Bill Jones | D-924
By Brian Giboney
Bill Jones, D-924, is a legendary skydiver, instructor, drop zone owner, innovator and the patriarch of a large skydiving family. Nearly the entire Jones family jumps: six of his children have made their livings from skydiving, and five of the six still do. At age 86—after actively sport jumping for more than 50 years—Jones still has skydiving goals, proving that this is a sport for life.
Birthplace: Bicknell, Utah
Marital Status: Married
Education: Fifth grade
Life Philosophy: Make it happen! Don't be a follower. Be a leader.
Jump Philosophy: Throughout all of my years as an instructor and DZO, I have tried to impart my jump philosophy to all my students: “Don’t die on a skydive. It gives skydiving a bad reputation.” I got the reputation as a hard ass, but throughout the years, I have had many former students call me up to thank me for saving their lives.
Container: Rigging Innovations Curv
Main Canopy: Aerodyne Research Pilot 230
Reserve Canopy: Performance Designs PDR 193
AAD: Airtec CYPRES 2
Year of First Jump: First sport jump was in 1962. I made military jumps before that.
Licenses and Ratings: B-1567, D-924, retired USPA Tandem, AFF and Static-Line Instructor Examiner; FAA Master Rigger and Commercial Multi-Engine Pilot; national judge; HALO instructor for Army Special Forces
Championships and Records: Set a record for dead centers at Nationals in 1971; led 1972 U.S. Team to first place at CISM (military world championships); numerous Parachutists Over Phorty Society, Skydivers Over Sixty, Jumpers Over Seventy and Jumpers Over Eighty records.
Total Number of Jumps: 16,000-plus
Tandems: 6,500-plus Accuracy: 4,000-plus
FS: 3,000-plus Demos: 2,000 HALO/HAHO: 150-plus CF: 30 Camera: About 100. Using a handheld camera, I shot a training video for the Air Force Academy. Freefly: About 10. I was kicked off a DZ in 1977 for freeflying, so stopped.
Balloon: Six BASE: Two
Largest Completed Formation: 84-way
Total Number of Cutaways: Three sport jumping and 10 test jumping
What was your canopy progression?
28-foot single-blank gore, 28-foot double-blank gore, 28-foot LL, 28-foot seven-gore TU. Then, the fourth Para-Commander ever made (with long lines, which I short-lined after 10 jumps) and a Delta 2 Parawing. In 1966, I designed and built a piggyback rig (I had not seen a piggyback rig at that time) into which I put a square parachute, which I had designed and built. (I had never seen a square parachute either.) I built custom harness-and-container systems but did not want to go into canopy manufacturing, so I jumped Para-Commanders and then several varieties of the early ram-air canopies in them. I then moved into zero-porosity canopies. The smallest canopy I have ever jumped was a Performance Designs Velocity 111 (at age 75).
Of all your skydives, does one stand out?
In the early ’90s, when I owned Air Adventures West in Taft, [California], we made a family jump that included myself, my six children, their mother and one grandson.
Who have been your skydiving mentors?
Loren Hollingsworth and Jim Garvey. We were part of that early group that was inventing and making things up as we went along.
What are your future skydiving goals?
Pat Moorehead and I want to do a baton pass at the age of 90. We decided a couple of years ago that we better do it when we were both 85, as neither of us knew what the future held, and it coincided with the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the first baton pass. I still hope to do a baton pass with Pat at age 90.
What safety item do you think is most neglected?
Gear checks and equipment inspection.
How did you become interested in skydiving?
In 1962, I was in the 10th Special Forces stationed in Germany. I was instructing military static-line jumpers. I saw some skydivers landing in front of my house. They were part of a military sport freefall club. It looked interesting, so I joined them. I made a couple of static-line jumps, then did some short delays, and in about 10 jumps, I was exiting from full altitude. I began teaching first-jump courses when I had 16 jumps. Hey, I was the third most experienced skydiver on the DZ, and the chief instructor couldn’t spot! After about two months of freefall jumps, a few of the club members and myself started teaching military freefall jumps and started HALO training in Germany. A few months after that, I was sent to Fort Bragg and became a HALO instructor in the second HALO course ever taught.
I skydive because ...
The biggest focus has been the training of students in military, civilian and foreign-national programs, which I did for 43 years without a student fatality. I could have chosen instruction or competition, and I went for instruction.
Do you have any suggestions for students?
Don’t get complacent and don’t get in over your head, especially with canopies. My landing philosophy is “a long walk is better than a short ambulance ride.” Don’t get focused on making it to the grass or to the prime landing area. Focus on landing safe.
What has been your most embarrassing moment at a drop zone?
Losing my pilot chute handle in freefall and landing my unmodified round reserve on top of a building in front of everybody at a skydiving competition.
What has been your best skydiving moment?
Jumping through the bomb-bay doors of a B-17 over the skydiving center I owned in Alaska, flown by Dale Falk whom I had trained to fly skydivers at my DZ. I had jumped bomb-bay doors before, but this one was special.
What motivates you to jump after 55-plus years?
To continue in a sport that I have been deeply involved in for so long. From owning my first drop zone in 1964 until my retirement from business in 2007, even when I was on active military duty, I have established drop zones, developed training methods, modified and invented parachute equipment and trained students no matter where in the world I have been sent or where I have taken myself.
What’s the best thing about skydiving in six
Watching the changes in the sport and in the equipment. Skydiving has never become stagnant; it is always changing, evolving and growing as skydivers strive to challenge themselves
How did you become interested in tandem skydiving?
I had numerous conversations with Ted Strong while he was developing his tandem system. Tandems were an obvious way to introduce people to freefall, and I saw that tandems could imminently be used as a means of teaching people to skydive. It was in one of our conversations that I presented the idea of a drogue. In the early days, tandems did a 5-second delay and then the main parachute was deployed. By lengthening the freefall time, tandems could become a freefall training device.
Explain Bill Jones in five words or fewer:
Teacher, innovator, explorer, doer.
Most people don't know this about me:
I really hate doing things like this, but my wife made me.