Profile - Travis Donley | D-27204
A lifetime member of USPA, Travis Donley, D-27204, is well known for his American flag jumps, including two over New York City to honor the victims of the 9/11 attacks. When not performing high-profile demonstration jumps with Team Fastrax, Donley skydives at Start Skydiving in Middletown, Ohio, where he works as a Tandem, Static-Line, IAD and AFF Instructor, Safety & Training Advisor and FAA Senior Rigger.
Marital Status: Married to the love of my life, Tristan Donley
Occupation: Program Manager/Engineer, ABC Group Fuel Systems
Education: BS in Electrical Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Container: United Parachute Technologies Micron
Main Canopy: Performance Designs Velocity 75
Reserve Canopy: Performance Designs Optimum 113
AAD: Airtec Speed CYPRES 2
Year of First Jump: I first became interested in skydiving when I saw my martial arts instructor set a Guinness World Record by breaking a board in freefall. I did a tandem a few years later, in 2002, and have been hooked ever since.
Total Number of Jumps: 2,700
Formation Skydiving: 500
Canopy Formation: 200
Total Number of Cutaways: Four (three tandem, one personal)
Of all of your skydives, is there one jump that stands out the most?
A sunset tandem with my father. It was his third tandem and his second one with me as the instructor. I remember how good it felt to share the experience with one of my biggest supporters.
Who have been your skydiving mentors?
I have had a few: John Hart (demonstrating), Kip Lohmiller (instructing) and Jimmy Tranter (canopy).
What are your future skydiving goals?
I hope to become an instructor examiner to make really good instructors who make really safe students who become really good instructors...
What safety item is most important or most often neglected?
Way too many instructors jump without helmets and set a bad example for new jumpers.
What's the most bad-ass thing you can do in the air?
In 2011, I set a Guinness World Record for breaking two 12 inch x 12 inch x 1 inch pine boards in freefall to help raise awareness for child safety.
If you could do a fantasy 2-way with anybody, whom would it be with and where would it take place?
I would like to take Leonardo da Vinci on a tandem so he could truly understand the brilliance of his own quotation, “For once you have tasted flight, you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.”
What do you consider your most significant life achievement?
Finding and marrying my beautiful wife, Tristan, and creating our beautiful daughter, Tess.
Can you describe the experience of jumping over New York City in 2008 to commemorate 9/11?
We jumped at the exact time that the second tower fell and flew seven flags, one for each year since the attack. I remember the gravity of the situation and the feeling on the plane. I had tears in my eyes the entire jump and remember looking down at the hole in the city, still there after seven years. As we got closer, we could hear the people starting to cheer and chant U-S-A. At football games, you can usually hear the crowd around 1,000 feet above ground level, but over New York City, you could hear the people erupt with patriotism well over 5,000 feet in the air. Since we flew across the river and landed in Liberty State Park, New Jersey, we had no idea if anyone even saw us. It wasn’t until days later, when someone tracked us down and wrote us a thank you email that we knew we were noticed. She wrote to tell us about her brother-in-law, who was trapped in Tower One when it fell, and that she felt the “flags were being sent from our lost loved ones above.” It was one of the proudest moments of my life to read her message and know we touched someone’s life so profoundly.
How does your flag rig work?
The largest flag in Team Fastrax’s arsenal is approximately 7,800 square feet. It weighs 293 pounds; 120 pounds of that is lead weight used to deploy the flag and keep it flying underneath you. Spotting is a critical skill to have. The cone of accuracy is narrow, and there typically aren’t very many outs that can accommodate such a large flag. Also, the weight suspended under the flag can pose a huge threat to people and property below. When exiting the aircraft, I more or less am rolled out of the door. Due to the weight, a Sigma Tandem system and 400-square-foot canopy are used. The openings tend to be a little sportier than normal, and the deployment of the flag gives you another good jolt when the weight reaches the end of the leading edge. There are two different handles in case of an emergency: One releases the flag (best used on landing after the weight is on the ground); the second releases the entire system and deploys a round canopy to lower the flag to the ground safely. It normally takes several people to pack the flag, although I have done it by myself in about 40 minutes. It takes a lot of commitment to jump the big flag and requires several jumps on smaller flags in progression.
Describe your 65th anniversary of D-Day jump into Normandy:
I had the great honor of accompanying Corporal Ralph Manley on a tandem skydive into Normandy, France, almost 65 years after D-Day. The jump was made on June 4, 2009, out of a historic C-17 aircraft that actually flew jumpers on D-Day. Ralph’s actual plane was hit with enemy fire, and he was one of only six jumpers to make it out before the plane went down. Once we left the aircraft, Ralph was shouting, “Yahoo,” before the parachute was even fully open. Two days later, Team Fastrax jumped into the darkness on the actual anniversary of D-Day. After we landed, Ralph emerged into the light illuminating the landing area shouting, “You did it,” and, “Congratulations.” He embraced each of us and in the wee hours of the morning recounted his actions 65 years prior. It was an honor to be there with him in that moment and to hear history retold first hand. It’s no wonder that his is considered the greatest generation to date.
What part of teaching and serving as an S&TA do you enjoy?
With every instructional rating I received, I was able to meet more people and share with them the exciting world of skydiving. My students know me as a tough instructor, but the ones that make it through usually thank me for it. Then I became an S&TA and was able to help make my drop zone a safer place. The only time I dislike my job is when I have to approach a know-it-all instructor who is doing something unsafe and should know better. Instructors set the example for new jumpers whether they want to or not and need to perform their jobs consistently and uphold strict standards. I have no tolerance for nonsense while on the job.