Monday, November 10, 2008
Frosty breath and a late sunrise marked the start of this day. Today would be the first opportunity to put all four aircraft into the air loaded with would-be world record holders. Ed Pawlowski walked around the field, bullhorn in hand not unlike a major issuing general’s orders. The first jump went very, very well. But not good enough. Not many people fit perfectly into their slot as assigned by the grid system, although the formation was indeed, a beautiful sight.
The formation really breathes a lot. By the time it’s 250 feet across, the wedge has taken on a life of its own.
Flying a large wingsuit formation from this one is significantly different than other forms of relative work; there are no grips, forward and downward speed have to be perfectly timed, and there is the additional component of bumpy air that most skydivers only experience when under canopy. Today…the air was very bumpy. And we got bumped. Hard. A lot. We also reset the deployment altitudes this morning with the leading edge wings deploying at 2500’, the second row deploying at 3000’, and the third row deploying at 3500’. This added quite a bit of depth to the already fairly spread group of wingsuit pilots.
Jumps two and three of the day were also very good, but not quite up to the bar as set by our fearless leaderJeff Nebelkopf). Think of the old MacDonalds commercial, it’ll make more sense.
It was absolutely hilarious hearing 70 skydivers sing out “Jeff Nebelkopf when a couple skydivers were playing around with the old MacDonald’s commercial “Ba dabuh-Ba -buh….”
By the third skydive, it was nearly noon, and the group was visibly tired from the early start and short calls, so the organizers gave us a long lunch break. Spirits were high, even if the physical body wasn’t quite up to the same level of enthusiasm.
Jump four of the day wasn’t quite so good. Between winds, communications between aircraft, relative levels of aircraft, and a few other hiccups, the formation built, but it was a bit more challenged than the other jumps had been. Discouragement would normally be found at this point, but Jeff, Mark, Justin, Taya, Phil Peggs, and a few other leaders really worked hard with the jumpers to keep the enthusiasm high. We laid down in the field again to measure out our slots.
The axeman did arrive as promised in yesterday’s post; a few people were replaced with alternates, and tomorrow, some changes in the strengths of the formation are expected, moving the stronger flyers to where they’re needed. Vorpal swords in hand, team captains went about the difficult task of moving some folks back to the alternates team and pulling a few from the Alternates pool.
Jump five was filled with enthusiasm. We knew we were going to build it, and build it we did. Unfortunately, it still wasn’t a perfect formation; we had a few stragglers towards the back of the formation that didn’t quite get to their slots. Team captains met late into the evening to formulate a plan to help bring the formation to a successful completion. The left side of the wing has some challenges that need to be addressed; it’s nearly three-quarters of a mile that has to be covered in the first 15 seconds of the skydive in order to plug in the sectional to the entire formation. Covering that kind of sky with a safe approach is much harder than one might think. Then again, if it were easy…this skydive would have been accomplished a long time ago. The emails received from several wingsuit skydivers around the planet all seem to be of the same theme; “This just can’t be that hard.” Well…it is. Very hard. Looking forward in the formation and seeing 20 bodies directly in line in either direction ahead of you is a disconcerting, and it seems like the formation is really moving around. We’re displacing a lot of air up there,
Special kudos need to be made for Veggie, Chris, John, Bob, and a few others that either didn’t make it to the alternates team, are grounded due to previous injury, or simply there for moral support. They’ve made sure we are fed, watered, and Veggie makes sure we have gum before getting on the loads.
The landing areas are spread over approximately three-quarters of a mile in length and approximately 500 yards in width to assure that the groups will each land in safe areas. Skydive Elsinore has been great about sending trucks out to pick up the landed skydivers. Personally, I landed on the motorcycle racetrack on the fifth jump, and was tickled to see a truck racing towards my approximate landing area.
The evening closed off with dinner provided by Avery and Team Ill Vision, along with videos from Matt Hoover and myself. We met for a pep talk following the evening’ meal provided by Avery and Team Ill Vision. Tomorrow comes very early and lest I be snicker-snak to the vorpal sword…time to sign off for the night.