A Chronology of the History of Relative Work

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By Pat Works

A Chronology of the History of Relative Work

hist of RW

By Uwe Beckmann, Sportsprinter, 1975.

Our close friend and skymate, Uwe translated my Art of Freefall RW into German, worked with me on my European RW camps, and was a leader in moving RW into the future. Uwe died way too soon. We lost a friend and RW lover. World parachuting lost more.

The first parachute jump in history was on October 22, 1797 in Paris; the first freefall jump on April 28, 1919 at McCook Field, Ohio; the first world championships in August, 1951 in Bled; the first style program on a World Parachute Cup meet in August, 1958 in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia.

The first relative jump in history happened when...?  I don’t know exactly.  It is sure that on July 16, 1958, RW - in the form of a baton pass - made its U.S. debut, when Charlie Hillard and Steve Snyder accomplished the feat over Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

I can’t say if there wasn’t a previous hook-up or a baton pass in another country, especially an eastern one.  It is certain that stars began in the early sixties, most of the RW pioneers jumping at the Arvin DZ at that time.  Pretty soon Southern California star-builders were getting it together.  In the fall of 1964 the first six-man star was made, filmed by Bob Buquor.  “Wild Willie” Newell (now administrator of the SCR/SCS program) was in it.  The first 8-man followed in October 1965 at Taft, California.  It was formed by the “Arvin Good Guys” and filmed by Buquor.

Eight Became Ten.  Although star-building and the SCR program (SCR = Star Crest Recipient, created in 1967 by Bill Newell) initially focused on 8-man formations, this gradually changed to ten people as a basic unit - for the simple reason that the almost-always available Beech D-18’s carried ten people legally, with one or two more often able to squeeze in.

The first 10-man formation in skydiving history was achieved July 2, 1967 at Taft, north of Los Angeles, filmed by Luis Melendez and organized by Jerry Bird.  The jumpers were Gary Young, John Rinard, Clark Fischer, Jim Dann, Jerry Bird, Bill Stage, Terry Ward, Bill Newell, Brian Williams and Paul Gorman (87 jumps!).  Within three weeks another group, based south of Los Angeles at Elsinore, put together a second 10-man.

November 5, 1967 marked another significant day in the history of RW. The first USPA-sanctioned RW-competition was held at Taft.  Skratch Garrison wrote the rules, assisted by Garth Taggart, Jerry Bird, , Bob Allen (Taft cameraman) and Carl Boenish (Elsinore cameraman), This set of rules lasted until 1971 when they were modified and finalized by Skratch Garrison.  The Taft team won the competition with two 10-man stars in 45 and 50 seconds.  Elsinore bombed the 4-man base on their second jump and ended with 12 points.

Late in 1969 and early in 1970, the focus for relative workers switched to Elsinore.  There were lots of people, the right aircraft - and enough of them - and they had an enormous dry lake bed to compensate for bad spots.  Here’s where Carl Boenish filmed the first of the great RW movies, Sky Capers, and later began Masters of the Sky.

RW on a WPC.  In 1968 USPA sanctioned a 10-man team (the Arvin Good Guys) to go to the IXth World Championships in Graz, Austria, and display large-star RW to the world.  Because of organizational and financial problems the team was unable to attend.

But finally at the conclusion of the Xth World Meet in Bled, the world knew what the U.S. jumpers meant when saying Relative Work.  It resulted from the energies of Southern Californian Ted Webster, who hosted the first and only “Webster Sweepstakes,” offering as first prize a trip to Bled.  Jerry Bird and his team won the competition and put on a demonstration at the WPC that was not to be surpassed until the XIth World Parachute Championships in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.  “We talked RW, showed RW movies, especially Boenish’s Masters of the Sky, which had never been shown publicly until then,” said Jerry Bird.  “We did stars and snowflakes.  Jumpers from all over the world saw RW done for the first time.”

Some Firsts.  Before that demonstration some big firsts had already been done.  The first 12-man was built high over Taft by Jerry Bird’s team early in 1968, the first 16-man in April 1969 and the first 18-man on December 7, 1969 by the Jerry Bird “All Stars” and the “Arvin Good Guys.”

The first 8-girl star (it was exceptionally not organized by J.B.) was built at the end of July, 1969 at Elsinore.  The girls taking part were: Jean Schultz (88), Laura MacKenzie (651), Ann Gardiner (440, now wife of Curt Curtis), Diane Bird (174, now Diane Kelly), Luena Garrison (279), Linda Padgett (525), Patty Croceito (395) and Sheila Scott (197, now wife of Ned Luker).

Some weeks before the WPC at Bled the “Golden Twenties” began, A 20-man star was formed over Elsinore in August, 1970, and held for seven seconds.  A second jump was made with the same group and a momentary 21-man star was formed but held only 1.1 seconds.

The first 24-man was achieved in Perris Valley in January, 1972 and reproduced on many wall posters.  At the end of the XIth WPC (accuracy and style) at Tahlequah, Oklahoma, in August 1972, this series was momentarily crowned by the 26-person star (25 men and one woman).  Most of those big stars have been “Jerry Bird Productions.”

When Jerry Bird participated in the 2nd RW-World Cup in Pretoria, South Africa, August 1974, he pushed the official FAI-record mark of a 10-man speed star from 16.7 seconds (achieved by Russian jumpers on March 15, 1974) down to a sensational 12.76 seconds.  Captain Hook’s Sky Pirates, the All Stars and other jumpers put together a 28-man FAI world record star in Ontario, California on August 25th.  On July 14, 1975, 32 parachutists formed a star and held it longer than 5 seconds over Tahlequah, Oklahoma.

On November 30, 1974, at Casa Grande, Arizona, a 16-woman world record star was built.

The fastest 10-woman star was built in 34.2 seconds over Issaquah, Washington, on August 3, 1975.

In 1975, the largest star in Europe was achieved by 28 French jumpers at the Paris Air Show.

Competition Scene.  RW as part of national championships quite naturally started in the USA.  It began in 1970 with the 4-man event; the 10-man event followed in 1972.  Many RW competitions have been run since then, including the world’s largest parachute meet ever held at Zephyrhills, Florida.  The first annual 10-man star meet at Z-Hills was an ambitious undertaking over Thanksgiving Weekend in 1969.  A total of five 10-man teams showed up; in 1974, 520 jumpers had registered to compete on 52 teams.

After the big RW show by the United States Freefall Exhibition Team in Bled, the rest of the world awoke in the early seventies though there had already been a few RW jumps done before.  The Russians, for example, showed a film in Bled with some RW - a caterpillar.

In Australia and New Zealand RW started even earlier.  The first international RW meet took place in January, 1972 at Masterton, New Zealand.

Seven teams from the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand participated.  The meet was won by the “Flying Farkle Family” (USA); their average time was 26.46 seconds for five jumps; their fastest star scored 23.2 seconds.

Australia, Canada, France, Great Britain, Germany, South Africa and the USA sent teams to the first FAI-recognized World Cup in RW at Fort Bragg, North Carolina in 1973.  The US teams won both events, France (2), Germany (3), Great Britain (4), Australia (5) and Canada (6) followed in the 10-man event.  Germany (2), South Africa (3), France (4), Canada (5) and Australia (6) followed in the 4-man event.  The average time of the 10-man winner, the “Columbine Turkey Farm” (USA), was 19.78 seconds; the fastest time was 17.3 seconds.  The fastest time of the winning “Greene County” team in the 4-man event was 5.6 seconds, their average 6.33 seconds.

At Easter, 1974, the first European 10-man competition was organized through German-Austrian cooperation at Innsbruck (Austria).  There were 10 teams from five countries. The “Icarius Group” of France won the meet, “Endrust Skydivers” (GB) placed second, the Scandinavian “Viking RW Team” third, and “Walter’s Vögel” (Germany) fourth.  “Icarius Group” averaged 27.9 seconds in three jumps.

The 2nd RW World Cup was hosted by South Africa in 1974.  The winner out of 12 participating nations was once again Jerry Bird, this time with his “Wings of Orange” in an average time of 18.77 seconds.  The world record of 12.76 seconds was set up before the competition started.  France placed second, Germany third.

The 4-man event was won by the “Rainbow Flyers.” They totalled 42.99 seconds in six jumps which means an average of 7.17 seconds:, their fastest formation was the diamond in 6.42 seconds.  France and South Africa followed in places two and three.

The “Wings of Orange” won the second European 10-man competition, held at La Ferte Gaucher (France) some days after the World Cup.  Five nations participated.

RW at the CIP.  At the 1969 CIP meeting (International Parachuting Committee) “Proposals for new tests to be included in the programmes of future World Championships” was a point on the agenda and was discussed during the meeting.  The US-delegate (Charles MacCrone) announced a new display with the method of marking.  The word Relative Work was used the first time at the CIP.  In 1971 the US-delegate (Norman Heaton; MacCrone was elected President in 1970) proposed to maintain in 1972 the same events as at Bled and to leave the discussion of the 1974 XIIth WPC programme for the next meeting.  At the same meeting he announced a detailed proposal about a new category of (RW) records at the next meeting.

In November 1971 a CIP working group, consisting of Franz Lorber (Austria) as Chairman, Marc Schneebeli (CH), Ivan Lisov (USSR) and Uwe Beckmann (Germany) submitted a proposal for parachuting records, providing baton relay jumps and star-jumps as record categories.  “We specially ask those countries which do have some experience with RW to complete the regulations concerning RW records,” the group wrote in its proposal.  There were no comments but at the meeting in February 1972, most of the delegates felt that the rules were incomplete.  So the principle on RW records was adopted and a new working group-consisting of Eilif Ness (Norway), Rod Murphy (South Africa), Bert Wijnands (Netherlands), Norman Heaton (USA) and Gregor Ivascenko (Yugoslavia) - was charged with the task of studying the technical application of these records.

During the same meeting a proposal of the Dutch delegate Wijnands was adopted to include a RW event as a fourth event in the 1974 World Parachute Cup.

In 1973 the above-mentioned working group proposed the actually existing record rules, which were adopted.  The originally adopted proposal to include a RW event as a fourth event to a “classic WPC” was modified in such a way that an extra WPC/RW consisting of two events (10-man event and 4-man event) would be organized between the “regular” WPC’S.  All delegates were in favor, with two abstentions - USSR and CSSR.

The rules for these events - largely based on the existing US rules -were adopted at the same meeting.  At this 1973 CIP meeting, Eilif Ness (Norway) was appointed permanent president of the international RW working group of the CIP.  France, the USA and Israel offered to host a first World Cup in RW the same year.  France was the successful bidder but withdrew its bid in April because of internal difficulties.  The First World Cup was offered to and accepted by the USA.

One year later, 1974, there was only one bid to host the 2nd World Cup.  It came from South Africa.  There were no objections.  But there were two bids to host the 1st World Parachuting Championships/RW, one from the USA and one from the Federal Republic of Germany.  Germany won it.  The rules were adopted in 1975.

Uwe Beckmann, Sportsprinter, 1975.