Arizona X-FORCE on local newspaper cover

The Eloy Enterprise – words by Tanner Clinch, photo courtesy of Kevin Mitchell

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4-way VFS Team Arizona X-Force exits the Dentri (formation M of the IPC dive pool) over Skydive Arizona. 

 

As the clock struck noon on a recent Sunday, the four-man vertical formation skydiving team at Skydive Arizona was 10 minutes from taking off for its 12th jump of the day. As members walked over to the shuttle that would take them to the plane, they took the last few moments to practice their formations, rotating around each other and grabbing various arms and legs with machine-like precision

This is one of about 30 days that the team of Johnny Gunn, Niklas Daniel, Seth Studer, Brianne Thompson and their videographer, Kevin Mitchell, practice for their competitions.

“When you can get four people that are jiving on the same page with a really good video guy like we have, it’s impressive to get four people to do the things that we do in the same time, in the same space in the sky,” Gunn said.

They compete in what’s called four-man vertical formation skydiving (VFS), one of the many disciplines within the sport. It involves the four divers and videographer hopping out of the plane with roughly 35 seconds to pull off all their formations, all while at high speed facing head-first or feet-first toward the Earth. On the ground, the video will be reviewed by judges who base their scores on completion of the formations, precision and style. Different sizes of teams compete in different competitions, from two all the way up to 16-man teams.

Back at the drop-zone, the team finalizes how they will disembark from the plane in a mock-up exit before they are taken to the plane. A team colleague, Justin Price, explains that they will be taken to roughly 13,500 feet in the air before they drop.

As the team pops their canopies following their freefall, it takes members a few minutes before they come zooming into the drop zone from the west side. Despite the fact they are landing into a strong wind on this day, they slide on their feet across the grass for almost 20 feet before coming to a complete stop.

They grab their used parachutes loosely and run around the corner where they return with a freshly packed parachute, and before you know it they’re back on the shuttle for another jump. This round, there’s no time to practice their formations on the ground.

They are practicing for the U.S Parachuting Association Championship, which is slated to take place in Eloy at the Skydive Arizona drop zone in late October. Doing well at this event would qualify them for international events, competing for the U.S. at Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) events across the globe, something that has been a dream of Gunn’s for a while.

“My ultimate goal would be competing at the world meet in 4-VFS,” Gunn said of his favorite discipline of skydiving. “That in conjunction with competing for the U.S. in canopy piloting would definitely be the dream.”

Eloy is a special place when it comes to four-man vertical formation skydiving. The first official U.S. championship for it was held at Skydive Arizona in 2006, and the first ever FAI world cup for VFS was held there in 2008.

While he’s not training with his four-man team, Gunn is training in a different discipline of skydiving called canopy piloting. Just last week, he won best overall in his division at a USPA competition in Florida, and gold in the speed competition.

For Gunn, canopy piloting is a nice break from the team-oriented formation skydiving, something he can practice whenever he feels like it.

“I just love being up in the air, it’s quiet and it’s peaceful,” said Gunn. “It’s just me and my wing doing what I need to do to win.”

In canopy piloting, unlike the freefall disciplines in skydiving, scoring is done on the ground. In a typical meet, such as the one in Florida, there are three events, speed, distance and accuracy.

Speed is self explanatory. Skydivers will guide themselves through gates with their parachutes, and the fastest time wins, with divers sometimes reaching speeds of 90 miles per hour. Distance is measured by how far the divers can go using a technique called climbing in which they manipulate their canopy to give themselves some extra lift to go greater distances.

“Zone accuracy is what separates the men from the boys, for sure.” Gunn said. He placed sixth in accuracy during that particular meet. In this event, divers must drag their feet across four water gates before trying to land on a 3-by-3-foot landing pad, with varying degrees of success.

Competing at such a high level in both freefall and canopy piloting disciplines is uncommon, according to Price, who also competed in the competition in Florida. Unfortunately a botched landing in the event led Price to be on crutches for a few months.

“It’s pretty cool being able to participate in multiple disciplines to that extent,” said Price, who does the same. He shoots video for the belly-down formation skydiving team at Skydive Arizona.

For Gunn competing in skydiving is what he hopes to continue doing for a long time, and hopefully on the international stage following the event in October

“I’m going to keep competing and hopefully be fortunate enough to pay the bills with it because it beats an office job,” Gunn said. “There’s way worse ways to make your money.”

VectorCamps: Premier Skills Camps in the U.S.

Sign up here!

Building on the success of the famous Vector Festival event in Europe, UPT has spearheaded a group of manufacturers, coming together to deliver a skills camp experience like no other. The goal is to work with top coaches and provide camp participants with a safe and personalized way to further their skills. Number of slots available per each day is limited.  Coaches and organizers will come from teams like Fly4Life, SDC Core and AXIS Flight School, and focus on working with a small group of flyers. Participants will be entered into a raffle to win a custom Vector container at the end of the series, along with many smaller prizes during each camp.

The manufacturers and vendors behind the Vector Camps are Performance DesignsVigilVertical SuitsCookie HelmetsSquirrelAirborne America.

In conjunction with each VectorCamp, we at Blue Skies Mag will deliver tips, tricks and interview from select coaches on a variety of topics – especially for those of you that can’t make it to the camps in person!

The first VectorCamp is to be held at Chicagoland Skydiving Center (CSC) August 11-14, 2016, featuring a variety of events and disciplines:

⚬ 10 Way FS Challenge (AXIS Flight School vs. the Grillet family)
⚬ Intro to Canopy Flocking (Greg Rau)
⚬ Angle Leadership Group (Andy Locke)
⚬ Mixed FreeFly Sequentials (Naomi Kotzee)
⚬ Multi Dimensional Wingsuit Flight (Lawrence de Laubadere)
⚬ HeadUp Formations and Big Way Skills (Gareth Bloodworth)
⚬ Intro to FS and Group Belly Flying Skills
⚬ Intro to FreeFly
⚬ Intro to Angle Flying

For more information on the CSC event, please visit this post on the VectorCamps page.
To keep up to date with future camps, check out the VectorCamps Facebook page.

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Originally posted by Blue Skies Magazine May 12, 2016

Luke & Greg

Luke and Greg visited AXIS Flight School at the end of March 2016. The purpose of their visit was to be introduced to 2-way MFS (mixed formation skydiving) in a formally coached setting. During their week and a half long stay, the duo performed 28 training jumps and 10 hours of coached tunnel time, which allowed them to see every formation in the advanced dive pool. In addition Luke and Greg refined their individual, as well as formation flying skills.

Playing with Fire: Valkyrie Photoshoot with Brianne Thompson

Originally posted by Performance Designs on May 3rd, 2016

“For the one year anniversary of launching the Valkyrie, we wanted to create a continuation of the original Valkyrie Ad (see below) first released early last year. Sticking with the same theme, we aimed to showcase a strong female figure as the personification of the Valkyrie. Brianne Thompson of AXIS Flight School was chosen. As a strong, confident, talented woman in the sport, she was a natural choice for the ad.

The photo was shot at Skydive Arizona with the help of Nik Daniel (AXIS Flight School), Steve Curtis (Arizona Arsenal), and photographer Justin Carmody. In case you were wondering, the fire is 100% real and no Valkyrie canopies were harmed in the making. We only had three chances to get the winning shot due to weather and lighting conditions, but after some rainy days, tense moments, and hot swoops (literally!), we finally captured the perfect shot seen here.”

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