Jacques-André Istel Presented with the USPA Lifetime Achievement Award


One of the pleasures of my job is to meet and talk with some of our sport’s luminaries and pioneers. I enjoy history, and I particularly enjoy the history of our sport. So maybe you can imagine how privileged I felt last week when I presented USPA’s Lifetime Achievement Award to Jacques-André Istel, the father of modern skydiving in the U.S. See, Jacques, who had immigrated here from France as a boy and had begun parachuting here in 1950, saw on a visit to France in 1955 that French skydivers had learned techniques of controlled freefall. Until he learned and brought those techniques back to the U.S., parachuting in this country was simply flailing between exit and deployment—no arch, no control, no turns, and no stable deployments. There was no skydiving here until Jacques advanced it. He also coined the term, by the way. But he didn’t stop there. Jacques became a vocal advocate for public acceptance of skydiving as a sport, not a daredevil activity. Here’s an excerpt from an August 1957 issue of Time magazine:

” ‘You just let go of the plane and suddenly you’ve changed elements. You start to drop but you don’t feel anything—only a marvelous sense of control. It’s like being immersed in light water. Then you bring your right arm up and you make a turn, just as simple as that. It’s an incredible sensation.’

Thus runs the evangelical message of Jacques-André Istel, 28, a black-browed ex-Wall Streeter and dedicated prophet of parachuting in the U.S. His gospel: jumping….out of an airplane can be a safe, exhilarating sport, not a devil-daring performance…”

That’s not all he did either. Jacques advanced parachute competition, too, by forming the first U.S. team to compete at the 3rd World Meet in Moscow. With that, parachuting and then skydiving competition began to flourish here as well, with Jacques introducing our collegiate competition as well.

For these reasons, and many more, I was humbled yet proud to be joined last week in Felicity, California, (where Jacques is not only the founder, but the mayor) by board members Larry Hill and Scott Smith, previous Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Pat Morehead, previous USPA Gold Medal of Meritorious Service recipient Ted Strong, and many, many skydiving friends, in presenting Jacques-Andre Istel with his own engraved and mounted silver bowl. Like a true Frenchman and skydiver, Jacques used the bowl to toast his admirers…

Jacques-Andre Istel holds the USPA Lifetime Achievement Award surrounded by (from left) Pat Morehead, Larry Hill, Ed Scott, and Scott Smith.

Jacques-André Istel holds the USPA Lifetime Achievement Award surrounded by (from left) Pat Morehead, Larry Hill, Ed Scott, and Scott Smith.


11 Responses to “Jacques-André Istel Presented with the USPA Lifetime Achievement Award”

  1. Ed Palumbo Says:

    I remember Mr. Istel very well. I’d made my first jumps at Skylark Aviation (Elsinore, CA) in 1968; I recently completed my enlistment and a tour in Viet Nam as a U.S. Marine. At the end of my active service, I returned to my home of record in NYC. In the late ’60s and early ’70s, Lakewood SPC was a fine place to skydive. My jump boots were polished, my jumpsuit was clean and pressed. My “military” appearance looked clean-cut and consistent with Parachutes Incorporated professionalism, I had the helpful attitude of a team player, and Mr. Istel suggested or directed that I become a staff member. I doubt he knew my name at the time, but he was an entrepreneurial, Type A personality, a dynamic individual, and made decisions quickly. At the time, I jumped a red & blue (TelStar pattern) Mark I ParaCommander. The Lakewood paracenter was a fine place to jump in all seasons, weather permitting, located about 57 miles from NYC just a few miles from the Jersey shore, within reasonable driving radius from Philadelphia. These population centers held a promising market of student jumpers, and discussion developed about reaching that market with advertisements. Mr. Istel’s decision to utilize radio advertising instead of television for a visually appealing sport was questioned, but his reasoning was perceptive. He did not want to waste advertising budget on sedentary people who watch late night television; but focus on the market that was mobile, listening to their automobile radios. I remember he commented, “I want to reach people who DO, not people who WATCH.” And his reasoning was sound.
    At the time, Lakewood was managed and supervised by a motivated crew (Vic Valli, Lee Guilfoyle, Rich Picirilli, Dennis Cicetti, etc.), and Mr. Istel, a licensed pilot, visited frequently from Orange SPC (northern Massachusetts) in his own plane. Orange SPC was another fine operation, like a country club, and I enjoyed my visits there.
    Mr. Istel was occasionally perceived as abrupt, brusque or imperious. As a person with military experience, I regarded that as appropriate to a business executive and leader; however, some jumpmasters were offended and opted to work elsewhere.
    In 1972, I relocated to southern California and the skydiving at Elsinore, Perris and Hemet in Riverside County. Several years later. Mr. Istel’s interest in Skylark Aviation would result in his investment at Elsinore and provide me with an opportunity to see a few familiar faces from Parachutes Incorporated again, but timing and nature were unfavorable. Nearby Lake Elsinore overflowed after heavy rains and inundated the airstrip and paracenter at Skylark, and that venture was unfortunate.
    I could write at greater length, but I fully agree Jacques Istel fully deserves the USPA Lifetime Achievement Award. Sport parachuting owes him an immense debt and I thank him for a catalogue of memories and his contributions to the sport I so enjoyed.
    Edward J. Palumbo
    USPA B-8516
    POPS 2468

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  3. lew sanborn D-1 Says:

    My association with Jacques was a real learning experience, not in the skydiving side of life, but in the business background that he and his family had. Those days will remain with me throughout the rest of my life,short, or long. We did have many good days parachuting and competing in world championships, but those days are now behind us, the last time that he & i jumped together was in 1973. Jacques stopped for reasons best known to himself, but i kept on skydiving and still do to this day, thanks to the equipment support i receive from two parachute equipment manufactures. Last year {2008} i made 144 jumps and hope to reach 7000 free falls next year, all things going well. Jacques was very late receiving this well deserved Life Time Achievement Award.

  4. lew sanborn Says:

    Jacques Istel was born in 1929,not in 1930, as stated in the above article, in Paris, France.

  5. lew sanborn Says:

    In response to my saying that I hoped to reach 7000 free falls in 2009, I did that on the 19th of July & also reached another goal of 84hrs of free fall time ,which I did on the 15th of October. I plan to resume my skydiving career next April, which willbe the start of my 62 year in this great sport er

  6. lew sanborn Says:

    Sunpath Products Inc. has provided me with the harness & container & Flight Concepts Inc has provided me with my main & reserve ramair canopies. Without their generious support , I would not have been able to reach the goals I had set for myself in 2009. MANY THANKS TO BOTH COMPANIES!!!!!

  7. Joan Pearson Says:

    Dear Lew,
    I have just been researching some of the pioneers of skydiving to answer some of my son’s questions when he thinks to ask them and I’m no longer available to answer them for him. Needless to say I’m enjoying my own trip down memory lane myself as I research and read yours and Jacques Istel’s sites. My husband was one of your first students in Seattle all those many years ago, later re-connected with you at Ft. Bragg when the skydiving club started there. While still in Seattle, Jim and Lyle Hoffman were the first two North Americans ever to “prove” they connected in flight when one jumped with the “baton” and the other landed with it. Jim went on to become the world champion skydiver with Loy Brydon second and I can’t remember the third place diver at the moment.
    No doubt you do.

    If you are getting this twice, my apologies. I was attempting to put N/A in the website below and lost everything. Here we go. I’m trying this again!

    I’m Jim’s second wife/widow and would indeed enjoy any comments you may have filling in blanks or anything else you may choose to add. My first husband was Bill Edge, who lived longer and went on to a very distinguished career with HALO and the military. Bill made the first altimeter holder with one of my pie pans in our back yard shed at Ft. Bragg. I used to make sleeves for the guys and they didn’t think to tie their sleeves on until sometime into the madness of spending more time searching for sleeves than they did jumping! I see they already had that figured out in France! I used to mend their chutes as quartermaster necessarily had to put them behind the military repairs. It was great fun in those days and I have really missed it all since Jim died but, there were children to raise and life to deal with. Someone had to do it and I was all they had. Besides, with Jim gone I no longer felt a part of it as I had in the early days.

    Congratulations on your achievements and keep on jumping! Let’s hope both Sunpath Products Inc. and Flight Concepts Inc. continue to support your participation in a sport you had so much to do with making it happen.

    Best wishes and thanks for the memories!

    Joan Edge Pearson

  8. Ilona Berger Helwig Canadian D-7 Says:

    Well said Lew, you and Jacques should have been the first ones to receive the award.
    You two started sport parachuting in the US.

  9. Guy carrier Says:

    Does anyone know when, where and how did Jacque Istel die ?

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