1976: Evolution of the RW Jumpsuit

Wikis > Skydiving > Equipment > Jumpsuits > 1976: Evolution of the RW Jumpsuit
by Pat Works

The Evolution of the RW Jumpsuit in 1976 ... Or, You are What You Fly

Today's relative work (1976) is reflected in the jumpsuits we wear. Precision RW has evolved through the development of the jumpsuit as a functional piece of flying equipment.

Today a belled, puff-sleeve jumpsuit with swoop cords and 12-inch underarm extensions is a MUST-HAVE piece of RW equipment.

Verne Williams and Howard Curtis 1st baton pass at ElsinoreIn the early 60's jumpsuits were nearly universally Sears & Roebuck white painter's coveralls. These coveralls were first cleaned up by cutting off the hammer loop and belt. Then, to improve their looks, the unsightly baggy material around the body and legs was tapered for a chic, tailored look. The purpose of these jumpsuits was to stop the wind of freefall from messing up your shirt, to keep your jeans clean, and to look cool, man.

Mark Langenfeld in Pioneer Jumpsuit and French Paraboots, circa 1971

Mark Langenfeld in Pioneer Jumpsuit and French Paraboots, circa 1971

In the mid 60's the tight-fitting Pioneer jumpsuits were popular. They looked nice and had nifty double zippers that allowed you to put on your jumpsuit AFTER you had already put your boots on! Revolutionary!

In the late 60's, the picture changed in Southern California when Ward-Venegas entered the scene with the weird philosophy that "A jumpsuit can never be too big for you ... and the bigger the better." These were definitely a relative worker's jumpsuit. However, few people were really into the esoterics of hot RW.

About 1970, at the very beginning of his jumping career, Joe Garcia, a master tailor and material-molder since childhood, started making his own jumpsuits to help correct his stability problems. As a pilot, Joe knew he needed more control surfaces. So he started in an obvious place and put flares, or bells, on the arms and legs.

3rd place Z-Hills 10 way speed _ from Parkman OhioAt the first USPA 10-man National Championships in 1972, less than half of the competitors wore bells, as I recall. Bird's team won, all wearing bells.

Record 40 penta-arrowheads, Yolo  10-19-80

The large wings and baggy legs are clearly evident in this photo of the 40 way record Penta-Arrowheads. Click picture for larger view.

In 1976, just about all relative workers were wearing bells. In 1974, the United States Freefall Exhibition Team popularized the concept of the fully functional "flying" RW jumpsuit - with extensions, swoop cords, and lots of bagginess. This idea was apparently developed by Seattle area jumpers.

It is now generally accepted that the jumpsuit is the single most important piece of equipment for relative work.

RW created a demand for a good jumpsuit. Good jumpsuits enable good relative workers to fly closer to their respective limits of perfection.


Once upon a time, not so long ago, there was a kid who was really poor. I mean, he didn't even have decent clothes to wear to school. But his folks did have a sewing machine. So this kid made his own shirt to wear to school.

He made Christmas presents for his relatives, too. And for his girlfriends, he made nice coats of fur and leather. Pretty soon, people were paying him to make the stuff.

At age 15, Joe Garcia made a basic business decision. He looked at what he was making,, compared it to the salary of graduates, and quit school to start his own business. His specialty was making anything of fabric.

He started out making leather accessories for motorcyclists. Later he became a pilot and bought an airplane. One of his shops was located near an airfield that also housed jumpers. A place called Elsinore, California. Lots of gliders and parachutists.

Joe got interested in jumping. He says. "I had a stability problem in my early jumps. As a private pilot, I knew I needed more control surface, so I made my own jumpsuit and put bells on the sleeves and legs. I had about 40 jumps. People laughed at my first jumpsuits. Then Jim Heydorn and Pete Gruber had me build jumpsuits for them. I did. And they worked."    Pat Works, RWu, June 1976

Dave "Pink" Floyd, Skydiving Photographer and skydiver, in a 'Balloon' suit, circa 1981.

Dave "Pink" Floyd, Skydiving Photographer and skydiver, in a 'Balloon' suit, circa 1981.