A Hit in Arizona—The 2023 International Skydiving Hall of Fame Gala
Event News | Dec 01, 2023
A Hit in Arizona—The 2023 International Skydiving Hall of Fame Gala

Doug Garr

Above: Photo by Anthony Armendariz.

By almost every attendee’s measure, October’s International Skydiving Hall of Fame Weekend was a remarkable success. For the first time since 2016, Skydive Arizona in Eloy was the host drop zone for the annual event, and the gala fundraiser brought in more than $100,000 for the museum.

On Friday, the weekend officially opened with an exhibition flag jump that included the flags of the Hall of Fame affiliate nations (Great Britain joined this year). The International Skydiving Demo Team added an evening performance that included lighting up the sky with smoke and multi-colored pyrotechnics.

The Saturday night dinner at the Chandler Marriott Hotel ballroom, emceed by ISM Trustee and USPA Vice President Sherry Butcher, honored this year’s five new members of the Hall of Fame—Gustavo Cabana, Bill Coe, Jon Devore, Bill Kitchen and Shannon Pilcher. The 14th class of inductees brought this exclusive group to a total of 102 outstanding representatives of sport parachuting. Some 350 people attended the celebration.

Pat Moorehead accepts the Path of Excellence Award on behalf of Skydivers Over Sixty from ISM Trustee Marylou Laughlin. Photo by Randy Forbes.

Bruno Brokken films Kim Emmons-Knor’s 600th skydive, which she makes with Tandem Instructor Cris Fucci. Photo by Joseph Thomas.

The Path of Excellence Award went to Skydivers Over Sixty, and founder Pat Moorehead accepted it on behalf of the entire membership. Moorehead founded SOS in March 1992 at the annual POPS Winter Meet in Umatilla, Florida, when he gathered his fellow older skydiving friends to make the first-ever SOS 10-way formation. Since then, the group has grown to more than 2,700 members from 30 countries. SOS has donated all membership fees and profits from merchandising—now more than $34,000—to the U.S. Parachute Team Trust Fund. At age 92. Moorehead’s motto, and the adopted motto of SOS, is, “Keep on keepin’ on.” After receiving the certificate, he then asked all the SOS members to the stage for a group photo.

The museum presented its Pioneers of Excellence Awards to the U.S. Army Golden Knights Competition Parachute Teams that dominated national and world competitions and won countless medals over the past 63 years. Actually, the medals have been counted: The teams have accumulated 2,492 gold, 1,307 silver and 750 bronze. Their teams have broken 348 world records.

The highlighted forum featured Hall of Famer Alan Eustace and aerospace engineering expert Art Thompson trading stories about their friendship with the late Colonel Joseph Kittinger, who set the record for the highest freefall from 102,800 feet in 1960. That mark stood for 52 years until Red Bull’s Felix Baumgartner broke it by leaping from 119,431 feet. Eustace’s feat bested that record two years later in 2014 when he ascended via balloon using just a space suit (rather than in a capsule, as others had) and detaching at 135,908 feet. (Kittinger wore just a pressure suit used by jet pilots, even though he could have worn a space suit, because he wanted to test for high-altitude ejections.)

Eustace mentioned that Kittinger had a claim to fame that will surely become a trivia question around airports and DZs, if it hasn’t already. The colonel was the first human being to see the curvature of the Earth … before even any astronaut viewed it. This was nearly eight months before Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the so-called “first man in space.” Technically, it was Kittinger.

Attendees enjoyed lots of fun jumping over the weekend, and then there was some semi-serious skydiving, as well. Kim Emmons-Knor, D-221, who was on the gold-medal-winning U.S. Women’s Parachute Team at the world championships in Orange, Massachusetts, in 1962, is on a quest to earn her USPA 1,000-Jump Wings (aka “Gold Wings”). At 84, Knor made her 600th jump during the event. She is planning on 20 more tandems a month for the next 20 months.

Team USPA competes in the 10-way speed event. Photo by Kristian Caulder.

The annual 10-way speed star competition, where teams vie to build a formation the quickest, had six entrants this year. The three-round event included no-show exits from a Twin Otter, Skyvan and a DC-3. The winning team was somewhat unsurprisingly Arizona Airspeed, which compiled their group from their core four skydivers and six other jumpers chosen randomly in a raffle.

Four skydivers made a classic accuracy leap onto the tuffet for an exhibition in a tricky, inconsistent breeze. Marty Jones had the lowest score (as in golf, a low score is good) with 4 centimeters. The next lowest score came from Hall of Famer Cheryl Stearns, who scored 11 centimeters. After gathering her canopy and trudging off, she said to the spectators, “That was a lousy jump.” Though most jumpers would struggle to be so accurate, Stearns likely has more dead centers than most skydivers have jumps, so it was indeed a bad result (for her).

Those who ventured out to the pond saw a pairs swooping competition, where the canopy pilots flew side-by-side, surely a first for many event goers. Powerhouse couple Curt and Jeannie Bartholomew won it. 

Hall of Fame inductees (from left) Shannon Pilcher, Gustavo Cabana, Bill Coe, Jon Devore and Bill Kitchen pose with their induction certificates. Photo by Randy Forbes.

Of course, in addition to the skydiving events and exhibits, the annual Saturday night banquet at the Chandler Marriott Hotel welcomed the new inductees into the Hall of Fame. (See “Top Quintet—the 2023 International Skydiving Hall of Fame Honorees” by Doug Garr in the June issue of Parachutist for biographies of each recipient.) Per tradition, they were given blue blazers signifying their achievement. During the Saturday banquet, the museum also presented its Trustees Award for service to the organization to Mike Beck, who serves on the Hall of Fame’s Nominations Committee.

The Hall of Fame will be located in the International Skydiving Museum, which is to be located on land already purchased in the Orlando, Florida, area. Along with many interactive exhibits to showcase our sport, there will be a virtual skydive available to visitors, as well as a jump plane suspended from the ceiling. Two wind tunnels, including only the second horizontal wingsuit tunnel in the world (with a glass sidewall to attract strollers), will be located adjacent to the museum.

Next year’s celebration will be held at Skydive Chicago in Ottawa, Illinois, September 26-28.   

About the Author

Doug Garr, D-2791, is a member of the Skydivers Resurrection Award group, for those who had at least a 10-year gap between jumps. Through its spring fundraiser, the SRA is an annual sponsor of the Hall of Fame event, raising more than $35,000 for the museum to date.

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