On Friday 138 Jumpers from around the globe set a World Record for the largest vertical formation in the skies over Skydive Chicago. The previous record of 108 was eclipsed by 30 jumpers. SFC Joe Abeln and SSG Reese Pendleton from the Golden Knights were honored to be part of the jump.
Training for the jump started nearly two years ago. To be invited on the jump, everyone had to attend multiple big way camps and tryout events. The camps happened across the United States and around the globe. Each tryout camp saw between 50-80 jumpers trying out for just a few invites. The Golden Knights received their invites after attending two separate camps in Sebastian FL.
On the first day of the record attempts over 175 skydivers gathered in the auditorium for a safety briefing and slot assignment. Nearly 30 jumpers were there hoping to get a slot on the record breaking jump. Organizer, drop zone owner, and honorary Golden Knight Rook Nelson had two goals for the event. Every one go home safely, and everyone go home safely with a World Record. The goal for the record was a 142 way vertical formation. The organizers only planned for four jumps for the first day to allow for extra time dirt diving and debriefing. Six airplanes, four Twin Otters, a Sky van and a Sherpa took the record team to an altitude on 17500 ft. After the first two jumps were complete the team was very close to setting a new World Record. 130 of 142 jumpers were in the formation on the 2nd jump, just 12 off. The 3rd and 4th jumps of the day saw some communication problems with the trail plane causing jumpers to leave too early or too late to make it to the formation. Still it was a great day and the team was eagerly awaiting day two.
The Second day of the camp started early as the World Record team was ready to get to work. The organizers made a few small changes to the formation to allow for more room in some tight areas. Each jump was closer and closer. The formations were now seeing the 140 mark just a couple off the record. On jump number four of the 2nd day and jump 9 of the event everything seemed to come together and the formation appeared built. Jumpers began to celebrate as they began to break away from the formation. It looked like jump 9 was the record setting jump. As everyone landed there was definitely a positive vibe in the landing area. The videographers took their footage to the FAI Judges for review. After quite a bit of time Nelson came out and told everyone to gear up the team was on a 20 minute call. This meant that the record was not complete. 142 jumpers completed a formation but unfortunately the newly repositioned jumpers had taken a grip with the wrong hand. This formation set a State record and Guiness World Record but not an FAI World Record, which is what the team was shooting for. With sunset quickly fading on the second day the last jump was close but not complete.
The third day of the record attempts was finally underway. The motivation was high despite being so close on the previous day. The second jump of the day once again looked as if we had set a new world record. Everyone appeared to have docked on the formation. Another long review and unfortunately yet again the record eluded the group. The pictures did not show all of the grips clearly and back up the team went. After the 14th attempt, the 4th of the day, the organizers made a decision to go with a 138 way formation. The team loaded up into the fleet of 6 aircraft and took to the skies. Nearly 45 minutes later and this time 18,500 ft above the ground the planes flew over the drop zone and the 138 jumpers quickly exited the aircraft. The formation began to build and with several seconds to spare. It appeared that everyone was on the formation and it was completed. No one was ready to celebrate just yet they wanted it to be official first. The jumpers landed, went inside and repacked their parachutes while the judges reviewed the photos. A long time went by and people began to wander. Nelson came back out and told everyone to get their gear and meet up on the lawn for another dirt dive. As disheartening as this was 138 jumpers headed back out to get ready the next attempt. Everyone picked up their grips on the lawn and built the formation on the ground. Nelson then came through and opened the formation up for a team photo. Everyone knew what that meant. The team set a new World Record 138 way formation. Cheers erupted, high fives and hugs spread across the drop zone.
The record breaking jump was aired around the world on various news outlets and even made ESPN’s top 10 plays of the day. It was a great honor for the Golden Knights to be part of the World Record jump. SFC Abeln and SSG Pendleton spent quite a bit of time preparing for the jumps and the accomplishment was a great pay off. A big thanks to Rook Nelson, Mike Swanson and the team of organizers and videographers, and Skydive Chicago for organizing a very successful and safe world record jump.