, and several of the photos seemed ill thought-out. Specifically, in the section where Weldon chides the neophyte photographer to always keep the subjects face in the sun, the example photos show the subjects face half-shaded.
Nevertheless, even with cheesy drawings, the book does an excellent job of making a difficult subject into a set of tasks that are easily broken down and understood. Each area is thoroughly explained, from the equipment required to safely photograph each jump, to the proper editing technique for a tandem video. Weldon tries to cover it all and does a good job of doing so.
No book on freefall photography can avoid personal technique - and there is an endless set of variations on this. Each individual has their own style, and this comes with experience. "Flying the camera" is a great introduction, but no book can teach technique. What a book can teach, however, is method - and at this "Flying the camera" is a huge success.
It is in the specific methods and 'tricks' that Patrick Weldon shined the brightest - the book is full of useful hints that even seasoned photographers can benefit from - I sure did. But the book also had some controversial advice, and went directly against a personal philosophy - that of what to do when you open you parachute while wearing a camera helmet.
The book specifically recommends that you put your head on your chest and look down - I was taught, and personal experience reinforced - that you always look at the horizon during opening and keep your head level to your shoulders. The difference is in the details and I am certain there are many sides to the argument. My opinion is just that - opinion.
In freefall photography, whatever the technique - the method remains the same - and it really does come down to personal experience. That is what skydiving is all about, and photography just expands this - it captures an intensely personal experience and allows us to share that vision with the world.
With rapid advances in camera technology, more and more skydivers are now flying a camera. This book will not cover all of the subject areas of interest, but for a novice freefall photographer this book can provide invaluable advice and guidance - and potentially save you a lot of wasted time and money. Even where the book is less-than-perfect, it is certainly better than nothing, and Patrick Weldon should be proud of his work. "Flying the camera" fills a huge gap of knowledge and will be a great benefit to anyone interested in freefall photography.

By admin, in General,

Alistair Hodgson - Overcoming Obstacles

Everyone has some kind of disability; some seen outwardly, while others are not readily visible to the naked eye. Some live with the notion that the only limits we have are the ones that are self-imposed. This was clearly evident in my interaction with Alistair. Alistair came to spend a month at Skydive Arizona, his goal to become a more proficient freeflyer.
I was so inspired by this young man that I decided to have a word with Craig Girard. I asked Craig if he would consider making a jump with him, Craig's response was a resounding yes! I then spoke with Greg Gasson about doing a photo shoot with him and Greg informed me that he had met Alistair in Sweden at a freefly festival. They had been in contact via email prior to Alistair's arrival in Arizona. Greg had taken the time to ensure that there wouldn't be anything that would prevent Alistair from jumping at the DZ, and of course he would certainly jump with him. Small world. Needless to say, Alistair is exuberant at the prospect of jumping with these two world- class skydivers that are now on his growing list of friends.

One morning while waiting for the first lift, I asked Alistair how long he had been skydiving and why he partakes in the sport. He told me that his legs were "blown off" twelve years ago by a land mine in Ireland. He took up skydiving three years ago to experience life. In his easy manner he looked at me and posed the same question. I answered simply that I had found freedom and a sense of community. His response was a quick: "Exactly!"
Alistair resides in England and according to him, is the first double amputee to take up skydiving in that country. He began his journey by experiencing tandems, three to be exact, and was then offered a course in freefall. Although he had static line experience from serving in the military, it was nothing compared to what he is doing now. Alistair says that he has tried everything from rock climbing to kayaking since his amputations, and found skydiving to have been the best rehabilitation. He states that he is better physical shape now, and his life much richer than before he lost his legs. Alistair went as far as to say that he even drinks less than he used to since he wants to feel his best for the next day's jumping.
He offers that skydiving has given him his life back, and it is the only thing that he is interested in doing. His travels have taken him to several countries, and Alistair has found that the people in skydiving are generally approachable and open- minded. They are quick to offer him a hand up by lifting him into the airplane, other than that he isn't treated any differently. He feels as though he is accepted in this community, he belongs. There is of course, a curiosity that goes along with seeing a skydiver without legs, but for the most part he says that people are just glad to see him participate.

During his visit here he was approached by one of the camera flyers for "Pieces of Eight" and asked if he was interested in flying with them. Alistair responded by saying he appreciated the inquiry and would get back to him.
Alistair jumps in a custom made Merlin Suit that has small pockets on the legs to help catch air. He says that the suit has made all the difference for him in his freeflying. Alistair managed to maintain head-down all the way to break off for the first time while here, and is excited to learn to fly his body in this new orientation.
I asked him if he had one piece of knowledge to impart to his fellow skydivers, what would that be? He said: "If you think you can't do something, you're right, you can't! Can't isn't something that I recognize in my vocabulary." Alistair has nearly 600 jumps to date and hopes to add an additional 100 before returning to his native England.

By admin, in News,

Tim and Ted Wagner - Judge(Able): The Great Debate

"Judging was only a little bit better than last year's (Nationals). Only because it couldn't be worse." Ted Wagner at the U.S. National Skydiving Championships 2000.
Many competitors and judges simply do not understand each other. They certainly don't agree on some of the scores that end getting posted. And maybe too often, judges miss making accurate calls, which ultimately determine some teams standing worldwide. This situation is not new to just skydiving; it's prevalent in many other sports. But observing the outcome of this year's Nationals and the numerous busts that the judges missed in their multiple viewings brings up the questions on how judges are trained and how they address their work task.
In talking with Ted and Tim Wagner, both who have designed and revolutionized the sport with their scoring system, Omniskore, and Rob Work, who was a judge at this year's Nationals, they all agree that certain modifications would not only help everyone, but are desperately needed. All three are also former competitors and Golden Knights, so they're very aware of the views from both sides of the fence.
Fifteen years ago, skydiving did not have full-time teams. Now, there are many, but there are still no full-time judges. Judging has not kept pace with the evolution of the sport.
At the Nationals, the judges get paid a mere stipend of $40 a day. Tim suggests that maybe if they got paid $100 a day plus all expenses, the demand for the position would be greater.
"Make it competitive. Sign up 15 judges, put them through boot camp before the Nationals and whoever pushes the buttons the best, put them in the meet," Tim says.
He feels that teams that are already paying tens of thousands of dollars will be more than cooperative in paying more in entry fees just to get a higher caliber of judging. It is these very judges, who score their performance at the Nationals for example, who determine if they get to go to the World meet. This is not taken lightly by either side; however, competitors have more to lose from a false ruling or inconsistencies.
The judges also need to practice more throughout the year. The Wagner brothers designed a piece of software a couple of years ago that mimics a judging panel, called the Omnitrainer. People can play the skydive on their VCR and practice pressing the buttons.
More important is "knowing the dive pool inside and out like the chief judge needs to know the rules," says Ted Wagner. This is a valid reason why competitors make better judges and need to get more involved in the other side. Judges miss grips placed on the wrong leg or a jumper turned a 180 degrees in the opposite direction all the time.
Tim brings up the theory of "perceptual judging vs. analytical judging." He compares it to reading a book. When one looks at a word in a book, one knows what it means as a whole and also knows instantly if it is misspelled. One is not dissecting its parts, or letters. Judging needs to more like that. More instinctual, instantaneous and less analytical.
Rob Work defends the other side by saying that when he got into the judging room, he found it to be "an eye-opening experience." He notes, "They are doing their job better than I expected."
Rob says that competitors don't understand all the elements going on inside the judging room and should experience it for themselves, if only once. Skydivers need to see how many things judges are actually looking for at the same time and the details that go into preparing a judging round. The judges can't talk to each other or shake their heads if a blatant bust occurs, and they only know a team by its number, not by its standing. Overall, it's hard, hard work.
The judging volume at this year's Nationals of "47 skydives in a hour for 10 hours straight" does make it challenging, and human error does creep into the picture. With two panels of five judges, "hopefully, the majority catches (the bust)."
Tim Wagner is putting together a Judge 2000 Training Tape. He did another video like this with the '98 Nationals. He compiles 40 to 50 of the more challenging skydives from the Nationals on a tape and proceeds to analyze every jump with a 30-40 page manual. He points out what the judges should look at and how they should judge, often comparing the results to how they were judged.
He does have "the advantage of being at home, alone, with his VCR, without the pressure they're feeling here." But his goal is to supply judges with a competent tape and a full summer season in 2001 to practice.
"The biggest obstacle is the concept of pushing the point button until they see a penalty," says Tim. "They should hover over the penalty button until they see a point, and that should be the modern concept."
He continues, "You're not doing you're job if you don't have a lot of red marks. With fast teams like Maubeuge, you have to be on your toes. You have to be really fast."
Because as Rob Works notes from his coaching and competitor background, it is a well known practice to try to "blind them with speed. The judges get into a button pushing mode and are not going to see it."
"Judges are afraid to offend," says Ted, and Tim adds, "A really good judge is not there to make friends."
But they need to know their job really well. So instead of taking a defensive stance when they're confronted by glaring, demanding competitors, judges can come back with a confident and informed response, "Show me your tape, and I’ll discuss in it what I saw or what I didn't see."

By admin, in News,

Airspeed Soars

Not in the 25 years of skydiving formation competition has a team won both the 4-way and 8-way events in the same year; Arizona Airspeed dared the odds in 1999. The latest 52-minute Airspeed video, released by Solid Entertainment, produced and directed by Jonathan Griggs, is one of the best skydiving stories on the market. It's engrossing, touching and best of all, sheds a positive light on the sport. And at only $30, it sold out at Square One in its first week and is already being restocked.
The journey started for filmmaker Griggs back in February 1999, after he had written a movie script based loosely on the Airspeed story during the time the French were dominating the competition circuit. In order to promote the script, he contacted people within skydiving, which turned up a mutual friend of his and Airspeed's. Griggs traveled to Eloy, Arizona to talk to Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld, one of Airspeed's members, about the project.
"I was blown away by how Airspeed operated, how committed they were to the sport and thought they had an amazing group dynamic. I hadn't seen that in life, let alone skydiving," says Grigg. "Their story for that year had to be told."
He returned to New York and began to research both the production logistics that would be involved as well as the markets. "I was turned down by everybody," Griggs grimly notes. But because time was short, he decided to go out-on-a-limb and started financing the project with his own credit cards.
One of the most important concepts of this documentary for Griggs was to design "a mainstream program that a whuffo could enjoy watching." He wanted the audience to have an emotional attachment to the characters. He wanted to portray skydivers, not as adrenaline junkies or crazies who get killed for their recklessness, but as solid, thoughtful individuals who have a passion for life--and skydiving. "If a whuffo can identify, then you have your hook. Then, they will stay and watch."
So taking a minimal-size documentary crew back to Eloy in June of '99, Griggs started filming the groundwork of the piece. For two weeks, he interviewed the 4-way Airspeed team, the people surrounding them and followed their daily training routine. He spent a lot of time around them, so they got used to his presence and to build up trust.
Originally, Griggs did not intend to follow the team to the Nationals, held that year in Sebastian, Florida. He thought the presentation of two competitions, the Nationals and the World meet, would be redundant, in addition to the fact that whether Airspeed won or lost at the Nationals would be irrelevant to the World meet and their standings there. For these reasons, he only took himself to film the event.
He was wrong on two accounts. First, Griggs shot some of his most amazing footage in Florida. No less than two world records took place at that year's Nationals and a hurricane to boot. Second, this Nationals' segment added a lot to the whole middle section of the story. These championships introduced both the 4-way and 8-way dynamics of the team, and no longer could Griggs keep them separated. They operated as a whole. The outcome of these Nationals also influenced the team's feelings very much at the World event.
So, the tape wraps out at Corowa, Australia at the World Skydiving Championships with Airspeed, also known as Team USA, representing the United States in both the 4-way and 8-way competitions. They are going after the gold in both, which would be a first-time achievement.
The results both at the Nationals and at the World meet may be well known to the inner skydiving world, but to newcomers and outsiders, it's unpredictable. Makes for one fascinating story.
The video is beautifully shot, despite the raw footage only being on Beta SP and mini-DV. They filmed using only natural light, and it hasn't even been color corrected. John Castello was Grigg's cameraperson in Arizona, Jack Scott in Australia, and Griggs himself tackled that duty in Florida without any prior experience whatsoever. Combined with several freefall videographers' work, the visuals are captivating.
The editing is especially notable. At no time is one full formation skydive played all the way through--this is a good thing. Instead, the story builds tension and compassion by cutting away to Airspeed's challengers and entourage. For non-skydivers, formation skydiving, though well explained in the video, can get monotonous to watch. Grigg's intentions of keeping us immersed in the feelings of the piece works very well.
While Griggs was shooting in Florida, he received no less than three written offers from the Discovery channel to come into his production efforts. Now, it was his time to turn them down, as he wanted to maintain creative control and tell the story his way.
As a result, we are rewarded with one fine masterpiece. Solid Entertainment, a distributor from California, is currently shopping Airspeed for the television market. Griggs also has a meeting with the BBC later this month.
Griggs seized the opportunity of a weather day here at the Nationals 2000 to premiere his work to rave reviews. For Griggs, the past 18-month journey was never about the money. To him, the compliments and watching people's faces makes the trip priceless. When someone comes up to him and tells him that they now have a video that they can show their folks that shows and proves why they love skydiving so much, to Griggs, that's the biggest compliment he's gotten.

By admin, in News,

DeLand Tunnel Rage - Lives Up To Its Name

There's good reason why DeLand Tunnel Rage was overwhelmingly voted by 90% of the people present at the U.S. Skydiving Nationals 2000 as Best New Team: They simply blew away their competition in the 4-way Intermediate category to take the gold. They also have a secret: They have less than 100 team jumps together. But by training consistently at SkyVenture, located in Orlando, Florida, these newcomers prove to be an excellent case study of how wind tunnel training can affect overall performance.
It was only February of this year that Kyle Starck, captain, Thomas Hughes, Glenn Mendez and Eliana Rodrigueze even formed their team. Three of them--Starck, Hughes and Rodriguez--are SkyVenture employees, but as Mendez describes it, "Training in the wind tunnel is the great equalizer."
Take a cross-section of their own individual skydiving histories, and by no means, do these jumpers post large numbers of skydives in their logbooks any one year. Try a modest couple hundred, if that.
Hughes, the youngest in the group at age 19, started AFF in February of 1999, only a year and a half before this very competition. But he started working at the wind tunnel the same time he began AFF. He now has 240 jumps.
Rodriguez, the only female on the team, has been skydiving for about four and a half years and has about 600 jumps. She's been at SkyVenture for over two years.
Mendez is in his 7th year and counting upwards from 685 now. His father was a jumper back in the late '60s, but went on hiatus until his boy started jumping. Mendez's father came out of retirement to video all of Tunnel Rage's practice skydives all the way up to the Nationals, at which point the team hooked up with cameraman Wyat Dreues from Elsinore for the actual meet.
Only Starck has cracked the 1000-mark. Both of his parents are skydivers, and he grew up around it. He "allegedly" did his first tandem at age 7 with his father, started packing at 11 and began AFF at 16. He did a bit of RW when he started, but turned into a freefly junkie very quickly. He estimates 1000 of his 1500 jumps are freeflying. But again, he also works at the tunnel.
Their only competition experience as a team came from three meets within the Florida Skydiving League. But they noted, they performed "not so well." On the other hand, the received second in one, and on another, they lost over 12 points due to video busts. They used the competitions more as a training ground, and they agreed they still had a lot to work out.
Says Starck, "All the practice jumps before this (Nationals) were pretty rough. We weren't feeling very comfortable with things. We took a big chunk of time and went into the tunnel and worked out a lot of the problems we had."
Rodriguez adds, "We all have great individual skills, and we had to put it together. It was hard to synchronize at first, we tried to go too fast. We had to get the timing right."
So for a full month and a half between the last FSL meet and Nationals, they didn't skydive at all--they went into the tunnel instead. "We did nothing as a 2-way, nothing individually, everything as a 4-way," says Mendez. They consulted each other for feedback.
As a result, "We turned a 15 1/2 average as opposed to a 10 average," continues Mendez. In just six weeks, folks
They call the solid column of air at SkyVenture, "a phenomenal training environment." And they are excellent proof of their theory and team name. The only thing they were concerned about was their exits at the Nationals. But that obviously worked out.
So, Starck got a wonderful 22nd birthday present with their win on Sunday, October 1st, and now Mendez's mother has to go up with Starck on her first tandem, per their agreement if they won.
Hughes says, "All those people who think we have an unfair advantage, we don't. Buy some time in the tunnel, and you'll see."

By admin, in News,

Chris Talbert - Golden Knight

The first time I met him was at the Ranch's bonfire pit, the night before this year's Pond Swooping Nationals. Standing there was a slim, young man with an open, friendly smile and warm eyes, whose speech has such a liberal use of the word "y'all," that I knew it was safe to assume that he wasn't from the area. He introduced himself simply as Chris. It wasn't until well into our conversation that I realized that this was Chris Talbert of the Golden Knights, the U.S. Army Parachute Team.
Being a fledgling jumper myself, I wanted to be in awe of this man and his accomplishments. Chris, however, is far too down to Earth to allow that. We spent quite some time talking that evening. Actually, I think it would be safer to say that I spent most the time interrogating him, but he answered all my questions with Southern charm and style. Later I found myself wishing I could have taped that conversation, to share it with others like myself who are just starting out.
When I realized this past Saturday night that Chris was sitting just two seats away from me at our local hang out, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to say hello. By the end of the evening, he had graciously agreed to let me interview him on the record. Given how tight Chris' schedule is, and that on this trip he would only be at the Ranch for one more very busy day of coaching our 8-way team, we decided to conduct this interview via email.
Name: Christopher Michael Talbert
Age: 29

Home Town: Monrovia, Maryland

Marital Status: Single

Children: One Goddaughter, that's all

Year of First Jump: 1993

Number of Jumps to Date: 3800

US Army Rank: Staff Sergeant

Currently Stationed at: U.S. Army Parachute Team, "The Golden Knights," Ft Bragg, NC

Licenses and Ratings: National Judge

Awards and Medals: 12 HR Badge, cant find it, don't know the number!
What made you first decide to join the Army?

Seemed like the thing to do at the time, the same reason I have done a lot of things in my life! That, and I knew I didn't want to go to college, and was too shy to tell the recruiter to take a hike.
If you weren't a Golden Knight, what would your duties be?
Bradley Fighting Vehicle Systems Maintenance manager. That's Army talk for being a tank mechanic.
What was it that first sparked your interest in skydiving; in trying out for the Golden Knights?
I was in a leadership course that everyone in the Army needs to get promoted to Sergeant. I met a guy named Matt Hustead who was on one of the demonstration teams. He got me into skydiving and later on convinced me, along with a few other people, to go to tryouts for the Knights.
Did you do static line or AFF? Where? If the training method were your choice, which one; why?

I did AFF, it seemed like the easier way to go. And at that time there were 2 parachute clubs on Ft Bragg. Both of them got helicopter support on the weekends from the aviation units. (free jumps from Hueys and Blackhawks) $420 to get your a license, provided you didn't have to redo any jumps. How cool is that? Of course I didn't know it would take me nearly 20 jumps to graduate levels 1-7!
A lot of jumpers run into opposition from family and friends when they first start skydiving. Did you?

Not outwardly. I am sure my mom wasn't crazy about me skydiving but she has always strongly supported me in anything I wanted to do. The first time she saw me jump, I had my first malfunction, at jump 87. That was enough for her to see that day, but she has never even hinted that she wanted me to quit.
When you first started skydiving, did it all come 'naturally' to you, or was there any area that you had some trouble with and needed to work harder at?
When I first stared skydiving I was 6'1" 165 pounds soaking wet with rocks in my pockets. The only thing that came natural to me was eating and being a skinny geek! Everything else it seemed like I had to really work to figure out. RW has come more natural then anything else, but I still feel like a rookie and have a lot to learn. Accuracy is a big part of GK tryouts, and that was very hard for me to figure out. I finally got it, but it is the aspect of skydiving I have to think about the most to get it right.
What "mistake" did you ever make that you learned the most from?
Too many to list I think. One collective thing I have learned from all of them is you have to be able to laugh at yourself, because everyone else is gonna too.
How many different teams does the Army currently have?
There is one Army parachute team, with four different teams within the Golden Knights. Two demonstration teams, named the Black and Gold teams. The two demo teams travel in excess of 200 days per year, performing at airshows, civic events and military functions. They are the ones most people think of if you mention the Golden Knights. Then there are two competitions teams: the RW, or 8-way team, and the Style and Accuracy team. Both of whom train on a regular basis at the PK airpark in Raeford, NC. Traveling mostly for competitions, but also for a few training camps during the year.
What's involved in trying out for the team?
Its like pledging a fraternity and going through basic training at the same time. It's a high stress environment, yet there are very few hard standards. Jumping skills are totally secondary to attitude, ability and willingness to learn. And to how much of a team player you are. It's usually 6 to 8 jumps a day, 6 days a week, for 6 weeks. Most of the people cut are for attitude, or lack of experience. The latter are usually urged to try again, if they keep jumping and gain some experience.
How often do slots on the team become available?
Slots on the competition teams usually come available after a World Meet, which is every odd numbered year for formation skydiving. Slots on the demo teams come available every year, and that's what the people in tryouts are being looked at for. Slots on the demo team. It is possible to go straight to a competition team. Someone has to make it thru GK tryouts first, then if there are comp. team tryouts that year, they are welcome to attend.
How many applications are received; how many are accepted?
It varies from year to year, there are far fewer skydivers in the Army then most people think. Roughly 55 to 65 applications are submitted, about a third of those are usually accepted (that's just the trend, not a hard stat.) and about a third of those who are invited to tryout make the team. Usually ends up being 7 to 10 of the applications submitted that actually make it.
What do the Knights look for in the candidates; how do they choose?
See the question about what's involved in tryouts, combine the two if you want. Teamwork, attitude, willing to learn, humility, (yes the GK's actually have some humility!) and a good attitude in the face of adversity.
Tell us about your tryout and how it felt to be chosen.
One of the hardest things I did in my life. I had to talk myself out of quitting at 4:30 every morning when I was getting out of bed. When it was over I said, "Damn right I made it!" The people who make the team truly earn it, and when you do, you know you deserve it.
How many competitions do you enter each year?
As many as the Army can afford. Our budget usually allows for 3 Americas Cups, the US Nationals, and the World Meet, or World Cup, which ever is being held that year.
How much time do you spend on the road each year?
About four and a half months collectively, five weeks of which is all in one shot, from mid January to mid March, when all the GK's go to Arizona for winter training.
What is an average day/week like for you and the team?
Meet at the dz somewhere between 5:30 and 6:30, depending on the time of year, do physical training for an hour or so, (running, pushups, sit ups, etc. Play soccer a lot as well.) Then start jumping around 8 or 8:30. Make 8 to 12 jumps, debrief and go home.
Wind tunnels are becoming a very popular training tool for many individual and team jumpers. How do you feel about the use of them? Are they a good substitute for actual freefall time? How do the commercial wind tunnels compare to the one the Knights use?

I think wind tunnels are great, if you keep it in perspective. They are NOT a good substitute for jumping, but they are great for teaching individual body position, piece turns and developing smoothness and speed. The only wind tunnel I have been to (other than the one at Ft Bragg) is the one in Orlando. With two people in it, it seems comparable to the one here in NC. The one at Ft Bragg can support as many people as you can fit in the column, which is about 12 feet wide. 4 people fit well and can get a lot out of it.
When you do have a day off, what do you do to relax and unwind?
What's a day off? Just kidding. I play a lot of golf, spend time with my Goddaughter when I can. A little woodworking as well.
How much longer will you be on the team; in the Army?
My time on the team is a bit uncertain, depends on how things go with the US Nationals at the end of September. Then the World Meet. I have 9 years till I can retire from the Army though.
Do you plan to continue competing even after your time with the Knights ends?
I hope so. There are a lot of people out there I would like to do a team with someday.
What plans do you have for once you leave the Army?
Ask me in 8 and a half years.
Recently you spent your days off coaching the Fantasy Flyers, the Ranch's 8-way team. What do you get out of coaching? What methods do you use, have you found to be most effective?
I get a lot out of coaching, mostly just pure fun. I talk a LOT, just ask my teammates. Now someone is going to fly me to another DZ for the weekend and EXPECT me to talk?! How cool is that? I also like to share my knowledge. I have been lucky in skydiving in regard to the people who taught me. Its just my way of doing the same for someone else. Most teams are really eager to learn, and want to know exactly how we (the Knights) do things. I have learned you keep it simple, and try to make very few physical changes. Instead, just change where someone's focus is, or what they are thinking about. Most people, by the time they are on a team know how to move from point a to point b, so I try not to change a whole lot of physical stuff. It's hard to relearn something after so many jumps. On top of all that, I have this golf habit that I have to pay for somehow!
As a Knight you obviously do a lot of RW. When you're doing fun jumps, do you try any of the other disciplines?
Recently I was accused of being scared to try anything other than RW. I actually freefly as much as I can. That isn't very often, but I do enjoy it. I just point my head at the ground and smile! That and flying my canopy. I am not a great canopy pilot, but do have a blast with it.
With the growing popularity of Freefly and Skysurfing, and with all the media interest that's being generated by competitions like the Space Games and the XGames, is the Army likely to start fielding teams for these events? Do you think they should or should not?
Come on, this is the government. The fighter that was just introduced last year was first designed in like '87? I don't see a freefly or skysurf team in the near future, but I do think it would be a great idea. Above and beyond all else, we are about public relations, recruiting, and competing for the Army. Those are the 3 missions we have to keep up front, along with safety. How many millions of people would get a chance to see something about the Army they never knew, or thought of, if we participated in the X-Games, or Space Games?
What kind of rig do you jump when you're competing with the team; what do you jump for your personal rig?
Javelin TJN, Stiletto 120 and a PD 113 reserve, and CYPRES of course. That's my team gear and my personal gear.
Obviously you've jumped at dropzones all over the world. Are there any that you would consider a particular favorite?
Every drop zone I have ever jumped at I enjoyed. Hell, I was skydiving and hanging out with skydivers. I couldn't say a favorite though. I tried and can't even narrow it down to four. My home DZ is Raeford, NC. I guess I would actually say that's my favorite. That's where it all started for me, and that's where I have the most friends.
Is there any one jump in the thousands you've made that really stands out for you as being especially memorable?
Three that are equal. Flying the American flag into Olympic Stadium in Atlanta in 1996, for the opening ceremonies of the Paralympics. Flying the American flag into the dedication of the George Bush Memorial Library in College Station, Texas, in 1997. Round 10 of 8-way at the 1999 National Championships.
If you could build a team made up of any skydivers in the world, past or present, who would you include?
I waited till the end to answer this. Its more difficult than you realize. I have always looked at myself as a little fish, lucky enough to not get eaten in a huge pond. There are several people I would love to compete with. Anyone from the GK's that I have been teammates with gets a standing invitation. Also any past GK's from the 11 straight World Meets they won. AFTER them, any seven (this is MY team, it's gonna be an 8-way team) of the '98-'99 AIRSPEED world champions that would be willing to jump with me. The four members of Deland PD Blue, formerly Deland Genisis, along with John Hoover (my current piece partner on the 8-way team), Solly Williams, and Gary Smith from the '97 South African 4-way team. Or any 7 of Perris Passion 8. Hell, all 8 of them. I can shoot some killer video!
Because AIRSPEED is a great organization. I have learned a lot from them and I would like to try training under their mind set sometime. The PD guys and Gary and Solly? I have stood on the outside watching those guys work so well together, they have great team dynamics. And Hoover would KILL me if I didn't offer him that last slot! (this is MY team) And Passion 8? If you have to ask, you're either a wuffo, or have never seen Passion 8!
Who are some of your influences, mentors and idols?
So many, I don't think I could list them all. My family is my biggest influence. They don't get half of the love and support from me that I get from them; yet they never say a word and just keep on cheering for me. My mentors? If they been on the Golden Knights 8-way team in the past 7 years, they could probably be on this list. Charlie Brown, Eric Hienshiemer, Vern Miller, Trevor McCarthy, Carey Mills, John Hoover, Kurt Isenbarger, Paul Rafferety, Joe Trinko, Craig Girard, Rob Work, Paul Raspino, J.K. Davis. Get the picture? More than anyone though, a guy at Raeford named Kenny Lovett. I think I would have quit a long time ago if it were not for him. Outside of my family, Vince Lombardi is my biggest idol. He is the original tough guy. Ever read his speech about what it takes to be number one?
Is there any area of skydiving as a whole that you see as needing more attention, anything that concerns you?
Well safety is always an issue. I get spoiled jumping with the same 8 people all the time. It's very reassuring. People between 20 and 500 jumps are my biggest concern. Freeflyers, bellyflyers, whatever. We need to make sure they are getting worthwhile help in their progression. Not just in flying skills, but SPOTTING (How many current jumpers, less than 5 years in the sport KNOW they can spot an aircraft?) canopy skills, and recognizing the old/bold skydiver theory.
What advice would you give to low-time jumpers and those still on student status?
When in doubt, ask the person YOU trust most, your instructor, S&TA;, DZO, whoever. Remember, just because you started skydiving today, or this week or this year, doesn't mean you were born then too. If it doesn't seem right, ASK! A long walk is better than a short crawl.
And now -- just to see if you've actually read this far down -- What's your favorite color, food, quote and swear word?
Favorite color? Black and gold....DUH! ...Favorite quote? "You just have to believe," Kurt Isenbarger at the '99 Nationals. Favorite food? My teammates can tell you I am a bitch to my sweet tooth, has to be ice cream or Cinnabon. Favorite swear word? I don't cuss. Just ask my teammates!

By admin, in News,

Norge Roi - "Da Base" - It's a Beautiful Thing

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
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.

By admin, in News,

Squadron Leader Harry Ward, AFC, Parachutist, Dies at Age 97

Squadron Leader Harry Ward, AFC, parachutist, was born on June 1, 1903. He died on July 24 aged 97
IN THE heyday of the travelling air circuses of the 1930s, the former RAF parachutist Harry Ward toured the world, from Ireland to India, astonishing crowds with his death-defying "birdman" leaps from rickety biplanes. In his winged costume - which imparted a measure of control over the freefall - Ward was an early forerunner of today's skydivers.
Ward's costumes were different from those of his fellow birdmen in one important respect. Far too many of those daredevil parachutists stunned the crowds by making a lasting impression on the ground when their chutes became entangled in fanciful clothing. Ward incorporated a release mechanism into his rig, to enable him to jettison his wings before he pulled the ripcord, so reducing the risk of snagging his parachute. In this way he lived to rejoin the RAF at the outbreak of the Second World War and serve as a parachute instructor.
Henry Wilfred Ward was born in Hackney six months before the Wright brothers first flew. His first passion was painting and he studied at Bradford School of Art from 1919 to 1921. But he was one of seven children and there was no money to support a struggling artist, so he joined the fledgeling RAF and trained as a carpenter-rigger.
He later went to the parachute section at Northolt as a packer, and became a parachutist himself when the commanding officer challenged him to jump with a chute he had just packed. He made his first descent from the wing of a Vickers Vimy biplane bomber. When the RAF's crack parachutist, Corporal Arthur East, was killed making a jump, Ward took his place in the RAF's demonstration team. (During the First World War parachutes had been discouraged on the assumption that flying without them "makes the chaps try harder".)
But when the parachute ceased to be a novelty, the demonstration team was disbanded, and with the RAF in decline as the Twenties wore on Ward left the Service in 1929. On the strength of an RAF driving licence he became a London bus driver, and when the bus company formed its own flying club he volunteered to make a parachute jump at the opening ceremony.
He was soon earning more from display jumping than from bus driving, so he left his job for the life of the travelling air circus. In the days long before steering toggles he attained a high degree of manoeuvring expertise with a simple 24ft canopy.
With the circuses becoming less popular as the decade moved towards its close, Ward worked briefly as a mechanic for Imperial Airways before becoming a civilian instructor at the RAF's apprentice school at Cosford. He rejoined the RAF at the outbreak of the war and was soon helping to set up a parachute training school, to produce airborne forces.
The first aircraft were Whitley bombers, with a hole in the floor in place of the ventral gun turret, through which the parachutists had to jump.Ward produced a prototype helmet, from strips of foam rubber purloined from his landlord's sofa, to afford the troops some protection against the hazards of dropping through the narrow slit. He also helped to prove the feasibility of using barrage balloons for parachutists' initial training.
He was awarded the Air Force Cross in 1942 and posted to the staff of the Army's 1st Airborne Division. He finished the war as a squadron leader at the headquarters of 38 Group at Netheravon.
A civilian again in 1945, he managed officers' clubs in Greece and Germany. Returning to England in 1951, he ran a succession of hotels and pubs in Yorkshire.
He was twice married. His second wife predeceased him, but he is survived by two sons.

By admin, in News,

Becoming a Camera Flyer

They're out there every weekend - you see them with the students, following the teams, part of the Freefly revolution. And now you've decided to join them. So you want to be a camera flyer, huh? Here's a few tips to consider before you rush out and buy that first video camera.
This article is intended to be a brief introduction to some of the things you need to consider if you want to fly a camera, and is in no way comprehensive. The intent is to get you to consider the choices and options available, and to try to match that with the intended use of the camera. Still cameras, camera helmets, and technique are not covered in this article.

Flying a camera is as fun as it gets skydiving - but it can turn your fun into an expensive and frustrating affair in a big hurry, and eat away at your precious jump money even faster. What's that? You don't expect to pay for your jumps if you fly a camera?
Well, you will - for at least the first 50 to 100 jumps, until your proficiency (NOT your flying skills) with the equipment and techniques has improved to make it worth while for someone else to pay your slot. This is an additional reason to ensure that the precious money you spend on camera equipment is not wasted due to inexperience.
First, as with any major purchase, you have to know what you are going to do with it. The same camcorder may be useful for tandems, AFF, 4-way, and Freeflying, but if you don't know which brand and model that is, you'll likely end up with something that does not do what you expect.
Next, start a list - are you intending to make money or just expand your fun? There's a huge difference in between those two answers, and while one does not preclude the other, you may not end up with the right tool for the job.
If at all possible, find a mentor! Go out of your way to find an experienced camera flyer and ask for their input. Find out how they got started and why, and what equipment they bought. Ask what hard and expensive lessons they learned - any camera flyer with experience will have a few eye-opening stories for you. They may cause you to reconsider the whole idea - and that's the point. Don't expect that they can drop everything on a Saturday afternoon to help - be reasonable and try to work within their hectic schedule.
Obviously, once you've done your homework, it's time to go shopping. In today's consumer environment, there are so many choices and options available it may seem overwhelming to know who to trust and where to go. Do you buy mail order or locally? Do you get the extended warranty they try to sell you? Do you need an extra battery? What about a wide-angle lens? How wide? This is one time it really pays to have a mentor.
Personally, I tell every new or want-to-be camera flyer to be careful and ensure that their purchases are what they intend. If you're intending to shoot the Freefly revolution and make awesome head-down videos, a large 3-chip camcorder is probably not what you want to buy. Of course, if you plan on challenging one of the well-known freefall photographers for title of "Top Dog" you may wish to find the most powerful and feature-heavy camera on the market.
By contrast, if you are just intending to shoot video for fun and as a point-of-view when you fun jump, then a basic camcorder with an ultra wide-angle lens(0.42x to 0.45x)may be just what you need. Most of Sony's PC series have become very popular as point-of-view cameras, with even the seasoned pros. For freeflying, they're a dream come true, offering great features, top quality images, and a fair price all in a tiny package that is easy to use.
In between is a vast assortment of choices, manufacturers, models, and formats. With both Sony and JVC making fine models that are as small as a paperback book, Mini-DV is now the single most popular format to shoot skydiving in.
If you intend to shoot videos for hire, such as tandems, check with the local video concession to see what they require. They can also give you an idea of what sort of experience they expect, and how to get it.
If you buy an analog camera, even Digital-8, it may be hard to sell later, and it surely will not
produce the clear and crisp image you're used to seeing from Mini-DV. Analog camcorders are also not nearly as small and light as Mini-DV.

Once you've decided on Mini-DV, the usual manufacturers are JVC and Sony. There are other options, but their equipment is not as robust or well-built as Sony and JVC. They are also not as popular, and while being popular does not mean much - it does mean others have similar equipment, have experience using it, and know what works well and what fails miserably using the camera.
Both manufacturers seem to be widely discussed on some of the Internet chat rooms related to video cameras, so there is a ready source of information for those with access. I have a personal preference for Sony - but that is solely based on MY opinion.
Sony is without question the most popular brand of camcorder that is found in the sport today. Sony builds top-quality equipment that is small and light, yet packed with features - some of which are useful and some of which are useless. Overall, the Sony line has a reputation for quality and is widely used - therefore it will probably be the easiest for you to learn and understand.
The models available seem to change almost daily. In 1996, when I first purchased the Sony PC-7 I own, it was a new and radical departure from camcorder design and sparked an entire line of miniature cameras from both Sony and JVC. Most of these models have very slight differences in features and functions, and are too numerous to discuss at length here.
JVC is also popular, but many models do not offer Firewire ports (for perfect digital copies) and do not offer the same image quality as Sony.
Prices for Mini-DV camcorders have dropped dramatically. My first Sony VX-700 cost over $2000, and the PC-7 was about the same. Today, many of the PC models from Sony sell on the street for $1000 or less. I have seen JVC models advertised as low as $750.
Once you have narrowed your search to a specific brand and model (or models) it's time to decide where to buy. I always try to go to a local business and make a point to get to know one of the sales people. I make them show me the model(s) I am interested in, tell them I'm serious about buying it, and inquire about price. I also tell them I am considering buying mail order, and why.

In many cases, the local retailer will not be able to match a mail order price. However, any mail order purchase has its own risks - which often outweigh the potential cost savings. Most on-line or magazine-ad merchants have large restock fees if the equipment is returned - even if it's their fault or broken when you get it.
They may also try to charge you extra for items the manufacturer intended to be included with the basic package - including batteries! I know of at least one merchant in New Jersey who shipped me an empty box - and charged me for it. When I called to complain, I was told I'd be charged a restock fee even though the box was empty. Buyer beware, indeed.
At any rate - wherever you buy your camera, ensure it is packaged with all of the accessories that are supposed to be included. It may require a visit to the manufacturer's web site, but the effort may save you heartache later on if something important is missing.

Most camcorders do NOT include a Step-up ring that may be required to mount one. Again, do your homework and know what to expect and what you will have to purchase separately.

Personally, I always buy one extra with the required adapters.
Once you actually do purchase the unit, I recommend one more step prior to purchasing your camera helmet - read the owner's manual thoroughly! Aside from being the best way to find out what buttons do what, it is also the only place you can learn what the different indicators and icons really mean.
Knowing that may help you later, when you're on jump run at sunset for the coolest dive of the year. There you are, fat, dumb, and happy, when your camera begins to display funny codes and weird symbols, while making grinding noises and spitting out digital tape.
Next up is buying a camera helmet - but that will have to wait for another installment. Remember - this was your idea! You wanted to fly a camera, even after I warned you…
About Robbie Culver
Robbie Culver is a freefall photographer with 2800 jumps, about 1800 with cameras. Robbie's still photography has been featured in Skydiving and Parachutist magazines, the USPA Calendar, and in various industry ads. His video credits include the staff of Roger Ponce's Color Concepts at the World Freefall Convention, the 1999 Lost Prairie Boogie video, and annual dropzone highlight videos. He and his wife Brenda skydive in the Chicago area, where Brenda is an aspiring 4-way competitor and CReW dog. They can be found most weekends at Chicagoland Skydiving in Hinckley. Examples of Robbie's work and tips on freefall photography can be found on his web site,

By admin, in General,

Acampo Sky Diver Dies in Jump

Nicole Cadiz wanted one more sky dive before the day's end, but she never expected it to be her last.
The 26-year-old woman died Saturday evening after winds ripped off her harness during a 13,500-foot free fall at the Parachute Center in Acampo, just north of Lodi, according to the San Joaquin County Coroner's Office.
Cadiz, an experienced parachutist with more than 1,000 jumps under her belt, had executed eight leaps earlier in the day.
Then, on her ninth just before 7:40 p.m., high-velocity winds snatched her harness and chute off her back.
Parachute Center owner Bill Dause said Cadiz then attempted, but failed, to get back into her harness, and she plummeted to the ground.
Paramedics found her in a neighboring vineyard.
Her new husband, Anthony, was one of seven others making the jump with Cadiz.
Dause attributed the accident to an unclipped chest strap -- which he could not explain -- and Cadiz's upside-down position in midair.
"Skydiving is a high-risk act, but with the equipment we have, it's got to be a combination of things that go wrong for that to happen," he said. "It wasn't just that the chest strap was undone, but also her position in the air."
The National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration investigates parachuting accidents, but representatives from the agencies could not be reached Sunday.
Cadiz, an Acampo resident, worked as a manicurist in Lodi, though friends said her real passion was sky diving every weekend at the Parachute Center, where she first learned the sport seven years ago and became adept enough to work as a sky videographer.
"She loved sky diving, she was always here," said a 21-year-old friend who was one of seven others with Cadiz on her fatal jump. "She was well-liked by everyone here. Her whole life was this drop zone."
"It's just devastating, we're all devastated by this," added Jan Davis, who was editing a parachuting videotape on Sunday.
The last parachuting death in the Sacramento region occurred at the Parachute Center last October when a 23-year-old Orangevale man committed suicide, said coroner's Deputy Al Ortiz.
Nationwide, 32 of the 3.25 million parachute jumps made in 1997 resulted in fatalities, according to the U.S. Parachute Association, an Alexandria, Va.-based group that sets safety and training guidelines for the sport.
Some at the Parachute Center were visibly shaken Sunday, but they still moved about the hangarlike building, packing their parachutes and watching others descend from the sky.
Dause said parachutists understand their sport's inherent dangers and know that tragedies like Cadiz's can happen. Still, their love of the sport compels them to continue.
"Everybody's sad," he said between flights. "But we've just got to bite our tongues and keep going."
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By admin, in News,