Back-Tracking—A Parachutist Anniversary Series
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Back-Tracking—A Parachutist Anniversary Series

Back-Tracking—A Parachutist Anniversary Series

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Whenever parachutists are drawn together after a day’s jumping, they tend to reminisce about absent friends and past glories. Surprisingly, it is not the good, well-executed jumps which are most easily recalled: rather it is the odd, silly mishap that comes to mind. If you land in the center of the target, it will be forgotten next week, but just you dare miss the airfield or land in a pond and it will be remembered for years to come. During these reminiscences, the jumpers unknowingly come close to answering the question about whether a particular type of person becomes a parachutist. Like straws before the wind, a thousand memories blow into the conversation and it may be that one can recognize a pattern in the character studies so presented.

All walks of life are represented: doctors, lawyers, teachers, students, lorry drivers, builders, bakers and servicemen; to name only a few. But amongst them one gains a picture of people who will live on bread and cheese for months, if need be, in order to buy a new canopy; who will hitchhike hundreds of miles to take part in a rally; or dash off in a moment’s notice to help some other kindred spirit in distress. The inquirer might decide that most parachutists are individualists, or even, occasionally, prima donnas.

And yet, the memories bandied back and forth are so diverse that one wonders how anyone can possibly conceive of a common link between the participants—apart from their interest in parachuting. Topics such as show jumping, stunts, contests, rivals, records and mishaps crop up, and in the process present a picture in which only one thing is really clear: that the majority of regular jumpers, in the best sense of the word, be described as characters.

Mike Reillyfrom his book “Alone in the Sky”, and reprinted in Parachutist, June 1964

“This shot is of Bill Booth and his passenger preparing to land on the North Pole as part of a joint expedition with the Russian military in 1991. The mission’s purpose was to prove that the tandem system, invented by Booth, could efficiently and safely operate under extreme temperatures in remote locations where non-skydiving specialized personnel (doctors, scientists and others) could be flown in as passengers in case of an emergency—a plane crash, for example. Previous expeditions had fallen short due to the lack of GPS technology available to confirm their position, so this was the first one to actually reach the North Pole by parachute.”

Norman Kent | D-8369
Jacksonville, Florida

Photo by Norman Kent.


Two happy jumpers chase the camera flyer out of the helicopter door.


The members of 4-way team Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich show fantastic camera awareness while competing at a National Championships in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Photo by Chip Maury.


Former USPA National Director Bill Ottley (right) and Doug Angel wish Parachutist readers a Merry Christmas from the skies above Applegarth, New Jersey, in 1966. Photo by Jeff Dixon.


Skydivers hurry to build a 36-way before the sun sets over Skydive Dallas in Whitewright, Texas, in 2002. Photo by Dennis Smithers.

December’s final edition of “Back-Tracking” wraps up our 75th Anniversary year. This feature was one great collaborative effort, and it was only possible because of the skydivers across the world who experienced our sport’s rich history through their many unique perspectives. The Parachutist staff would like to thank each one of you for sharing your photos, your memories and your love of skydiving with us.

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