Oshkosh’s Wittman Regional Airport once again has become the world’s busiest airport this weekend as tens of thousands of people came flocking in for the Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture 2015.
“Welcome to Oshkosh, and have a great day,” was the familiar greeting from the control tower as hundreds of aircraft from around the globe touched down Sunday on the EAA grounds. For many, the experience is a long-standing tradition.
Jumping out of a perfectly good plane seems foolhardy, but 108 people leaping out of five planes and then grabbing onto each other to create beautiful formations? Now that’s just plain crazy.
108 sky divers attempted to break a world record in the skies during the Oshkosh EAA AirVenture on Wednesday. While there have been larger groups of sky divers forming together as one — including 400 in Thailand in 2006 — the record for the number of formations on one jump is 106 sky divers forming five separate designs. That’s 106 making one formation, then breaking off in groups to make other formations before surrendering to gravity and opening their chutes.
Eagles Over Oshkosh jumped 108 sky divers plus four sky-diving photographers to make five separate formations during Wednesday’s afternoon air show about 4 p.m. The group is also scheduled to jump on Friday at 4 and 8 p.m.
The team includes sky divers from 15 countries and 23 states, including Wisconsin, said Gulcin Gilbert, an American Airlines pilot who participated on Wednesday.
“When you get out there and free fall, it’s like flying your body,” Gilbert, who has 4,000 jumps and flies Boeing 777s, said Tuesday afternoon at AirVenture. “There’s this electric feeling when we’re all hooked up. It’s almost indescribable, but when you’re hooked up it’s like you’re one being.”
Getting 108 people to connect in the sky takes a lot of planning — they don’t simply run out the backs of planes and hope for the best. Instead engineers painstakingly construct charts for both positions on planes and the formations, which look like flowers with weed wackers extending from them.
The group took off in formation in one C-23 Sherpa followed by four Twin Otter planes. Each plane is known by a letter and on board every sky diver has a number and sits in a specific spot. Everyone knows exactly who should be in front and behind them, as well as on either side.
Team members are experienced — the average number of jumps for the group is 5,000 with some members having more than 20,000 jumps. Cumulatively the group has more than half a million jumps.
Once planes reach 20,000 feet, sky divers in the unpressurized cabins breathe oxygen from one large tank, green lights blink on and everyone jumps out in a beautiful and well-rehearsed choreography. A group of 44 sky divers each weighed down with 16 to 20 pounds of lead are chosen to make the base or nest, first forming together in a circle as the last people off the planes point themselves downward to catch up with the slowly descending group, hooking up wrists, arms and legs.
For the world record attempt on Wednesday, the goal was to build the 108-person formation within 45 seconds, hold it for 5 to 6 seconds and then have groups of 40 or more people break off to make more formations for a total of five and possibly six, said Duffy Fainer of San Diego, a sky diver who announced the record attempt. Judges will determine whether the record is broken.
The group breaks apart at 6,000 feet when one person opens a chute as a signal. Landing is just as choreographed as the formations because if all 108 sky divers pulled their ripcords at the same time, it would be disastrous with chutes tangling together.
“It’s like a body explosion. One group leaves (the formation) and opens their chutes at 2,500 feet, the next group leaves and opens at 3,500 feet,” said Jimbob Slocum, who was a part of the record attempt. “The most dangerous part is clearing enough air for all the chutes to open.”
This article was compiled from the following sources:
Aviation enthusiasts flock to Oshkosh for AirVenture
EAA AirVenture sky-dive team plans record mega-formation