Blue Skies, Bob Sinclair

November 26, 2014 by

Bob Sinclair, USPA member #4778, passed away November 20 at age 87. Though he never served on the USPA Board and was never honored with any USPA achievement award, Bob Sinclair managed to influence skydiving in ways that few ever do. His first jump was a military static-line at Ft. Benning, Georgia, in 1945, and he never looked back, joining the Parachute Club of America in 1957, earning C-59 the next year and D-272 in 1963. He accumulated over 2,800 jumps along the way. He began performing paid jumps at airshows, fairs, carnivals and “dog races,” as he once described. When other skydivers began doing demonstration jumps for free, he gravitated to Hollywood for skydiving stunt work for films and TV shows, including the TV series “Ripcord.”

In the early 1960s, when static-line jumps were the only way to learn skydiving, he and others developed a “buddy system” training method where a single jumpmaster took a first-jump student on a freefall jump. In 1968 he famously took Johnny Carson on a buddy jump, and subsequently Sinclair and a film of the jump were featured on a “Tonight Show” segment. Little known is Sinclair’s claim that he took “hundreds” of VIPs and Hollywood-types on buddy system first jumps.

Sinclair didn’t let age slow him down, earning jumpmaster and instructor ratings in the early 1980s. In Florida in 1992, he was on the very first Skydivers Over Sixty 10-way, the event that started SOS. He remained a jumper’s jumper to the end, spending his last years in Florida and sharing his love for the sport with anyone willing to share the air or just swap stories. Bob Sinclair’s last jump will be an ash dive set during the April 16-19 POPS Springfest at the Florida Skydiving Center. Blue skies and fair winds, Bob Sinclair.

Sharing the Sky

March 14, 2014 by

You don’t need to be either a pilot or a skydiver to be gripped by the dramatic photos of the recent in-air collision between a departing single-engine airplane and a landing skydiver. The series of photos shows the airplane’s right wing snagging the parachute lines just as the skydiver was preparing to touch down. The jumper was thrown for a vicious loop, and the airplane impacted nose-first and was substantially damaged. Miraculously the pilot and the skydiver received only minor injuries. The sensational photos went viral, and the media propagated the story, demanding to know what happened and who was at fault. And across the country, airport managers sought out their drop zone operators to reassess how to ensure that pilots and skydivers avoid each other.

The truth is that collisions between airplanes and skydivers in the airport environment are extremely rare, occurring less than a handful of times over the past six decades. In any given year, skydivers are making more than 3 million jumps onto 240 airports, about evenly split between public-use and private-use.

Just as in flight training, where student pilots are taught from day 1 that “see and avoid” is the principal method of collision avoidance, the same is true for skydivers. The imperative of see and avoid is a shared responsibility among all those in the sky. There is no higher responsibility for those who share the air. Skydivers are not only taught to avoid landing on or near a runway, they are also taught to avoid overflying a runway below 1,000 feet.

Airports are shared facilities, and with good communication, they can safely accommodate both flying and skydiving. Skydivers cannot and do not insist that airports close or that aircraft operations cease when skydiving is underway. We know that unimpeded air traffic is vital to airports that serve the public. Equally, airports and pilots must understand how to accommodate skydiving operations while other aircraft are active. Let’s all, pilots and skydivers alike, use the recent accident as a reminder to adhere to proper procedures and constantly scan the sky and maneuver to avoid others, whatever they fly. It’s a big sky; let’s work together on every jump and on every flight to keep it a safe sky.

Ed Scott
Executive Director

USPA Raises Minimum Deployment Altitude

August 2, 2013 by

One of the actions arising from last week’s meeting of the USPA Board will raise the minimum deployment altitude for C- and D-license holders in the Basic Safety Requirements from the current 2,000 feet to 2,500 feet. The board had discussed this idea at previous meetings, and it has now come to the conclusion that the change will save lives.

Since 2001, there have been nine fatalities—two of them this year—associated with low reserve deployments after automatic activation device activations, most of them at line-stretch. In each case, the AAD activated at the proper altitude. There are a variety of factors that can interfere with a timely reserve deployment, among them a jumper’s body position, a weak pilot chute spring, a low-drag pilot chute, a pilot chute caught in the jumper’s burble, a bridle that briefly snags on something or a tight reserve container that slows extraction. And while it is often impossible to determine whether any of these factors were present in these accidents, what is known is that if there had been only another second or two, we could have asked the jumper what happened. Clearly, an AAD-activation altitude higher than the current 840 feet for one product and 750 feet for another may have provided those precious extra seconds.

But the AAD manufacturers had a dilemma: They couldn’t increase their activation altitudes if the BSR allows a 2,000-foot altitude for initiating deployment. If jumpers deployed at 2,000 feet and waited on main canopy inflation or fought a malfunction while going through 1,000 feet, then low-altitude two-canopy-out scenarios or worse, main-reserve entanglements, would become more likely. Raising the minimum altitude for C- and D-licensees to 2,500 feet provides more time for the main to open or for a jumper to enact emergency procedures before the AAD activates and, hopefully, now at an altitude that helps ensure a fully-inflated reserve canopy.

Yes, most jumpers already deploy higher than 2,500 feet; you almost have to if you are complying with the long-standing Skydiver’s Information Manual recommendation for B through D licensees to enact emergency procedures by 1,800 feet, especially with today’s slow-opening main canopies that are quick to go into a hell-bent spin. But some jumpers still deploy below 2,500 feet, sometimes for good reason. To allow those good reasons, the board motion allows Safety and Training Advisors to waive the BSR on a jump-specific basis. If there is a low ceiling and the airplane can’t get above 2,500 feet for low exits or accuracy jumps or if the same low ceiling threatens a demo or if the big-way attempts need a little more room at the bottom to ensure adequate separation, then the S&TA simply waives those specific jumps from the BSR. There is no required paperwork or time spent waiting on someone else’s approval. However, DZ-wide or season-long waivers are not the intent. Otherwise why enact a rule that could be universally waived?

Finally, USPA isn’t ignoring the tight-rig issue. Back in 2010, USPA formally asked the Parachute Industry Association to research the accidents in which the container design may have infringed on reserve deployment. The PIA committee tasked to do so is also setting up testing protocols to try to identify rig designs and components that have the potential to inhibit reserve deployment. We continue to monitor PIA’s progress and look forward to seeing continued improvement in rig design.

Update 08/21/2013:

There were many reasons behind the USPA Board’s decision to increase the BSR minimum deployment altitude for C- and D-license holders from 2,000 feet to 2,500 feet. In no particular order:

  1. USPA’s long-time SIM recommendation of 1,800 feet for initiating emergency procedures more or less requires main initiation above 2,000 feet. The fact that the SIM has listed a 2,000-foot minimum container opening while at the same time recommending 1,800 feet as a decision altitude has always been an unrealistic set of guidelines to provide to our members.
  2. The 2,000-foot minimum altitude was in place years before the now faster freefall speeds, slower-opening mains and slower reserve deployments, which all argue for a higher main deployment altitude, even when no AAD is involved.
  3. Too many jumpers are running out of altitude with low cutaways after experiencing a spinning line twist. Many of them had deployed below 2,500 feet.
  4. Recent fatality statistics indicate that the performance of our canopies and rapid altitude loss during a malfunction have gotten to a point where the 2,000-foot BSR is no longer enough of a safety margin.

And yes, there had been discussions with the AAD manufacturers about a series of too-low (i.e. fatal) reserve deployments following proper AAD activations. With a BSR allowing a 2,000-foot main deployment, the AAD manufacturers did not feel that enough buffer existed for them to raise their baseline activation altitude. Now, a 2,500-foot main deployment BSR provides them that opportunity.

The new CYPRES with programmable activation altitudes actually argues for increasing the main container opening altitude, since Airtec states that a jumper should plan for a fully open main at least 1,000 feet above the programmed CYPRES activation altitude.

Skydiver safety is always the primary focus of USPA. The higher deployment altitude is safer for our members, and there is little or no downside to the increase, especially with a Safety & Training Advisor able to allow sub-2,500-foot deployments if circumstances require it for demos, big-ways, etc. S&TAs already have the authority to waive important BSRs like wind limits, landing area size and the need for flotation gear when near water; they can easily handle this waiver as well.

Ed Scott
Executive Director

Colonel Joseph Kittinger Awarded Cliff Henderson Trophy

June 21, 2013 by

From left to right: Col. Kittinger, USPA President Sherry Butcher and USPA Executive Director Ed Scott

At a June 18 luncheon in Arlington, Virginia, legendary record-setting skydiver Colonel Joseph Kittinger, USAF, (Ret.) was awarded the Cliff Henderson Trophy by the National Aeronautic Association. The Henderson Trophy is awarded annually to an individual or group “whose vision, leadership or skill made a significant and lasting contribution to the promotion and advancement of aviation and aerospace in the United States.” In one of her first formal acts as USPA’s new president, Sherry Butcher was asked to introduce Col. Kittinger and describe how his record-setting 102,800-foot parachute jump in 1960 still inspires skydivers and others.

Giving Skydiving a Positive Image—One Step at a Time

October 15, 2012 by

Skydiving has come a long way from the days of the general public seeing us as a bunch of reckless daredevils with a death wish. But there are still plenty of people out there who don’t understand what skydiving and skydivers are all about. As an organization, USPA needs to take whatever steps we can—both big and small—to change the public’s misperceptions and inform the media and the general public about our sport.

Recently, an article appeared in the “Fairbanks Daily News Miner” in Fairbanks, Alaska, that disparaged skydivers. This unrelated news article about traffic violations included a quote from the Fairbanks police chief’s memo to his department: “Our profession has only recently come to appreciate the irrefutable correlation between collisions and crime, a relationship that is explained easily: Risk-taking behaviors of any sort — gambling, skydiving, careless driving or committing crimes — need a place and opportunity to happen.” A concerned USPA member in Alaska forwarded the article to USPA, expressing his dismay at skydiving being grouped with reckless and criminal activities.

This seemed like a great opportunity to educate the police chief, his department and the newspapers’ readers about our sport—even in a place with minimal skydiving activity like Alaska. As USPA President, I sent a letter to the police chief and the newspaper explaining that skydiving is a legitimate aeronautical activity and hobby and that skydivers are a diverse group of people who are upstanding, contributing members of society. You can read the letter here.

An off-handed statement like the police chief’s may not seem like a big deal, but it’s in small ways like this that people can get the wrong impression about skydiving—especially when it’s directed to those whose job it is to enforce the law. USPA and all its 34,600 members need to take every opportunity to help the general public understand that ours is an amazing, life-changing sport and that we as skydivers are responsible aviation enthusiasts.

Jay Stokes
USPA President

Delayed Renewal Notices Hitting Mailboxes

February 2, 2012 by

If the amount of phone calls we’ve received over the past week is any indication, many of you are upset that you have received a membership renewal notice after you have already renewed. Even after some of you have received your membership cards, the notice comes in the mail days or weeks later. However, we believe we have found the problem: the U.S.P.S, or more accurately, one of its distribution centers.

This has been an on ongoing problem but over the last few months it has escalated to new levels. Three months before your expiration, USPA mails the first renewal notice, followed two months later by a second mailed notice. We also try to process as many applications as possible before the renewals are printed to minimize the possibility of submitting a notice after you have renewed. Incredibly, we’re hearing of six-week delays in delivery of U.S. mail that goes through our local distribution center.

When we first learned of the postal delay, we altered our schedule of generating these notices and coordinated with our third-party mailer to get them to our members in a timely fashion, yet the complaints continued to increase.

What we discovered comes from an audit report dated September 13, 2011 from the Office of Inspector General United States Postal Service showing that our regional distribution office ranked first in delayed mail. Over the last two years, the average distribution center decreased delays by nearly 2% while our regional center’s delayed mail trend increased by 139% – the worst in the country.

The delays are unfortunate, but for now, rest assured that we have heard each of your suggestions and are proactively working to resolve this issue anyway we can.

You can view the Inspector’s report here.

Clint Vincent
Director of Membership Services

White House Responds to Petition Effort

January 18, 2012 by

If you were one of the nearly 9,000 people that signed an online White House petition opposing an aviation user fee, you may have received the White House’s response via email last week. Not surprisingly, the administration used the opportunity to justify its desire to impose a $100 per flight fee on many segments of aviation. While their plan is still vague—at one time they described an exemption for “recreational” aviation; more recently they said they would exempt “piston aircraft”—the fact is that all of the aviation community should be opposed to the concept. Once approved, and following the creation of new FAA offices to track, invoice and collect the fee, any “exempted” aviation segments are sure to face the fee later on. The good news is that aviation has many friends in Congress; lawmakers who understand the importance of a thriving aviation system, and who agree that a per-flight fee is counterproductive. Congress has repeatedly beat back similar user fee proposals before, and will be called upon to do so again at the proper time.

USPA has reached out to the other aviation associations to join their coalition and help fight user fees. We do so not just because a $100 per flight fee on turbine jump planes will dramatically increase the cost of a jump ticket, but because the whole concept of charging operators for each flight will throttle aviation’s efficiency, reduce flying and cost jobs. Jump operators, like all operators, currently pay a federal tax on each gallon of fuel burned, and all want to keep it that way. So stand by and be prepared to voice your concerns to your legislator at the appropriate time. We’ll let you know the very day that is needed.

Ed Scott
Executive Director

Refocusing the U.S. Parachute Team Sponsorship Program

November 30, 2011 by

This past July, the USPA Board of Directors unanimously approved two motions with the goal of finding corporate sponsorship for the United States Parachute Team.

Initially, we had in mind the idea that current and former U.S. Team members and other highly qualified skydivers would perform at air shows on behalf of the U.S. Parachute Team Inc.—a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization—primarily to gain the attention of potential corporate sponsors. The team’s availability would have been announced at the upcoming ICAS (International Council of Air Shows) Convention. From the profits earned, the U.S. Parachute Team Inc. would have reimbursed USPA for the seed money and expense of supporting the team.

What we weren’t able to predict was the opposition of some of our members to the idea. Some saw that the USPA would be helping the U.S. Team compete with demo teams for air show business. While all along corporate sponsorship was the goal and air shows the means to get there, nevertheless, we heard the members’ concerns and acted.

After a conference call with the Competition and Executive Committees, we agreed to refocus the plan away from ICAS and take a more direct approach to corporate sponsorship that we think will alleviate members’ concerns and still benefit the U.S. Team. While the initial seed money remains available, it will be invested into producing a sponsorship proposal and attending the IEG (website HERE) convention in March. Here, the U.S. Parachute Team will be presented as the team that represents the United States in Olympic-caliber competitions. With this redirect, we intend to build an identity for the U.S. Team and present a case for its value to corporate sponsors. This proposal will be presented and discussed at the board meeting in February. We will welcome discussion from USPA members at that time, as well.

For those who keep track of the motions by the board and its committees, both the Competition and Executive Committees approved the following interim motion:

“Move to modify the ‘U.S. Parachute Team Sponsorship Development Program’ so that we will not be attending ICAS this year and that the money allocated to it will first be used toward generating corporate sponsorship for the U.S. Parachute Team.”

We value the feedback from each of our members and hope to continue receiving your support and concerns. Together we can continue following USPA’s purpose of promoting safe skydiving, ensuring skydiving’s rightful place on airports and in the airspace system and promoting competition and record-setting programs.

Jay Stokes
President, USPA Board of Directors

The United States Parachute Team Sponsor Developmental Program

October 20, 2011 by

E-mails and calls we received at headquarters after members read the October Parachutist “Gearing Up” on this program made it clear a 500-word summary was too succinct, leaving some readers with more questions than answers. So here is a full discussion of the program as presented to the board of directors last July and approved unanimously. This is my longest blog ever, so get a cup of coffee and settle in. I think you’ll find it an interesting read.

First, you need to know the long-standing problem this program is designed to solve: our U.S. Teams are woefully underfunded.

Second, it’s important to understand that USPA’s constitution (and its status as a not-for-profit organization) requires that it select, train and send U.S. competitors to international competition. We aren’t doing the best job. The last time we sent a fully funded team to the world championships was circa 1976, when the U.S. team consisted of 10 style and accuracy competitors. Since then, our team has grown to 60 skydivers in six disciplines, too large for member donations to finance the team. The board has wrestled to find a long-term solution to this problem for decades.

To date, the U.S. Parachute Team Trust Fund is the best solution the board has come up with, so let me take a moment to explain how it works.

The money members donate to the U.S. Team generally goes (unless designated otherwise) to the U.S. Parachute Team Trust Fund, currently valued at a little over $588,000.  During world meet years, a portion of the annual Trust Fund earnings is disbursed to the U.S. Parachute Team. Historically the fund has provided around $250 – $450 per competitor—nothing to sneeze at—but only about 10 percent of the direct cost of travel and entry fees. A competitor strives for years to make the U.S. Team and then takes a big financial hit for the privilege. Ouch.

Doesn’t seem right, does it?

Some related math: the Trust Fund would have to be 10 times its current value, at five million dollars, in order to generate a disbursement of $250,000, which would provide each competitor about $4,200. That’s not bad, still less than the amount needed for a pre-WPC training camp, round-trip airfare and entry fees. So how can we accelerate the growth of the trust fund and simultaneously give our U.S. Teams substantial financial support in the meantime?

There’s one proven solution—one most other national athletic teams employ—corporate sponsorship. Hence, the focus of this program is to attract partners and sponsors. A sponsor wants and needs exposure to as many eyes as possible to justify its investment. We’ve learned through hard experience that our USPA Nationals and the exposure our teams get overseas are not sufficient to attract sponsorship. The board concluded that if the U.S. Team performs before American audiences and establishes “brand identity,” it could give us a legitimate shot at real financial sponsorship.

One concern the board had when considering this program was that it might be perceived as a move to take demos away from PRO-rated members. On that issue, it’s important to know there are hundreds of airshows and events each year and we don’t foresee the U.S. Parachute Team doing more than a dozen—so chances are unlikely. However, we can’t guarantee an airshow or event organizer might invite the U.S. Team to do a show that some other skydiving team has done before. No show team ever “owns” rights to an event; the desire for “fresh acts” is part of the airshow business, whether the U.S. Team is involved or not.

That said, we certainly don’t want the U.S. Team to squeeze our brother and sister skydivers from a show they’ve worked long to cultivate. That raises an important part of the program. If the U.S. Team is invited to do a show, we will reach out and ask local demo teams and jumpers to perform with the U.S. Team. If it’s a paid show, they will earn their standard fees (members of the U.S. Team will only be reimbursed travel and per diem). If all we do is break even, we’ve met our primary goal—presenting the U.S. Team to the public in order to attract sponsorship.

Another point: while the immediate goal isn’t sport promotion, this initiative most certainly will generate positive coverage and broad public interest. We will invite local group member DZs to get involved, possibly supplying aircraft, plus local demo jumpers/team and tandem instructors to do VIP jumps before the show, with local skydivers helping staff a booth where U.S. Team merchandise is sold while simultaneously advertising local DZs. It should be a win-win for all.

Some members expressed concern about the $10,000 loan USPA authorized to jumpstart this program. Keep in mind that USPA routinely invests in new ideas and seeds special projects that show promise of enhancing the sport. The loan was made in order to market the team at the International Council of Air Shows (ICAS) Convention this December to solicit air show interest. The first $10,000 earned (after show expenses) by the team in 2012 will go back to repay the loan.

By giving a green light to this project, the USPA Board of Directors is meeting its constitutional obligation to the U.S. Team, launching a new program that might help it attract corporate sponsorship. If the plan works, our newer athletes might enjoy a developmental program with paid coaching. Our elite competitors might finally have a way to afford full-time training—leveling the playing field with government-sponsored teams we so often face in world competition.

Some nuts-and-bolts: this December, we’ll present the U. S. Parachute Team to ICAS (and to corporate America through our PR firm) as a performing entity available for select airshows and special events beginning spring of 2012. In our promotional materials, we’ll explain that the U.S. Team will perform with leading USPA PRO-rated jumpers (and pro demo teams, if they are willing and able). Part of the sell is that we intend to be inclusive of established skydiving performers. Together we can make the U.S. Team an attractive brand that corporate America wants to associate with and sponsor.

Before the airshow season begins next spring, we have much to do. Not every member of the U.S. Team has time or talent to take part. However, by reaching out to current and former U.S. Team members and our top demo jumpers, we think we have a pool of about 300 capable skydivers to draw from. From this pool, and with the help of leading demo experts, we’ll run a demo training camp to practice all the elements of show jumping: flag jumps, hi- and lo-variants, pyro, dealing with the media, the public, etc. Some already have experience; for others it will be a steep learning curve.

All who volunteer must understand that this is a building year for a new project, and we will have to bootstrap it largely at our own expense. One big advantage in our favor is the U.S. Team is a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization, so services and goods-in-kind it receives from members and supporters and any future income from sponsors is tax-deductible.

As Executive Director Ed Scott pointed out to the board, no one knows if this will work. We do know you can’t expect a sponsor without self-promotion and public exposure. Other ideas have been tried without real success. The generosity of our members who donate to the U.S. Team Trust Fund is much appreciated but it only goes so far. We need to move the U.S. Team out of obscurity into the limelight, and this is a bold way to do it, but only with member help and support—especially from our pro demo jumpers—will it succeed.

- Jim Hayhurst, USPA Director of Competition

Records Broken at the Big Boy Pants CP Comp

August 1, 2011 by

A remarkable 10 national and world records (and 17 personal bests) were set by the world’s best canopy pilots at Mile-Hi Skydiving Center in Longmont, Colorado, this weekend. Highlights included the U.S. and world speed and distance records set in the female category by the PD Factory Team’s Jessica Edgeington (2.301 seconds and 168.32 meters, respectively) and the astounding world distance record set on the first day by Nick Batsch, who lives and trains at Longmont. Jumping only moments after PD Factory Team pilot Jonathan Tagle smashed the standing 181-meter record with a gorgeous 195.65-meter flight, the now-former record-holder Batch flew his NZAerosports “Petra” prototype a mind-boggling 222.45 meters to take his record back. Serving as a judge on the far end of the distance course along with Canadian judge Buzz Bennett, I was privileged to assist Bennett in marking the landing, which was then verified by Chief Judge Marylou Laughlin. It was a transcendent moment of sport for me (this after 40 years in skydiving), like watching Bob Beamon’s historic 29-foot broad jump at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. Like Beamon’s world record jump, Batsch’s flight was aided by thin, high-altitude air and a tail wind of 6.7 m/s,  just under the limit of 7 m/s.

National records were also set by Jason Moledzki of Canada, Thomas Morris of Germany, Pablo Hernandez of Spain, and Edson Pacheco of Brazil. Only the world speed record of 2.093 seconds held by Golden Knight Greg Windmiller remained intact after the three days of blazing action, but not for trying, with two competitors, Tagle and Batsch, challenging the record with runs of 2.096 and 2.095 seconds, respectively. Meet sponsor Performance Designs awarded $2,000 to Batsch for his new world record, and an additional $4,000 in prize money was also given to the top five overall competitors: 1) Batsch, 2) Curt Bartholomew, 3) Moledzki, 4) Windmiller and 5) Hernandez.

The only serious injury of the competition was suffered by Warren Cleary of Georgia, who remains hospitalized in stable condition. Many of the prize winners and most competitors and spectators donated money to help Cleary, and the donations were generously matched by Mile-Hi Skydiving.

The FLCPA or PD Factory Team websites will soon be posting complete results.

- Jim Hayhurst, USPA Director of Competition


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