IRENA AVBELJ (Slovenia) began jumping in 1986 and became a member of the former Yugoslavian National Parachuting Team in 1988.  After Slovenian independency in 1991, she became a member of the Slovenian National Team. She joined the Slovenian Army in 1992 and became commander of the Parachute Training Unit until 2011 when she retired. In 2006, she received the Blovdek Award, the most prestigious Slovenian sports award. Irena has 11,093 jumps and has competed all over the world in various world championships— European Championships, Paraski Championships and CISM Championships.  She has placed first overall, first in style or first in accuracy in over 20 championships.

 

CHUCK COLLINGWOOD (USA) was on practically every style and accuracy awards podium (National and International) during the 1970s. He was a member of every US Style and Accuracy National Parachute Team during his competing career. Representing the United States in four world championships, he placed in the top 10 overall position three times and brought home gold and silver medals from the 1976 World Championships. He was US Individual Overall National Champion in 1973. As a member of the US Army Parachute Team (Golden Knights), Chuck was selected to six US C.I.S.M. Teams while winning Overall Military World Champion honors three times.  He was named Golden Knight of the year in 1973.  Chuck has always been a quiet leader inspiring and motivating his fellow competitors and teammates. Chuck returned to the sport when he was asked to serve as US Parachute Team Coach for the 2016 Mondial World  Championships in Ottawa, Illinois.  He was later appointed by USPA as US Team Leader for the 2018 World Championships In Bulgaria prior to his untimely passing.

 

KATE COOPER-JENSEN (USA) started jumping in 1978 and quickly became a prominent figure in the sport.  In 1983, she created Square 1 with Tony Domenico.  This was one of the first skydiving stores to also sell through catalogs. In 1997, she started to organize women’s formation skydiving world record attempts as well as raising money for breast cancer charities.  The group set four FAI Women’s World Records for the largest formation skydive. These records are: a 118 way in 1999, a 132 way in 2002, a 151 in 2005 and a 181 way in 2009.  More than 1.9 million was raised. Kate has participated in numerous movies, television shows and commercials.  She’s been an ambassador of the sport for many years and has never stopped stressing safety as a critical part of skydiving.

 

PATRICK DE GAYARDON (France) was the originator of modern wing suiting.  The innovation and validation of his designs of adding viable functional wings to jumpsuits was the genesis of literally being able to cover more horizontal distance than vertical distance. He was the first person to attempt what became known as “proximity flying” by flying near mountain walls in the French Alps in 1997. Also in 1997, Patrick validated the glide ration he had achieved with his wingsuit designs by exiting and then returning to the same aircraft (Pilatus Porter) in flight. Although Patrick was the originator of modern wing suiting, his true contribution to skydiving was that of adding sustained lateral movement to jumping allowing falling to become flying. Above all else, Patrick was an innovator.  He took concepts that lay dormant for decades and applied them successfully with the benefit of his ingenuity. Photo: Philippe Fragnol - ParaMag Archives 

 

ALAN EUSTACE (USA) self-funded a project to find innovative ways to simplify and reduce the costs of jumping from space.  In doing so, he set a world a record for the highest free fall jump on October 24, 2014 over Roswell, New Mexico.  He ascended to an altitude of 135,889 feet and his distance in free fall was 123,414 feet. His engineering abilities led him to numerous innovations/inventions including devising a method to be lifted to jump altitude without need for an expensive capsule by simply being suspended in his pressure suit from a balloon.; inventing a method to keep the drogue chute from entangling in the absence of resistance in space; and, finding a means to significantly reduce the likelihood of potentially fatal flat spins while in descent and devising a method to remove body heat and moisture from the heavy pressure suit.

 

JOHN P. HIGGINS made his first parachute jump in 1959 making him a true pioneer in the area of parachuting.  He has made a total of 3,600 jumps. In 1964, along with two other partners, he opened “The Chute Shop” in Flemington, New Jersey.  John became the sole owner in 1968 and the company name was changed to North American Aerodynamics, Inc.   They were the first company to receive approval to modify the Army T-10 and Navy conical reserve to make them steerable and they were one of the first companies to receive a TSO to manufacture a sport harness/container.  This first container was the “mini System”.  North American Aerodynamics designed and manufactured the Jalbert Parafoil Accuracy parachute in the early 1980’s.  The Parafoil remains today the most popular accuracy canopy in the world. John was awarded the Parachute Industry Association Don Beck Memorial Achievement Award in 2015.

 

JOHN P. HIGGINS (USA) made his first parachute jump in 1959 making him a true pioneer in the area of parachuting.  He has made a total of 3,600 jumps. In 1964, along with two other partners, he opened “The Chute Shop” in Flemington, New Jersey.  John became the sole owner in 1968 and the company name was changed to North American Aerodynamics, Inc.  They were the first company to receive approval to modify the Army T-10 and Navy conical reserve to make them steerable and they were one of the first companies to receive a TSO to manufacture a sport harness/container.  This first container was the “mini System”.  North American Aerodynamics designed and manufactured the Jalbert Parafoil Accuracy parachute in the early 1980’s.  The Parafoil remains today the most popular accuracy canopy in the world. John was awarded the Parachute Industry Association Don Beck Memorial Achievement Award in 2015.

 

ANDY KEECH (Australia) is best known in parachute circles for his three “Skies Call” books of free fall photography.  His free fall photography assignments included venues in the United States, Asia, Europe and Africa as a photographer for Time, Sports Illustrated and the London Times. Previously, he has been an Australian National parachute champion and one of the top scorers on the Australian Team at world competition. He was on the first four-man formation photographed in the world and holds Australia’s Master of Sport Parachuting award. As a pilot, Andy has flown for 60 years holding both private and commercial licenses.  It was in autogyros that he set three transcontinental speed records across the US and 29 world class performance records. He is one of only two pilots since the Wright brothers to hold world-class records in all four realms of performance—speed, distance, rate of climb and altitude.

 

As an aerial photographer, TOM SANDERS (USA) is an icon in the sport of skydiving.  His photography work in countless TV programs, commercials and movies has brought positive attention to the sport.  In 2005 he received the Meritorious Achievement Award from USPA through his photography and cinematography seen worldwide. Some of the movies and TV clips he has been accredited with are several James Bond films, Point Break, Cheers, Terminal Velocity and Drop Zone, to name a few.  In 2015, Tom was made an Honorary Golden Knight for his voluntary consultant work in helping the team’s aerial photographers perfect their skills.  He has also worked with the Army’s Delta Force    teaching free fall camera techniques.  Tom was in charge of the live video transmission of the Skydiving exhibition at the Opening Ceremonies of the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, Korea.  This was the first ever live free fall exhibition displayed on television worldwide. He also was in charge of free-fall photography/videography/cinematography of two of President George W. Bush’s parachute jumps.

 

In 1956, DEKE SONNICHSEN (USA) founded the California Parachute Club (CPC).  This was the first parachute club in the US and was affiliated with the National Parachute Jumpers and Riggers. Through the late 1950’s and 60’s, he served as Executive VP and later President of the Parachute Club of America, the predecessor of USPA. He was a competitor and a team leader for many US Parachute Teams. Among the competitions that he participated in were: 6th World Sport Parachuting Championship in Orange, MA, 4th Adriatic Cup in Yugoslavia and 7th WSPC in Germany. Deke was instrumental working with the Pioneer Parachute Company to modify and test the Lemoigne Canopy System.  This system placed the reserve mounted on the upper back instead of the front.  He made the first live test jump using this system.

 

JOHN “LOFTY” THOMAS (Great Britain) started skydiving in 1967.  In 1969 he took his master rigger rating in the USA with Ted Strong.  Soon after that accomplishment, he formed the Thomas Sports Equipment Company in England. Along with Ronnie O’Brien, he developed the bag deployment system which is still in use today.  Over the years he has worked in many films supplying parachute equipment, giving advice and even occasionally appearing in them. He was an active member of the British Parachute Association for approximately 25 years.  During those years, he served on the council committee and was the vice chairman and chairman.  As Head of Delegation, he took various British competition teams all over the world. Lofty has been an inspiration to many skydivers of all abilities and levels.  He was always willing to make time to listen to them and to offer encouragement and support.