May 25-28, past and current members of 4-way formation skydiving team Arizona Airspeed organized the Arizona Challenge, an event at which participants attempt complex and unusual large-formation skydives. The nearly 80 participants gathered at 8 a.m. Friday morning for a briefing and then split into four groups for two days of 16- to 20-ways. On day three, the groups combined into two groups of 40 and handily completed the three planned dives. Partway through the day, the coaches needed to come up with more jumps and tacked on a second point to challenge the participants. During the meeting at the end of day three, the coaches revealed the next day’s formation and the big challenge of the event. Not surprisingly, it was similar to one of the 40-ways.
On day four, the big day, 78 people anxiously awaited their slot assignments for the formation, which resembled the Airspeed logo. Once organizers revealed the plan, the participants began dirt diving. Since it was far too hot to lie down in the Arizona sun, the group took it to the hangar and laid it out on the packing mats. After what seemed like an eternity of dirt diving and tweaking all the positions, the group went on a call.
Excitement was high for attempt one as the four planes took off in formation with the Skyvan leading the pack. Everyone sat quietly as the planes climbed to 16,500 feet. When the door opened, 81 jumpers—78 participants and videographers David French, Craig O’Brien and David Wybenga—entered the sky. The formation built to 75 percent by the time the outer group broke off to deploy. The build improved to 90 percent complete on attempt two, even with an early breakoff due to a miscue.
Everyone felt like attempt three would be the success. Being Memorial Day, a trumpeter played “Taps” in the landing area before the jumpers boarded the planes. The jump felt good, and after landing, everyone asked the same questions, “Did we get it? Did your side make it in?” The team patiently awaited the verdict. Soon the coaches emerged and played the video, pausing the action as the last corner of the formation built. It was complete; 78 skydivers successfully built the Arizona Airspeed logo in the sky.
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