Bill Wenger, D-3774 and a U.S. Army Golden Knight from 1974-1980, has dedicated much of his life to coaching and developing military skydivers, bringing dozens of teams to the USPA National Collegiate Parachuting Championships. He helped pioneer the 8-way FS discipline and earned numerous medals in FS and accuracy at national and world competitions. His peers describe him as “a great guy,” “humble,” “hard working” and “a great father” (to current Golden Knight Jason Wenger).
Birthplace: Des Moines, Iowa
Marital Status: Married 45 years
Children: One (Jason) and two grandchildren
Occupation: Retired after 27 years coaching the Air Force Academy Parachute Team and six years on the Golden Knights. Now a part-time meet director for the national and world championships and a factory rep for Rigging Innovations.
Education: B.S. in education, Southern Illinois University
Life Philosophy: If you don’t have something nice to say about someone, don’t say anything.
Jump Philosophy: It’s not anybody’s job but yours to keep yourself safe: gear checks, clear airspace, dirt dives, breakoff, tracking clear, etc.
Team Names: Golden Knights, Pacemakers, Old Bones … loved them all
Sponsors: Cookie Helmets, Eiff Aerodynamics, Performance Designs, Rigging Innovations, SSK Industries
Containers: Rigging Innovations Curve and CPX
Main Canopies: Performance Designs Storm 170, Eiff Classic 281
Reserve Canopy: Performance Designs PDR
AAD: Airtec CYPRES
Disciplines: Accuracy, formation skydiving, wingsuit flying
Home Drop Zone: Skydive Chicago in
First Jump: Static-line jump in 1971
Licenses and Ratings: C-7576, D-3774, PRO. Have let my AFF and static-line instructor ratings lapse.
Championships and Records: USPA National Champion in 8-way FS, accuracy and team accuracy; USPA Collegiate National Champion in accuracy and 4-way FS; CISM (military) World Champion in accuracy and team accuracy; Féderátion Aéronautique Internationale World Cup Champion in 8-way FS.
World Records: largest formation skydive and largest night formation skydive. Competition world records in 8-way FS, accuracy and team accuracy.
Total Number of Jumps: 10,150 Accuracy: 6,000 FS: 2,500 Wingsuit: 250 Demos: 150 Tandems: 100 Camera: 50 CF: 10 Freefly: Two Balloon: One BASE: Zero, but still want to make one
Largest Completed Formation: FS—60-way; wingsuit—35-way
Total Number of Cutaways: Nine, mostly on ParaPlanes. Only one in the last 6,000 jumps.
Most people don't know this about me: I was 4’ 7” and 72 pounds as a freshman in high school. I had nowhere to go but up.
Of all your skydives, does one stand out most? Kirk Verner presenting my 10,000-Jump Wings and my son’s 1,000-Jump Wings in freefall.
What do you like most about the sport? The friends I’ve made around the world.
What do you like least about the sport? Egos.
Who have been your skydiving mentors? Tom Schapanski and Bill Hays, both great national champions. Chuck Collingwood, my Golden Knights team leader. Gene Paul Thacker for making me a better skydiver, pilot and USPA Board member.
What are your future skydiving goals? Win team accuracy at Nationals with my new team, Old Bones.
What safety item do you think is most neglected? The jumper checking and maintaining his own equipment.
How did you become interested in skydiving? I saw a poster in the student union at Southern Illinois University after seeing the Golden Knights jump into the school and thought it would be fun to try once.
Do you have any suggestions for students? Take your time progressing and learn from those who have already made the mistakes.
What's the most bad-ass thing you can do in the air? Pull when I’m supposed to!
What is your favorite jump plane and why? The C-47. You can walk around and listen to the sweet sound of radial engines
If you could do a fantasy 2-way with anybody, whom would it be with? I plan on doing my fantasy 2-way in two years with Stu Metcalfe, my best friend. We will total 100 years of skydiving between us then, and we both will still be competing.
Were you a hard child to raise? No, I was a shy “goodie two shoes” until I went to college and learned bad things from the wrestling team and then even worse things from the skydiving team.
What has been your most embarrassing moment while in freefall or at a drop zone? Back when you weren’t allowed to jump squares when doing FS, I could afford only one container and switched my Para Commander (round) out for my ParaPlane (square). Well, I put the square in and when I opened, it was on backward. Embarrassing, but I did get a stand up.
Of your thousands of skydives, is there you would like to do again? Letting my Golden Knights team down on a world record team accuracy jump. Didn’t matter that we already set five or six other world records, it always hurts more to let your team down. In accuracy someone always misses, I just never wanted it to be me.
What do you consider your most significant life achievement? Forty-five years of marriage, a son I’m proud of and the good friends I have.
Do you have any suggestions for USPA? Don’t ever forget we are a membership organization; it’s all about supporting the jumpers.
What has been your best skydiving moment? Jumping with my son and seeing him earn a spot on the Golden Knights.
What has been your greatest competition moment? Every time I had the honor to represent the United States as a U.S. Team member. It was even a little better when I got to stand on the podium with our national anthem playing.
What has been your worst skydiving moment? Blowing my ACL on an accuracy jump.
What drives your competitive spirit? I love that feeling just before exiting the plane for a competition jump. Stress, fear of letting my team or myself down, anticipation … here we go again.
What made you such an effective coach for the Air Force Academy team? That’s easy, the cadets. They were smart, driven and loved skydiving. All I had to do was give them the tools and keep them focused. I realized that I couldn’t do it all, so I had a great staff that helped bring it all together.
What’s the best thing about being a national judge? Giving back to the sport while doing the hardest job in the sport.
How did you become interested in accuracy? Accuracy and style were the only competitive events when I started, and I was a lot better at accuracy than style.
What’s the best thing about being a Golden Knight? Representing the Army and the U.S. around the world. I made friends back then that I still see. At the world meet at Skydive Chicago, where I was the meet director, it was amazing how many old friends came up to me. It was like a family reunion.
Explain Bill Wenger in five words or fewer: Easygoing, competitive, enjoying retirement.