As the sun peaked over the horizon the morning of March 17, a group of people stood on the ground in the formation they were about to build 15,000 feet above them. As everyone put on their jumpsuits and made the last checks of their gear, there was a solemn silence. The skydivers boarded the aircraft deep in concentration preparing every move and every scenario they may face in the air.
On March 17, two members from the Georgia Tech Sports Parachute Club joined 64 other thrill-seekers from across the country to break a record for most people in a skydiving formation.
Everyone gathered in a cotton field next to an old airport in Fitzgerald, Ga., to plan out the new Georgia Skydiving Record for the largest formation in free-fall: a 66-person formation.
The Sports Parachute Club formed in 1968 when the sport was still fairly new. As a new group in a budding sport, they were instrumental to testing and designing the standard safety equipment used today. Word spread, and soon there was a large group enjoying the adrenaline shock of jumping out of an airplane.
Since then, over 100 Tech students, faculty and alumni have jumped each year with a cumulative number of jumps soaring over 1000.
In the last few years, some members have won medals in Sport Accuracy, Two-Way Formation and Two-Way Vertical Formation skydiving.
Greg Lennartz, Georgia Tech Sports Parachute Club President and a fourth-year ISyE major with over 400 skydives under his belt, and Nathan Briggs, the Vice President and a fourth-year PHYS major who has 700 skydives to his name, trained for two years just to qualify for this year’s record attempt.
Only accepting 66 people for the dive, the competition included a diverse group of world champions, world record holders and Tech students.
Lennartz was on the attempt last year, but after eight skydives the group could not make the formation work, and the attempt failed.
Briggs, however, was brought in from the back up team when multiple members of the original team backed out at the last minute.
“I sat by the door and watched as three planes took off one after another and flew in formation to altitude,” Lennartz said. “The pilot flicks on the red light, and I opened the door looking out to make sure we are in the right spot and there are no planes below. I watched anxiously for the green light and the wave which signals the climb out. The green light hits, and I was the first to climb out and hang out to the outside of the plane as it cruised 100 mph only a few feet away from two other planes doing the same.”
The serenity and smoothness of the skydive give the overwhelming feeling of success for breaking a record that stood unchallenged for 14 years.
The skydivers fell through the break off altitude. They flew to an open space away from everyone else, and to the spectators on the ground, the parachute openings sounds like fireworks.
A monsoon of people rained onto the field, and as the new record holders come in to land they high-five each other on their recent success.
Briggs and Lennartz have a busy year ahead training new club members for competitions.
They recently won a gold medal with the other club members Wallis and Hall at the National Skydiving League Championships.
The team also won a silver medal at the National Collegiate Sport Parachute Championships.