by Peter Schaller
What's larger than an 80-way RW state record?
A 25-way CRW diamond state record.
What's larger than a 25-way CRW diamond?
A Saturn V moon rocket.
What's larger than a Saturn V moon rocket?
A hurricane named Dolly.
To the tune of the Gilligan's Island theme:
"The weather started getting rough,
the tiny planes were tossed.
If not for the courage of the fearless CRW,
the record would be lost."
I think you get the picture of Friday night in Houston as we gathered for an awesome festival of manned flight at the NASA facility in Clear Lake. The rain was so bad, the grills at the dinner had to be shut down for fear of burning the hotel down! We were scheduled to jump every 2 hours in a demo/record attempt/practice as part of NASA's big party. Although walking through the mud in the wee hours of the morning, it didn't look promising. This made that 4:45am ride to the airport seem even earlier.
When it's that early, you can't see very well, so nobody was tempted to look up. Instead we spent our energy swatting mosquitoes as big as birds. When we walked out to the airplanes, it was still dark enough that the true extent of the clouds were still a mystery. With a pair of 12-ways planned, we figured we were set for anything over 3000'. To our amazement, we got 12k with a big hole over the landing area. After landing, we packed in the museum, alongside photos of Earth and exhibits of early aeronautics and, yes- Parachuting! Later in the day, as I was starting my pack job an older visitor in the museum came over to engage me in conversation. He wasn't the ordinary whuffo, because he asked a bunch of technical questions regarding the canopy. Turns out he was one of the engineers of the Apollo recovery system! All of this just inches away from a photo of Tina Broderick, one of the first people to jump from a airplane!
While the weather was miraculously cooperative over the DZ, the ground wasn't quite so cooperative. Swamp is actually a better word, because the standing water was several inches deep in most places. This dampened the numbers of the crowd from the expected 100,000+ but did nothing to their enthusiasm, you could hear cheers from a good altitude.
We built the 25-way on Sunday, a first for about a half-dozen in the formation. This broke the previous state record of 22, set some 11 years ago as a vertical! Chuck, the cameraman from Atlanta was there to close it up. Watching the video on the bus (Built-in video monitors!) while riding back to the airport made the debrief fit into an otherwise blank timeframe. We need to get wider aisles, though- it's hard to walk out a 25-way...
The next dives were just continuing refinement. Best excuse for being beaten by your mirror on the other side, "I had to stop by Burger King..." Best excuse for missing a dock, "Darn, I forgot my fries!" If you couldn't guess, big diamonds, big fun, and miraculously jumpable weather were the words. DQ made a big impression on the crowd and the organizers with a show that ran like clockwork. No wraps, no whirlies, no injuries (except mosquito bites).
Thanks to Jon Yonke for his dedication and efforts at bringing DQ into the event and everyone else as well who worked so hard to make it a reality!
by Kirk VanZandt
The skies over Johnson Space Center (JSC), Houston, Texas were filled with Skydivers the weekend of 24 August 1996. It was Ballunar Festival time and Diamond Quest was invited to do demonstration jumps this year. So, every hour on the hour skydivers exited aircraft over the Johnson Space Center's Rocket Park during daylight hours. The CRW load (with a thirty way RW team) usually exited on the even hours; backed up by an eighty way RW load on the odd hours. Over 1200 man-jumps were made this weekend at JSC!
As is usual, us CRW dogs had the dawn patrol. It was 5:15 on Saturday morning at Ellington field (20 minutes by bus from the landing area), no sign of the sun, dirt diving under the lights. We boarded the aircraft in the dark, and watch the Houston city lights in the distance on take off. The exit was at 13 grand just after the sun rise; it was beautiful and well worth the early revelry. The first dive was two 12-ways with Joe O'Leary piloting one and Rich Hall piloting other. This was warm up practice for the 25-ways later in the day. One formation completed and the other had just two out before and early breakdown. As usual those forecasters can not predicted the winds, so the spot was slightly long but everyone made it back to the landing area. The landing area -- Oh, the landing area was very interesting. During normal conditions it would be quite large; but you see it had rained hard in the Houston area for several days before the Ballunar Festival event, so most of the landing area (I would say 90%) was mud. And I mean MUD and standing water. So now the landing area (the dry part) was considerable smaller than one wished to land 25 people for a Demo. Most of us did what we where told, follow the leader in and land one at a time - forming a large train of skydivers in the sky. I was told it looked pretty cool from the ground. Not everyone landed on dry ground the first jump, including myself. I ended up not judging my descent rate and ended up rolling through a small ditch (full of water). But I got up and waved to the crowd whom where cheering all the skydivers in. A few wet feet and some clothes, but all skydivers where down and safe. The main point of the landing, was knowing where NOT to land. The organizers of the event somehow finagled an indoor, air conditioned, packing area for all the skydivers. So a quick pack job, a change of few socks and some clothing and the DQ team was ready to make another jump. We all loaded nice air conditioned buses, and headed back to Ellington field to do over again. This was how it was for the whole weekend - Jump, pack, bus ride, dirt dive, plane ride. It was almost like a job -- the pace was definitely like world record attempts; maybe slightly faster. So all you new people that where there in Houston this is what it is like for record attempts, you experienced it -- sore muscles and all. We even got a good ass chewing from Joe, which was deserved because we were not doing what we all knew how to do.
The organizers of the event where SUPER, everything went almost as planned. Al Saylor should be congratulated for his outstanding work on pulling this whole thing off; plus all the others that help it come together. From the crowd's reaction, they had a blast (sorry for the pun) watching all the jumpers and the formations they built. I think DQ did and outstanding job representing our area of the sport - CRW!
On Sunday you should have seen all them hot air balloons! Must have been 80 of them .... a BK whopper.. an oversized shoe.. a space shuttle.. Old Times whiskey bottle .. TBS's 50th anniversary Birthday cake.. Mr. Peanut.. & many other balloons with unforgettable colors. To bad we did not get a chance to jump out of any; but the skies over the Johnson Space Center on Sunday where filled with hot air balloons, it was a sight to be seen.
Chuck "the Wild Man" Smith did the video for us. With his new digital camera he took fantastic videos. The bus was equipped with VCR (VHS format) and monitors to watch the dives and debrief. But because of the tight schedule, Chuck could not dub over from his camera. But on Sunday he rigged a way to use his helmet-cam on the bus so we could debrief on the ride back to Ellington field. Many kudos for the work of Chuck Smith. Chuck even docked on the bottom of a formation to complete the new Texas state CRW record of 25. Can we all say "Red! - where were you?" (The hammer never rests in CRW)
Oh, you want to know how all the other dives went. All in all there were 10 dives - 5 on Saturday and 5 on Sunday. Two 12-ways attempts (two each), five 24-way attempts (only a few new guys out), the 25-way (state record), one 24-way (Chuck was told not to dock - got to have those pictures), and the final dive of a 16-way. The last dive, broke down into four, 4-way diamonds then each 4-way was star bursted. Some said it broke to high; but what matters was that the crowd loved it. Somewhere in all these dives someone did a nice mud plow with their entire body, not to mention any names but he got a new nickname of Victor the "Mud Man".
This weekend was incredibly safe. I used to keep some jump statistics on large DQ CRW -- this included over 5000 man-jumps. The statistics were pretty much the same for a group of veterans or the usual mixture of veterans and novices. It was amazing to me that there was NOT one cut-a-way or even a minor whirligig this weekend. Statistically in the past when a NEW group of people get together to do 25-ways there is 1 minor whirligig per 3 jumps, and 1 person cutting-a-way every 6th. Now, we did keep up with the off DZ landings for big CRW of 1 per 6. Can we all say "Walking through the swamp!" So what does this all mean? I guess if you stress safety enough and tell people over and over not to screw up, things can be made extremely safe. Maybe every camp should be a demo? Or maybe we were lucky? Or maybe people are just better flyers now? I like to think the latter is closer to the truth; but I am sure there was an ounce (or two) of luck involved some how.
We all had a great time, hopefully we will get invited back next year to do BIG CRW at JSC.
Keep Your Knees in the Breeze,
- Kirk W. VanZandt -