USPA Mourns Skydive and President George H.W. Bush
By Christopher Needles
Skydiving has had many great moments, but none surpass the first skydive by President George H.W. Bush. Now it is with great sadness that the skydiving community bids farewell to one of its own. President Bush was 94 years old.
While his skydiving career began in 1997 at the age of 72, his first parachute jump was a bailout from his Grumman TBM Avenger torpedo bomber off the Japanese-held island of Chichi Jima in 1944. Sadly, his two crewmen did not survive, and even then Navy Lieutenant Bush barely got out, bumping his head hard in the process. Fortunately for his family and his country, he landed safely in the water and was rescued from the approaching Japanese by a United States submarine. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross for valor.
Many years would go by as George Bush became a U.S. congressman, ambassador to the United Nations, envoy to China, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, vice-president of the United States and ultimately its commander in chief from 1989-1993. But little did anyone know that he carried with him a desire to make a skydive, if for no other reason than to come to closure with his World War II experience.
When, as a keynote speaker for the Parachute Industry Association in 1997, he was presented with a Switlik parachute system similar to the one he used over the waters of Chichi Jima, the flame was rekindled. On March 25 of that year, he jumped again, this time an accelerated freefall jump over the U.S. Army’s Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona. The operation was planned and organized by then-USPA Executive Director Chris Needels, with the support of the Parachute Industry Association and several of their member manufacturers who provided all the necessary parachute equipment. His AFF instructors were then-USPA Director of Safety and Training Glenn Bangs (main side) and Army Golden Knight Andy Serrano (reserve side). The landing under his ram-air canopy was seen in color around the world and appeared on page one of almost every U.S. newspaper. As part of the celebration that USPA and PIA organized following the jump, USPA awarded President Bush with honorary expert license D-20000.
President Bush would go on to make another AFF jump and several more tandems, to include his last in 2014 on his 90th birthday. And since all of his jumps were made with the support of the Army’s Golden Knights, past and present, their former commander in chief was awarded his military Airborne Jump Wings.
He was a man committed to family, friends and service of country. He was also one of us—a skydiver. Blue skies, Mr. President.
About the Author
Executive Director Emeritus Christopher J. Needels served as USPA Executive Director from 1994 to 2007. Prior to that, he capped off 28 years of service in the U.S. Army with a stint on President George H.W. Bush’s National Security Council. Needels conceived, planned and conducted the industry-supported Operation Second Look, President Bush’s second parachute jump and first skydive.