Several members of the Golden Knights were in California last week to help set the state’s largest vertical formation record. SSG Joe Abeln, SSG Trevor Oppenborn, SSG Reese Pendleton and SGT Jen Schaben joined jumpers from across the country and the world to complete a 58 person vertical formation. Participants came from the Ukraine, Australia, Sweden, Norway, Canada and Brazil for the accomplishment.
The California State record attempts began on Wednesday with practice jumps and safety reviews. The organizers, from the World Champion Team SoCal Converge, along with Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld, spent a good portion of the morning with safety briefings and reviewing large formation procedures. With formations of this size and speed, safety is the number one priority. After the briefings were complete, the day started with two smaller groups. Each group had approximately 20 jumpers and worked on flying in a slot and separating from the formation safely. A normal formation flying belly to earth falls at 120 mph while a vertical formation falling head to earth falls at 170 mph. Due to the increased speed of the formation and the vertical orientation to the ground, a proper separation is key to the safety of the group. The organizers made sure that everyone on the jump could safely fly their designated slot in the formation as well as separate from the formation before the official attempts. After five jumps everyone was feeling confident in their abilities to safely complete a large formation.
Thursday was the first day of the record attempts. The day started early with more safety reviews. Then every jumper was assigned a slot on the formation and a plane to exit from. With 60 jumpers on hand, three aircraft flying in a close formation at 16,500 were used. An oxygen system was also used in each aircraft due to the thinner air at the higher altitude. After nearly an hour of practicing the jump on the ground, or “dirt diving,” the jumpers were ready. The first jump of the day was a test jump. Only the first 30 jumpers were to take grips, while the remaining jumpers flew in their slot just an arms length from each other, in order to focus on flying in position before worrying about their grip. The jump went flawlessly. As each of the jumps progressed on Thursday, the formations were just a few people short of completing. At the end of a successful day, each jumper knew the record was soon to be set.
Friday morning started out much the same as Thursday, with safety briefings and more dirt diving. Everyone was excited to get in the air and try to set the new state record. The first two jumps were nearly perfect. Everyone was flying well and disciplined. On the third jump of the day the green light turned on in the lead plane, and the six person base of the formation, which is launched together, moved to the edge of the Skyvan exit ramp, the jumpers in the trail planes crowded the doors of their respective Twin Otters flying just off the wing tips. As soon as the base left the aircraft, 52 other jumpers flew to the quickly growing formation. Jumpers diving out last from the planes accelerated to nearly 200 mph in order to catch up to the building formation before slowing down to match the fall rate and move into their slot. With just seconds to spare, the last jumper completed his grips and a new California vertical record was set. A wave of excitement filled the formation as each jump separated and deployed their parachutes. The photo of the formation was sent to a United States Parachute Association judge for review, and shortly after the record became official.
This event was a great opportunity for the Team to be a part of a previously untouched discipline of their sport, and to answer any questions about the Army and the Golden Knights. The Team was also able to meet people from all over the world and from many different backgrounds, and show some of the training and opportunities that the Army has to offer. The Team was glad to be a part of this accomplishment, and would like to thank all of the organizers and participants for all of their hard work in making it possible.