A Wide Range of Accomplishments—Bob “Feisty” Feisthamel, D-7730, Receives the 2023 USPA Gold Medal for Meritorious Service
Homepage USPA | Mar 25, 2024
A Wide Range of Accomplishments—Bob “Feisty” Feisthamel, D-7730, Receives the 2023 USPA Gold Medal for Meritorious Service

USPA Staff

Above: Photo by Nikko Mamallo.

Bob “Feisty” Feisthamel made his first jump in Montana in 1972, and his life changed forever. In the more than 50 years and 13,000 jumps since, he has been a competitor, drop zone owner, pilot, photographer, aircraft mechanic, instructor, examiner and rigger. And his contributions to skydiving continue to this day. In recognition of these achievements, the USPA Board of Directors at its winter 2023 meeting awarded Feisthamel with its Gold Medal for Meritorious Service

Feisthamel chose to receive the medal—which honors “outstanding USPA members who, by their efforts over a period of years, have made significant contributions to the skydiving community”— following February’s USPA General Membership Meeting in Orlando, Florida. USPA Executive Director Albert Berchtold led off the event by taking on a very difficult task: summarizing Feisthamel’s numerous achievements.   

Over the years, Feisthamel has worked as a Static-Line, AFF and Tandem Instructor and Examiner, and as a Coach Examiner. During this time, he trained and mentored numerous skydivers who later achieved national and world championships and set world records. As an Area Safety Officer (1977-1991) and Safety and Training Advisor (1994-2023), his motto became, “Every day is Safety Day.” 

In the field of competition, Feisthamel formed canopy relative work (now called canopy formation) team Tension Free. With Tension Free and other 4- and 8-way CF teams, he has won 13 gold medals, seven silver, four bronze and two overall championships at the USPA Nationals. On the international stage, his teams have represented the U.S. in several Fédération Aéronautique Internationale World Championships and World Cups, bringing home three gold, three silver and two bronze medals at these events. These teams also set multiple FAI World Records in 4-way Sequential and Rotation and 8-way Speed CF. 

Feisthamel was on all the large-formation CF world records from 1985 (a 28-way) to 2007 (the 100-way that still stands as the world record), as well as sequential CF records, including the two-point 54-way in 2022. His total world-record count is 14 in six different categories, and he’s not done yet. His goal is to be on a 120-way formation to best the 100-way record. 

Feisthamel did all this while owning and operating small Cessna DZs: Roundup Bunch near Billings, Montana; Poverty Flats Skydiving in Glendive and then in Laurel, Montana; and Skydive Missouri in Mount Vernon. Drop zone ownership led to Feisthamel becoming a pilot in 1982. He now has more than 3,000 hours flying jumpers, mostly in Cessna 182 and 206 aircraft. In order to service his own planes, he earned a Federal Aviation Administration Airframe and Powerplant Mechanic Certificate with Inspection Authorization. Collectively, Feisthamel operated his drop zones and maintained and flew his aircraft for 44 years without a single fatality and very few injuries. 

Owning a drop zone also led to Feisthamel becoming a rigger. In 1976, he earned his FAA Senior Parachute Rigger Certificate, and in 1981, his Master Parachute Rigger Certificate. In 1999, the FAA appointed him a Designated Parachute Rigger Examiner. Today, he still performs rigging work and instructs up-and-coming riggers  at Elite Rigging in Zephyrhills, Florida, and Parachute Rigging Institute in DeLand, Florida. 

With all of his other accomplishments, what many don’t know about Feisthamel is that he was also a canopy formation and formation skydiving photographer whose work appeared in numerous magazines, including a shot of a 4-way canopy formation in front of Devil’s Tower that appeared in Outside. When Feisthamel took the stage in Florida to accept the Gold Medal, he explained that photography was what actually led him into the sport. In 1972, after returning from service in Vietnam, he went out to a drop zone and photogrphed the action there. When the jumpers wanted him to return to take more photos, he refused unless they let him jump. With some embellishment of his army skillset, they (reluctantly) took him up. As soon as he landed from that quite-frankly sketchy first jump (where he flipped through his risers and got dragged through cactus), he immediatedly proclaimed that he’d reach 1,000 jumps before the most experienced jumper on the load, who had 100 jumps. He did, and the rest is history. 

“That jump changed my life,” Feisthamel remarked. After speaking about how he’s still active working and playing in the sport, he went on to say, “I am supposed to be retired. To hell with it!” He then graciously accepted his Gold Medal for Meritorious Service, as well as his 13,000-Jump Wings, from Berchtold and USPA President Chuck Akers to raucous applause. The inscription on the commemorative plaque reads: “Bob ‘Feisty’ Feisthamel, D-7730, in recognition of 50-plus years of service, leadership and performance as a drop zone owner and operator, USPA Instructor and Examiner and multi-time national champion and world-record-setting canopy formation skydiver.” 

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