Inventing, Building and Designing Solutions — Bill Jones Receives the USPA Gold Medal for Meritorious Service

October 8 at Skydive Arizona in Eloy, USPA President Jay Stokes presented Bill Jones, D-924, the USPA Gold Medal for Meritorious Service. The crowd of longtime friends and associates included eight of his children (out of 11) and one grandchild (out of 21).

Bill Jones made his first freefall in 1950 as a part of a government program. The jumpers made five tumbling dives out of a small-door Beech 18 aircraft and after seeing just a blur of earth and sky coined the phrase “brown, blue, brown, pull” for timing the deployment. Jones next jumped in 1957, when he made military static-line jumps. In 1962, he began sport parachuting. When he had only eight sport jumps, he began teaching the first-jump course, and at 12 jumps he began jumpmastering (supervising students on their jumps). He eventually became a USPA Tandem, Static-Line and AFF Instructor Examiner. In the military and at the numerous civilian drop zones that he founded, Jones supervised the training of more than 100,000 students over nearly five decades and never had a student fatality. He has jumped continually for 59 years and accumulated more than 16,000 skydives.

Jones’ forte is identifying a problem and then inventing, building or designing the solution. He created training methods that enhance students’ learning experiences and increase the safety and success of their skydives. Jones used tandem- and static-line-progression training methods long before they were part of USPA’s Integrated Student Program, because he saw how they increased the efficacy of student training and retention. Jones freely shared these innovations. He was one of the first instructors to provide his students with square main parachutes and to use radios to guide them in for landing. Jones was the first drop zone owner to put square reserves in his student gear after he surveyed several hundred students and found that they would accept serious injuries under malfunctioning square main canopies rather than use their unfamiliar round reserves.

In 1963, while in the military, Jones served in the second group of HALO (high altitude, low opening) instructors. During that time, he designed an equipment bundle that jumpers could fly out of the airplane using a method similar to the one instructors today use to fly with AFF students. While on the HALO committee, he trained the first group of Navy SEALs and the first group of British SAS (Special Air Service) to be HALO qualified. While serving in the military in Europe, Jones was director of the European Parachute League (a sub-conference of USPA’s conference groups) from 1969 to 1974.

From 1975 to 1982, Jones was the superintendent of the airmanship division at the Air Force Academy. Jones created and designed the facilities and devised the training programs and methods for the division, all of which the academy still uses today. He designed the piggyback parachute system that the academy adopted and devised deployment devices that reduced opening shock at higher altitudes. (The academy’s field elevation is 6,500 feet.) At the academy, the parachute club that trained 50 to 60 students per year became a military program that turned out more than 600 students per year. Jones was instrumental in getting cadets qualified for military jump wings, which occurred for the first time after he took over the program. The Academy Cadet Parachute Team won the National Collegiate Parachuting Championships each year that he coached it, and it is still the most popular program at the Air Force Academy. Jones also spent many years in the military teaching foreign military personnel insertion and interdiction techniques using HALO and HAHO (high-altitude, high opening) jumps.

Jones became a Federal Aviation Administration Master Parachute Rigger in 1966 and developed changes in equipment that led to increased safety. That year, Jones developed a system that allowed him to perform a “streamered cutaway” (using a tertiary canopy) during demonstration jumps. He also independently conceived of, designed, built and jumped several parachute components: a diaper that softened round-reserve openings (which he shared with many manufacturers), a piggyback container and a square main canopy for the piggyback container. Jones was an FAA Designated Parachute Rigger Examiner from 1976 to 1983.

In 1984, Jones became one of the first tandem instructors certified in the U.S. He also used his rigging skills to improve tandem skydiving. Jones shared the idea of putting a drogue on a tandem with Ted Strong, one of the developers of tandem skydiving. He also invented the split kill-line for the tandem drogue and the Y modification for the tandem harness.

Jones has an innate sense of how to take care of machinery. As an A&P (airframe and powerplant) mechanic and commercial multi-engine pilot, he developed and freely shared his aircraft operating procedures with DZOs around the world.

Jones was a style and accuracy champion who set a record for dead centers at the 1971 USPA Nationals. He is also a national judge. He holds formation skydiving world, national and state records. Jones was base captain for the current Skydivers Over Sixty World Record (a 60-way) and was on the current Jumpers Over Eighty Society World Record (a 6-way). He is still actively pursuing SOS, JOS (Jumpers Over Seventy) and JOES formation skydiving records.

Most importantly, Bill Jones is the patriarch of the Jones family. This family contains six FAA Master Parachute Riggers and two FAA Senior Parachute Riggers, 16 USPA Instructors in several disciplines and four pilots. Members of the Jones family hold numerous skydiving records. Three of his kids have run successful drop zones, and six of his kids along with three of their spouses still work in the skydiving industry.

During the nearly six decades that Jones has been skydiving, he has mentored and trained countless instructors, parachute riggers, pilots and mechanics. He challenged all who came into contact with him to pass on to others how to keep skydiving as safe as possible. Over the years, dozens of people have told Bill Jones that his influence changed their lives and, in some cases, saved their lives.

Carol Jones | D-17918 | Alpine, Wyoming

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