The Big Upside Down
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Wednesday, June 19, 2024
The Big Upside Down

The Big Upside Down

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Photo by Norman Kent.

“We didn’t get it”.

Those were the words spoken to eager onlookers who’d come out to cheer on the 170 skydivers on the last day of the last jump of the Vertical World Record Attempts at Skydive Chicago in Ottawa, Illinois. From August 22-26, more than 250 participants (including a roughly 50-person bench) attempted to set the world record for largest head-down formation skydive. Ten pilots and 30 drop zone staff members aided the team as it strived to achieve a 200-way formation.

Thirteen times, the 10-plane formation (three Skyvans and seven Twin Otters) flew to altitudes between 19,000 and 21,000 feet AGL and tried for the elusive 200-skydiver formation. On the fourth day, the organizers whittled the group down. The final five attempts with 170 flyers using nine aircraft unfortunately did not set a new record, which remains the 164-way set in 2015. Though it was a disappointing result, event host, lead organizer and DZO Rook Nelson kept spirits up with his infectious enthusiasm for the record and passion for vertical big-way flying. Throughout the week, each jump still finished with skydivers smiling and high-fiving each other.

This year’s event was a follow-up to the 2018 record attempts, which were unsuccessful largely due to weather. This year, the vertical flyers confronted the more advanced challenges of formation engineering and flying technique. “We’re not even close to reaching the limits of how big a formation we can build,” Nelson said after the event, adding that the community is still in an “initial exploratory phase” of vertical formation engineering. 

Photo by Norman Kent.

This event, while not achieving its main goal, still brought people from all over the world together to jump. Skydivers came from six continents and at least 34 countries for over five days in order to participate in something unique and challenging.

“Remember, these skydives are supposed to be fun,” said Nelson during his last dirt dive with the team. “We got into this sport and discipline because it was a fun challenge.”

He’s right. The immense challenge inherent to this type of jump will continue to drive these vertical flyers to be better. And the memories and friendships the skydivers make at events like these will continue to inspire them to set a new record. It’s just a matter of when.

About the Author

Ryan Sass, D-31681, calls Skydive California his home drop zone. Over his 155 consecutive months of skydiving, he’s been on nine vertical world records and has an A-license (25 jumps) in 200-way vertical skydives.






Photo by Jason Peters.


Photo by Jason Peters.


Photo by Norman Kent.


Photo by Gustavo Cabana.

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