For $30, at theSport Parachuting Center in Orange, Mass.—the Sorbonne of American sportparachuting—you can take a three-hour lesson, borrow equipment and make yourfirst jump. You can buy a parachute for $229.50, boots for $29.50 and a helmetfor $37. Also for sale at the center are such accessories as a wind-driftindicator, a striped baton to hand to another sky diver during free fall, acombination altimeter and stopwatch, a ladies' fancy-colored jump suit and aSky Diver flour bag filled with flour for "smoke jumps." The bag isattached to your leg and trails a smooth stream of "smoke" during freefall. It permits a kind of nonmechanical skywriting. You can also buy suchdoodads as a Sky Diver cigarette lighter, Sky Diver cuff links and a Sky Divermoney clip.
The center wasestablished at the Orange Municipal Airport in 1959 and parachuting has sincebecome very popular in Orange. Business executives, taxi drivers, ladybartenders, lawyers and college students have jumped. A tiny shop in the citydoes a booming business in transforming conventional parachutes into the kindused for sport parachuting.
Three miles fromthe center is the Inn at Orange, the country's first inn dedicated toparachutists—a kind of apr√®s-jump lodge. The chef and the hostess areparachutists. One of the inn's features is a Flaming Descent cocktail that isserved burning to customers (its ingredients are kept secret). Evenings,parachutist-guitarists or parachute rigger-guitarists sing a melancholy balladabout an ill-starred jumper whose chute failed to open. It is wildlyapplauded.
On weekends,traditionally, parachutists float down onto the lawn adjoining the inn, shuckoff their harnesses and stroll inside for a meal. A few days ago BrigadierGeneral Joseph Stilwell (son of Vinegar Joe Stilwell), Captain James Perry ofthe U.S. Army and Jacques André Istel jumped from 3,500 feet, landed, removedtheir chutes and entered the inn for lunch. It was a notable group insofar asAmerican sport parachuting is concerned. General Stilwell, 50 years old, iscommanding general of the 2nd Infantry Brigade, has made over 100 free-falljumps and organized the Fort Devens, Mass. Sports Diving Club. Captain Perry,former chief instructor of the 18th Airborne Corps Skydiving Group at FortBragg, N.C., is the captain (nonjumping) of the U.S. parachuting team. AndJacques Andre Istel is to sport parachuting in America what Goodman is toswing. Among other things, Istel was captain of the first American team toengage in international competition, in Moscow in 1956. He is the co-inventorof the Telsan Tern, this country's first steer-able parachute, and the TelsanHustler, America's most recently developed competition parachute. (Lewis B.Sanborn, the co-inventor, was captain of the 1958 American parachute team.)Istel is the founder of the Orange parachuting center—this country's first andbiggest—and a member of the four-man team that last year, to the surprise ofEuropeans, set two world records in precision jumping.
Istel considershis greatest achievement, however, to be his part in arranging to have thesixth world parachuting championship held in the U.S. It will take placebetween August 11 and September 3—in Orange, naturally—with 24 nations sendingover teams to compete. A men's team in international competition consists offive jumpers; a women's team consists of four jumpers. During the 24-daycompetition there will be jumps for style (ability to make quick, precise turnsand backward loops during a free fall of from 25 to 30 seconds for men and 20to 25 seconds for women) and jumps for accuracy (landing as close as possibleto the center of a cross-shaped target on the ground). There will be jumps from1,000, 1,500 and 2,000 meters (i.e., 3,280, 4,921 and 6,561 feet), jumps madeindividually and jumps made in groups. In group jumps team members leave theplane at two-to three-second intervals. Four team members take part in men'sgroup jumps and three take part in the women's. Competitors are graded on bothstyle and accuracy in a complex system of earning points. A country's score isbased on the results of five men's and women's group jumps, plus the top threemen's scores in individual events, plus the top two women's scores inindividual events. Electronic computers are used to figure all this out.
The nationaloverall and style champion is Sergeant Richard T. Fortenberry of Spring Lake,N.C. (see cover). James Arender of Tulsa, Okla. finished second to Fortenberryin the style event. In the previous world championship, held in Bulgaria twoyears ago, Fortenberry finished second in landing accuracy and overall, andArender won the style event. However, the Americans finished fourth overallbehind Russia, Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria. Because these countries dominatedsport for many years, Istel found himself laughed at in 1958 when he suggestedto the International Parachuting Commission of the Fédération AéronautiqueInternationale—the governing body of world parachuting—that the championshipsbe held in the U.S. in 1962. "They felt we were not competent to hold aninternational meet," he remarked recently at the inn. "They thought wewould never catch up. America had extremely little sport parachuting and nosport parachuting centers. They felt I wasn't serious." Istel showedofficials of the FAI that he was serious. He was appointed chairman of theMassachusetts Sport Parachuting Commission, and largely through his effortsCongress passed an act directing the State Department to invite nationsbelonging to the FAI to hold the 1962 championships in America. He also wasappointed president of the sixth world championship committee. Thethen-governor of Massachusetts, Foster Furcolo, and the Parachute Club ofAmerica supported the invitation. After it was accepted, Istel parachuted, withthe acceptance, onto the lawn of the state house in Boston and presented it tothe new governor, John A. Volpe. To finance the project, the largestaeronautical event ever held in America, Istel secured a loan of $125,000 fromthe Commonwealth of Massachusetts, borrowed cots from the Department of Defenseand raised $80,000 more on loans guaranteed by friends of American sportparachuting. He has also sunk $12,000 of his own money into the project.
Citizens ofOrange have been pitching in enthusiastically. A $2.5 million high school hasbeen turned over to Istel, and volunteer workers have been transforming it intoliving quarters for an estimated 350 foreign parachutists, alternates anddelegates. Welcome packages have been made up for the visitors.
Istel expects torecover the investment through admissions. For the convenience of spectators agigantic bowl 220 yards in diameter has been dug in the center of the airportso that spectators lining the banks will be able to see the parachutists landnear the target. (In previous competitions the audience has been able to seevery little of the actual landing.) During the 24-day competition Istel expectsabout 200,000 customers.
This will also bethe first time landings will be made in an area completely covered bysand—paradise for the chutist. It is a fortunate thing, too, since the style oflanding now favored in competition by jumpers is quite dangerous. Because thejumper's nearness to the center of the target is measured from the point wherehis closest foot hits, some parachutists—the Russians notably—land on theirsides or their spines in a swinging, twisting feet-first lunge at the target tomaneuver themselves a few feet closer. In self-defense, the Americans haveadopted a kind of gliding aerial baseball slide not quite so dangerous. Laymen,by contrast, are taught a very relaxed side fall, landing on the balls of thefeet and then letting other parts of the body hit.
For the past sixweeks the American team has been practicing slides, precision jumps, jumps forstyle, delayed openings and so on to be ready for the invading competition.They jump seven days a week—weather permitting—getting up at 5:30 a.m.,emplaning at about 7 for the day's first jump. After jumping, each jumper packshis or her own chute, a process that takes about half an hour. They averageabout four jumps a day. When the weather is bad, team members cavort on atrampoline and study French and Russian. "We're learning how to say 'thankyou' after the Russians congratulate us," Captain Perry remarked during alull in jumping at the airport. The Americans are extremely confident. "Inthe Seven gore TU," said Captain Perry, "we have the world's best sportparachute." (In the Seven gore chute two gores, or panels, of the canopyare removed to facilitate steering by the parachutist.) "Except for theHustler, it's the world's only parachute that can go backwards," CaptainPerry continued. "From 10 miles an hour forward speed, you can revert tofour miles an hour backwards." Sergeant Loy Brydon, another team member,said that the Russian chutes, which are made of silk instead of nylon, areharder to maneuver than the American.
The only majoraccident during the team's training period at Orange happened to SergeantFortenberry in the middle of July. In practicing an accuracy jump he tumbledforward on landing, and to break his fall put out his right arm. His rightcollarbone, weakened by a break suffered years ago in a motor scooter accident,broke a second time. Wearing a cast strapped on with adhesive tape, he resumedjumping several days ago. "I learned a lot by watching," Fortenberrysays cheerily about his enforced layoff.
At the Inn atOrange a few evenings ago, members of the men's and women's teams were sittingaround relaxing. Arender was discussing Rimbaud's philosophy with Mrs. CarlynOlson, Mrs. Muriel Simbro and Mrs. Gladys Inman of the women's team. At othertables parachutists, riggers and parachute enthusiasts were talking parachutetalk and practicing languages on each other. Sergeant Fortenberry, who is aparachute rigger in the army when not jumping, came in, took some joshing abouthis collarbone and sat down.
"Parachutistshave a terrific sense of humor," he said. "One game we play is calleddead ants. The antmaster—the fellow who lost the last game—calls out "Deadants!' and the last one to lie down on the floor on his back with his hands andfeet up has to pay for the beers. Listen to this." Then an employee of thecenter—which uses Telsan Tern and Telsan Hustler parachutesexclusively—unleashed his guitar and began singing a calypso number comparingthose chutes with the Seven gore TU.
"The TU he isnot so great,
You turn him and he oscillate."
The stanzas got abig hand from the parachutists. The singer turned his attention toFortenberry's misadventure while using the Seven gore TU.
"Turndownwind to bring me home,
She throw me on my collarbone."
The parachutistslaughed, Fortenberry as easily as the rest. The guitar was borrowed by atalented rigger and the saga of the parachutist whose chute failed to open wasrecounted. The room lighted up as a pair of Flaming Descent cocktails wasushered in for parachuting admirers. One got the idea that the mission ofJacques André Istel—to encourage more and more Americans to achieve exaltationby tumbling out of airplanes—was nearing completion.