A Man of Great Character and Dedication—Al King, D-4240, Receives the USPA Lifetime Achievement Award
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A Man of Great Character and Dedication—Al King, D-4240, Receives the USPA Lifetime Achievement Award
USPA Staff
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A Man of Great Character and Dedication—Al King, D-4240, Receives the USPA Lifetime Achievement Award

Above: Al King (second from left) accepts his Lifetime Achievement Award from (from left) USPA President Chuck Akers, Vice President Sherry Butcher and Executive Director Albert Berchtold. Photo by Nikko Mamallo.

On February 23 in Orlando, Florida, friends, colleagues and family gathered to honor Al King, D-4240, as USPA presented him with its Lifetime Achievement Award. USPA presents this award to “an expert active or retired sport parachute jumper in recognition of outstanding sportsmanship, skill, or personal contribution to the sport of parachuting and the United States Parachute Association, its goals and purposes.” King is only the 35th recipient of this prestigious award since it was instituted in 1970.

USPA Vice President Sherry Butcher opened the ceremony honoring King, which followed the USPA General Membership Meeting, by warmly describing him as an “outstanding USPA member, great instructor and leader and dear friend” and then spoke of his many accomplishments, highlighting the myriad ways that he served the USPA membership and all skydivers. It’s safe to say that skydiving would not be what it is today without Al King’s influence and guidance over more than five decades.

 

An Illustrious Career

King made his first skydive in 1969 and soon after began competing in style and accuracy. He became an accomplished competitor and president of the Mid-Eastern Parachute Association, which organized a large competition circuit. His support for his fellow competitors took many forms, and in 1982, he served as team leader of the 1982 U.S. Style and Accuracy Team. He was also an avid 4-way formation skydiving competitor.

The contributions Al King made in the field of skydiving instruction cannot be overstated. King served as USPA Deputy Executive Director under Executive Director Bill Ottley from 1978-1985, and during this time he became a proponent of a new method of skydiving instruction: accelerated freefall. King was instrumental in educating the sport’s leaders about the method, which Ken Coleman developed. He brought the program—including the instructor-certification process—to fruition after Coleman’s untimely death in 1981. In October 1981, when Apollo 13 astronaut Michael Collins decided he wanted to skydive, Deputy Executive Director King and Director of Competition and Training Mike Johnson were the ones who took him (AFF, of course).

Al King (left) takes his father on an AFF skydive in the 1980s.

 

A clipping from the January 1982 Parachutist shows Al King (left, both photos) training and jumping with Apollo 13 astronaut Michael Collins.

King advanced skydiving instruction beyond AFF, too. He was one of the earliest tandem instructors, recognizing how it could open up the sport to a wide variety of students.  Over the years, he’s earned just about every rating possible, including USPA Static-Line, AFF, Tandem and Coach Examiner ratings. Hundreds, if not thousands, of skydivers went on to become instructors as a direct result of his educational efforts.

In 1985, King left the USPA staff but continued in the skydiving industry in jobs with International Management Group and Para-Flite. He was very active jumper, and along with instructing, he traveled the country doing high-profile demo jumps with with Arch Deal’s team. He was also on the landmark  200-way Fédération Aéronautique Internationale World Record for Largest Formation Skydive in 1992.

In 2013, King returned to USPA, this time on the board of directors. He served as USPA Northeast Regional Director until 2018, taking a particular interest in safety initiatives and airport access. From 2016-2018 he served on the Executive Committee as USPA Chairman of the Board. In 2019, King became a National Director and was re-elected to that position in 2022. While serving on the board, he spent time on the Finance & Budget, Group Membership and Safety & Training Committees. He resigned from the board at the close of its 2023 winter meeting.

 

Beth King Takes the Stage

As Butcher wound up her remarks and the applause died down, Al King’s wife, Beth, took the stage. Her heartfelt remarks about her husband started with this memory: “Our first kiss was in freefall, in 1976, a sunset load in New York, and I had no idea who he was at the time. Which goes to show you that you can kiss people you don’t know in freefall and it’s perfectly normal. And here we are 47 years later.”

She continued, “During those early years together we often ran what we referred to as Al King’s Home for Wayward Skydivers: When he worked at USPA, skydivers would just show up at headquarters and frequently had no place to stay, and Al would just bring them home. Larry Yahn, who was working for USPA at the time, spent six months living in our basement. Joe Svec, Bill Ottley and Larry Bagley were frequent dinner guests. Bill Booth camped out on our couch. Andy Keech was a familiar face. And for a few nights the entire Swedish Skydiving Team were sleeping all over the house, and I don’t even want to tell you the trouble they got Al into with the Park Police in Washington D.C.!”   

Decades later, skydivers still enjoy the hospitality of the Kings and greatly value their lifelong friendship. Beth mentioned that many old skydiving friends had visited them recently, reliving old times and enjoying camaraderie and laughter. A great many of King’s skydiving colleagues traveled from around the country to honor him at this event.

It is no mystery why Al King enjoys the loyalty and respect of his friends. Beth recounted how her husband was always devoted to the sport, to the point that he almost missed the birth of their daughter and did miss the birth of their son because he was at Nationals. Leaving would have left his 4-way team with only three members, Beth recalled. Smiling, she then said, “I have forgiven him.”

She concluded by saying, “The greatest thing I have learned from Al, and from all of you, is there is a great deal of love, of fun, of generosity and support in this great sky family. And it’s nearly impossible to express the profound gratitude we have for this recognition of his sincere devotion to the sport, and to his contributions. So we thank you for this honor.” There was not a dry eye in the house.

 

Five Decades of Service

As the crowd applauded and wiped away their tears, Butcher, USPA President Chuck Akers and Executive Director Albert Berchtold called the honoree up to the stage. Typical of his modesty, King chalked up his achievements to being “at the right place at the right time.” However, his Lifetime Achievement Award, an engraved silver cup, tells a different story: “For providing more than five decades of service to USPA, for his pioneering contributions to safety and training as a USPA Instructor and Examiner and for spearheading the adoption of the USPA AFF Training and Instructor Certification Programs while serving as USPA Deputy Executive Director from 1978-1985.”

You can watch the full presentation on the USPA Youtube channel.

 

King performs a demo skydive with the U.S. and POW/MIA flags.

 

King (center) dirt dives his retirement skydive at Skydive City Zephyrhills in Florida. Photo by Chris Stubbs.

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