Photo above by David Cherry.
The spirit of competition drives many skydivers, especially those who have strong Type-A personalities. As in many sports, skydiving offers a competitive structure in which to train and measure skill growth both in actual competition (such as the USPA National Skydiving Championships) and by setting state, national and even world records for outstanding aerial performances.
Many think records are reserved for the elitest of the elite at big-budget events, but this is far from the truth! The United States Parachute Association has a robust records program that includes state records, many of which haven’t yet been claimed! For example, if you can pull off a 4-way sequential formation skydive (as of this writing) in Arkansas, you can claim a state record and get your name in the history books!
There are many types of records and clear procedures to follow in order to set one. Every bit of the following information about how to plan, conduct and document a successful record performance is correct as of March 2023, but always review the chapter “State, National and World Record Reporting Procedures” in the USPA Skydiver’s Competition Manual (SCM) in case anything has changed since. (Word to the wise: The SCM gets updated frequently.)
Classification of Records
- To set a record, you obviously have to know what existing record (if any) you have to beat! Documented skydiving records in the U.S. will check one—and only one—box in each of the following categories. However, you can submit a single performance (skydive) for multiple records.
☐ U.S. Open National (At least 51% of participants must be current USPA members)
Class and Subclass
All skydiving records are class G for parachuting, in keeping with the sport’s designation by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (World Air Sports Federation), the governing body for air sports internationally. The subclass will be either 1 (competition) or 2 (performance).
☐ G-1: Parachuting-Competition (set during a competition such as the USPA National Skydiving Championships)
☐ G-2: Parachuting-Performance (anything outside of competition, the most common being large-formation records)
Altitude/Fall (e.g., highest-altitude skydive, longest freefall duration)
☐ Accuracy Landing
☐ Canopy Formation
☐ Canopy Piloting
☐ Formation Skydiving
☐ Freefall Style
☐ Speed Skydiving
☐ Wingsuit Flying
There are many types of records, from highest exit altitude to fastest speed skydive to longest 4-way formation skydiving sequence to largest formation. SCM Chapter 3, Section 2.8—Record Types has a complete, current list.
This applies only to large formation sequential records and is always the number of points (two-plus).
☐ Night (only applicable for records for CF and FS large formations, sequential large formations and full-break large formations; wingsuit no-grip large formations and wingsuit gripped large formations)
☐ Collegiate (all participants were current college students when completing the record performance)
This list of options may be daunting, but it’s not as crazy as it seems. For example, let’s say you have just set a new large formation record of 600 head-up male and female flyers in the state of Texas. Great job! You’ll submit this record as:
- Zone: State (Texas)
- Class/Subclass: G-2 (Skydiving Performance)
- Discipline: Formation skydiving
- Type: Large formation, vertical, head-up orientation
- Category: General
Now, let’s say this 600-way Texas skydive was big enough to also set a national record. If you wish to claim the national record, do this first (as the “greater” national record will also cover the filing fee for the “lesser” state record). You’ll complete another copy of the record claim form for USPA, but change the zone to “National.”
The requirements for the number of judges present and their qualifications are different for state and national records. If you are also submitting this jump as a world record, there is a different form for that, a different filing procedure and also more requirements for judges. We’ll get into all that in a minute.
It is up to you to submit your awesome skydive as a record, whether it’s a performance or competition record. USPA does not go looking for records to certify or follow up if it hears that a skydive may be a record ... it only becomes a record if someone submits it and it meets all the requirements. Submitting a record is usually up to the performer or organizer, but event management will often do it if the record occurred at the USPA Nationals or at certain international competitions. You can find the record reporting form in the Competition folder at uspa.org/downloads.
How Do You Find Current Records to Break?
Easy! Search the USPA records database (under the Experienced Skydiver tab at uspa.org) for records like the one you are considering breaking. Make sure to search current records: These are the ones you have to beat. You can also search retired records if you’re curious, but they are not relevant to you since they were achieved under a different set of rules.
Be aware that records take time for judges to file (they are allowed 30 days) and for USPA to ratify and then post to the website. It’s a good idea to periodically check the relevant record category if you’re participating in an upcoming record event to make sure another record hasn’t been filed or ratified since your initial research.
Who Can Jump in a U.S. Record Attempt?
Anyone can jump in a state record attempt, as long as they have a current USPA membership and hold a USPA license or an equivalent from another country. For USPA National Records, all participants must be U.S. citizens or legal U.S. residents and hold a current USPA membership. For U.S. Open National records, 51% of participants must hold a current USPA membership and the other participants must hold a foreign equivalent.
What Do You Need to Participate in a World Record Attempt?
If the jump will be a world or continental regional record attempt, all jumpers must also have a current sporting license recognized by the FAI. Each country’s national aero club issues this license. In the U.S., this is the National Aeronautic Association (naa.aero). Jumpers must apply for the license ahead of time, ideally at least a month ahead, as it can take a few weeks to process the application. You do not want to train hard for a record only to find out you can’t participate because you don’t have a sporting license! The record organizer will have no choice but to kick you off the jump if you don’t have a sporting license or if your sporting license has expired, because you will invalidate the record for the rest of the group. Don’t be that guy or gal! Many talented skydivers, even world-famous ones, have been benched for world record attempts after forgetting this critical detail.
Competition records don’t require planning since the event itself defines the record scenario. But if you are planning a performance record, read on!
Plan a skydive that will be a record performance superseding any previous records.
This is not always as simple as it sounds, especially with large-formation sequential records. For example, a minimum percentage of grips must change for the record to count, and there are even more details to observe for vertical sequential records. It’s best to consult with your primary judge on the details to ensure your plan will actually achieve your goal and for your primary judge to consult with other judges as needed.
Select a primary judge.
For state records, this is often fairly easy; you just need a USPA Judge (national or regional) rated in the appropriate discipline. For example, you’ll need a formation skydiving judge for a state large-formation record, not an accuracy landing judge. Judges qualify for ratings specifically by discipline; earning a judge rating in one discipline does not qualify them for others. Only a single judge in the U.S. is currently rated in every discipline!
The judge doesn’t even need to be on site for a state record if the performance is one judged entirely by video or data analysis (such as formation skydiving, wingsuit performance or wingsuit speed), although it certainly helps. You will also need a second person—either a second judge or an official such as a Safety and Training Advisor—to certify the record. For altitude records, the pilot will suffice. The judge can also be a participant on the record.
For U.S. national records, it gets tougher. You need at least two USPA Judges who are nationally rated in your discipline and one additional judge who may be regionally rated. Your primary judge must be on site to verify the attempt was made according to plan and followed USPA Basic Safety Requirements. It’s actually a good idea to have at least two of your judges on site, since it lets the judges verify each other’s work (such as checking that a hastily scribbled change to the dive plan doesn’t invalidate the attempt). Judges of the performance may not participate in national records.
For world records, you need at least two judges with world (FAI) ratings in that discipline and one controlling judge on site (three total). The controlling judge on site may be a nationally rated judge in that discipline or one of the FAI judges.
Your primary judge can help recruit the additional judges needed. While some skydivers expect judges to work for free, most won’t. They had to invest money and time to get their ratings, and like any other professional they expect a day rate. Discuss this with your primary judge so you can build compensation for all judges into your plan.
You will want to select your primary judge at least a month ahead of time, so that they can help answer your questions and ensure that your plan will actually result in a record if the skydive goes well. For some skydivers, judging is almost an afterthought. Jumpers sometimes reach out to a judge the day before a small record attempt. Even worse, they’ve been known to reach out after the skydive is completed. At the very least, any judge you can get on short notice will be rushed in preparing for your record and could miss details that will invalidate it. At worst, you won’t find one at all and you’ve wasted your participants’ time. It’s much better to lock in your primary judge at least a month ahead of time—preferably more for national or world events—so you can all prepare.
Photo by Norman Kent.
Wrangle the required paperwork in advance.
You must communicate the need for the paperwork requirements (name, active USPA membership information or foreign equivalent, age, gender, FAI sporting license when applicable) to all participants and check their progress (often ad nauseam) to ensure you have all the information before the event starts. The judge will verify all of it, but it isn’t their job to collect it.
You’ll also need to be prepared with your dive plans for records that require them. If you were smart, you will have already submitted dive plans to your primary judge for review. These can serve as your dive plans for the event if they are acceptable to the judge. Changes will occur over the course of many record attempts, and you must declare the new plan to the judge for every single attempt. You must achieve your plan to set the record or it will not count. For example, let’s say you’re planning a 50-way large formation record. Even if 45 people would have been enough to set a record, if you built the formation with 45 people (with five out) when you planned for 50, it won’t count.
Coordinate with the drop zone in advance.
While it’s good practice to coordinate with drop zone management for any record-attempt event, somehow—particularly with smaller state records—it doesn’t always happen! It’s important to do to ensure you have the resources you need to be successful. Do you need an extra aircraft? Dedicated space to debrief a large group?
Drop zone managers want your record to succeed, because it’s cool! However, it’s very frustrating for a manager to find out on a busy Saturday morning that someone is trying to do a 20-way large-formation record and all the participants are there, yet the larger aircraft they usually fly is down for maintenance or some such issue. At this point, there is nothing the manager can do, and they are probably frustrated and think you suck at planning events. Plus, all the participants are likely mad at you.
You definitely need to have a discussion with DZ management well in advance of any jump you’re planning that will fall outside of normal drop zone operations (formation loads, high altitude, etc.). Manifest will also appreciate knowing about the record attempt in advance so they can help verify USPA information for visiting participants ahead of time, when possible. Then, when everyone shows up, they can get in the air quickly rather than waiting in a line at manifest to check in.
Lastly, keep the drop zone (especially their social media team) in the loop about the record you set. They’ll want to help you spread the word, because it’s awesome!
Make sure everyone flies safely.
Violations of the Basic Safety Requirements will invalidate your record. (It’s happened.) And any flying that violates USPA’s BSRs will come back to you as the organizer, assuming you are jumping at a USPA Group Member drop zone. Make a safe plan for your record and ensure everyone knows the plan and is committed to following it. The drop zone manager will really appreciate this, as well.
Report the record.
Duh, right? But there have been some really great skydiving achievements that were never submitted to USPA, so as far as USPA and the actual record books are concerned, they don’t exist (many sad pandas).
Your primary judge will likely be the one reporting the record as part of their duties, but make sure you and your judge are clear on who is doing this. USPA requires notification of national and international record performances within 72 hours (three days). This can be a simple email to email@example.com noting what was achieved. For all records, you’ll have 30 days to compile and submit the record dossier, including participant information, reporting form, fees and supporting documentation. More than 31 days? No record for you.
You’ll also want to know how many record certificates to request for participants. There is a fee for each one beyond the first.
The more you plan ahead and check off requirements, the more you’ll be able to focus on achieving the record-level performance you seek when it’s jump time. Good luck!
Common Mistakes That Will Invalidate Your Record Attempt:
- Not having enough people. This is not uncommon with sequential records, which require at least four people or 25% of the current large-formation record in that division, whichever is larger—state or national. (Vertical formation skydiving sequential records require at least four people or 20% of the current large formation in that division, whichever is larger).
- All participants not having current USPA membership.
- All world record participants not having a current FAI sporting license.
- Not submitting the plan ahead of time for the jump that sets the record (this can happen with poor initial planning or simply forgetting to submit a changed plan due to cuts as an event progresses).
- Not having enough or enough appropriately rated judges to approve the record.
- Not submitting the record to USPA within 30 days of the performance.
Clearing Up Confusion
- Class records such as female or collegiate require all members to qualify with the exception of the videographer, if it’s a record judged by video. For example, a female record group can have a male videographer.
- Large formation skydives must be grip-perfect, but they do not have to be slot-perfect. In other words, it doesn’t matter who flies what slot as long as the formation is correct. You do not have to submit names of who flies what slot, and judges don’t have to check names against slots.
- Sequential formation skydiving records also do not have to be slot-perfect with names submitted for slots, but transitions must specify which flyers move where from point to point. Again, the name doesn’t matter, but the jumpers must follow the dive plan.
- One of the most common misconceptions is that a large formation record must be at least a certain percentage larger than the previous large formation record of that type in order to beat that previous record. That is not true—one person more and it counts as a record assuming all other rules have been followed. The percentage requirement applies only to sequential records.
About the Author
Christy West, D-21464, is a National Formation Skydiving Judge who has officiated for six Texas state head-up formation records. Former USPA Director of Competition Randy Connell and USPA Competition Committee Chair Jim Rees, who both hold multiple judge ratings, lent her their assistance with this article.