by Scott Fiore
After holding a novice camp only one month ago, the enthusiasm of the new CReW Dogs was high. Also, the "Wild Humans" who had not done much in the way of large formations were eager to try some larger diamonds since their experience was mostly competition CReW. Three Cessnas were called in order to have the lift capacity for almost all participants in the way of formation loads. An excellent weather forecast only added to the potential success of the weekend.
Jumping on Friday was hindered because of aircraft difficulties. Unfortunately, I was on the aircraft at the time. Since one of the planes was coming from the Denver area, myself and two other participants decided to fly with the plane. Without going into too much detail, I can tell you that after an unexpected mountain landing, an aborted high-altitude take-off with a severe crosswind, a broken alternator belt and a ruptured fuel line (with a couple of runway lights taken-out) and of course that unknown part that fell out when we opened the cowling...we arrived at Rifle about 8:00 PM. We left the Denver area around noon on a flight that should have taken 1 - 2 hours. In short, I will never, NEVER, fly with a pilot that I do not know over the Rocky Mountains.
I was assisted by Rich Hall (who did most of the piloting), Tim Crawford from DQ92, Cass and Steve from Texas and Joel Zane from Rifle. A special thanks to Joel for all the support from the DZ and personal time and effort. Also, thanks to Flight Concepts for providing us with the much-needed Prodigy Demos.
The lecture went well. All camp participants had canopies and were packed-up and ready to go for Saturday morning. With a total of 15 attendees, we started off with three 5-way groups. After 2 - 3 jumps together as groups (and a little swapping around) our success lead us to believe we were ready to try some formation loads. We decided that a two plane formation (10-way) would be attempted. Rich would pilot the first 5-way and I would spot the second plane of 5. After discussion of the spot and heading on the ground, the first plane did well and deviated only slightly from the intended heading. As I was spotting the second plane, a large number of people were "informing" me that the formation was heading towards us. After a double-take, I noticed that the echelon (only two canopies) was facing us as well. Assuming that we were 180 degrees off heading, I called the exit immediately. After opening, I realized that the formation was indeed on the correct heading and that the echelon looked backwards because both canopies were dirty (behind the formation). With my help, 5 more dirty canopies were added to the "backwards" echelon. Only two from the second plane docked building to only 7. I learned a lot on this dive...but most of all I am reminded that "Only a fool looks to other fools for direction".
The second attempt (with Joel spotting) yielded 7 again. Echelons looked good, but we ran out of time. Bumpy air put us on hold for the rest of the day. Sunday started early with a successful 10-way (yes, I was spotting this one) even though Rich tried to confuse me with a 45 o change in heading. This was the biggest offset in Colorado although a 13-way vertical still stands as the largest formation. Two participants got their CCRs and two got their CCSs on the 10-way (this gives you an idea of the experience level).
One 3-plane attempt at a 15-way yielded only 8 because the second and third plane came across just below the formation. The 8-way was a definite box formation with a row 4 wing hung by a 100-jump wonder (thats total jumps). He was intended to be my lock-up at row 3 wing, but his slot was taken by the intended row 4 wing since the formation was building slow. I turned the first row 4 wing shot away since the formation wasnt close to a 9-way (the other row 3 wing wasnt even locked-up yet), but he made sure the second one was definite by gently placing an end cell over my head. It was a gentle dock and I did take a line grip before I turned him away again. An excellent dock on the row 4 wing by a new CReW Dog, but the formation was not built correctly to allow for it. Again, make sure the discreet diamond is built before the wings dock.
Some people needed to leave for flights or long drives home after the big-way attempt. A few of us continued with some 4-way drills while we had the Prodigys available. Aside from turbulent winds and low altitude (most jumps were made from 8,500 AGL) the weekend was a big success. Jumpers were treated to some very scenic rides to altitude at one of the most beautiful areas of the country. Several participants have since expressed an interest in traveling to more camps...and thats what its all about.
First of all, I have 130 jumps total, not the purported "100" by Scott Fiore. Secondly, just because the right side of the formation wasnt docking doesnt mean I cant dock on my side, right? I mean my slot was taken, so what else could I do but shoot the row 4 wing? I just couldnt understand why Scott was pointing feverishly, stomping on my canopy and turning away my dock? Whats wrong with that guy anyway? After being "debriefed" privately on the ground, and being informed that I almost single-handedly wrapped the entire formation, I finally understood what was "wrong" with Scott (correction, me). One of the Wild Humans informed me that if I killed him, his kids would grow-up and kick my ass. The lesson that I learned from this experience was to be sure to take in the "Big Picture" all the way through the dive. After my slot was taken by Joel, I just assumed I would take his. I didnt even really look at the rest of the formation, I was just zeroed in (make that tunnel visioned) on Scotts leg. No matter what, I was going to dock on that bad boy.
After that dive I sat out for the rest of the day. I figured asking to get on another load would have been like asking Mrs. Lincoln if she wanted to go to another play. Rich Hall (DQ bigwig) complained that our air was too "bumpy" for CReW in the afternoon. Having hardly done CReW anywhere else, I thought spontaneous collapses upon docking and on approach were normal. I was impressed with Richs turf-surfing ability. The last time I tried that, I had knee surgery afterwards. The plane rides to altitude were more scenic than usual, seeing as two of the Cessnas had no doors. The numb fingers and frozen toes were more offset by the incredibly scenic views western Colorado offers. If you were in the plane with the door, you got to "chase" the formation as it built. This sounded exciting to me at first, but the reality of flying around at 14,000 ft. (MSL) in a small plane for a half an hour soon diminished my fantasy. At one point, I saw pink fairies building their own formations, then I started asking for in-flight drinks. After everyone threatened to "exit" me prematurely, I shut-up. I will say this in Scotts defense, that hanging out at altitude for that long will cloud anyones judgement, and everyone in the plane was damn convinced that the formation was heading right at us. Im sure after Scott realized we were actually behind the formation, he was kicking himself for listening to a bunch of idiots like ourselves.
All in all, I think everyone learned a bunch from this camp. It would have been hard not to, with all the experience floating around and what not. The weather was awesome, sunny and not too hot. The dives were made at a good pace, and the organization overall was very impressive. We made some great dives, some not-so-great dives, and made some cool new friends. Everyone had a great time, and I cant wait to dock my next row 4 wing (with the discreet diamond built first, of course).