Francesco Cipollone, D-31600, is a highly respected angle-flying coach and organizer who hails from Italy but lives in the U.S. He recently gave up a successful career on Wall Street to pursue a full-time career in art, while also continuing his creative pursuits in the air.
Birthplace: Paola, Italy
Nationality: U.S. and Italy
Marital Status: Single
Children: Zero, thank God.
Occupation: Artist, skydiving coach and organizer, real estate investor and former banker
Education: B.S. in electrical engineering and M.S. in financial engineering
Pet Peeves: Anyone who lacks awareness on the ground or in the sky or fails to honestly assess their abilities. Unnecessary pre-jump handshakes and the people who insist on giving them. Excessive fidgeting by anyone sitting near me.
Pre-Jump Superstitions: It’s important for me to spend most of the plane ride in silence to get into the right mindset for flying, a short meditation before the incredible ride that always follows.
Container: Velocity Sports Equipment Infinity
Discipline: Anything involving lots of movement and no plan, please.
Home Drop Zone: The Ranch in Gardiner, New York
First Jump: Tandem in 2005
Licenses/Ratings: A-48426, B-36654, D-31600
Total Number of Jumps: 4,800-plus
Largest Completed Formation: 60-way, three-plane angle jump [at Skydive Arizona] in Eloy several years ago
Total Number of Cutaways: One
What do you like most about the sport?
If approached consciously, it has the tremendous ability to enrich your life regularly with vitality, spirit and vigor. I’ll repurpose Picasso’s line about art and say, “Skydiving washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”
What do you like least about the sport?
Same thing I despise in every other facet of life: people who blindly follow the crowd and don’t allow themselves a chance at self-discovery. Every style and discipline can be magical, and everyone has their own personal bar for achievement, but we all should take time to consider what journey we individually want to pursue in the game.
Who have been your skydiving mentors?
I have had two significant coaches in my life, Max Cohn and Ippo Fabbi, so I’d have to thank them both. From a pure mentorship standpoint, I would have to say Max, a pioneer, an inspiration for loose, fluid flying with disciplined and deep coaching techniques, as well as a big brother in my early days and a sounding board afterward. He was a significant bridge between my generation and the explosively experimental generation of Olav Zipser and company. Being able to tap into the buzz of that age pushed me to replicate it in my flying.
What’s the most bad-ass thing you can do in the air?
It’s more of an approach or mentality. Growing up in the sport, the flyers who wowed me were always the ones who could hang with you in any position or speed outside of a pre-set plan. Ranch natives like Jeffro [Jeff Provenzano] and Max are great examples of that quick-thinking, magnetic approach. I like to think I got somewhat close, even if far from perfect, to that bad-ass ability to “just be there,” especially if it means getting into uncomfortable, undefinable positions.
The toughest thing to do in the sport of skydiving is:
Stick with it and know how to ride the highs and lows. Listening to yourself and what your body and soul need each season is critical. I have had seasons of burnout and stagnation. Learning how to navigate those times by perhaps jumping less while still staying in the game or letting other things come into your life that make your flying improve indirectly are very important for longevity. Additionally, having a mission of learning and training during your more intense skydiving periods is critical. Some seasons are also simply about exploration and flying with as many different jumpers and styles (safely, of course) as possible.
What do you consider your most significant life achievement?
Balancing a challenging career on Wall Street with an exciting and successful one in skydiving for 15 years and, most recently, leaving the corporate world to pursue art full-time. Check out my work at @cipollone.art, by the way!
Do you have any suggestions for USPA?
The establishment of a more standardized and rigorous canopy training program during student status. Psychological and cognitive exam for prospective students. (I’m only half-joking.) Sexier and more dynamic photos for Parachutist magazine.
What drew you to angle-flying?
Horizontal movement while incorporating more dynamic maneuvers has always been my mission. We spend most of our days walking two-dimensionally on the ground following the roads that have already been paved for us. I looked to the sky for a release from exactly that. In the early years of skydiving, I almost immediately grew disinterested with flying straight down (head-down, sitting or on your belly) or having set plans. The elements that gave me the most buzz and feeling of flight and freedom were improvisation and movement, angled or flat. Of course, not excluding vertical flight but incorporating it at times. Usually the term “angle-flying” makes most people think of flying fast and steep with a couple of turns and transitions and carving, which can be a limiting definition. I instead think of it as the 3-D equivalent of ripping up and down a wave while surfing or tearing up a skatepark on a skateboard or other similar analogies.
Do you have any advice for someone looking to get into angle-flying?
Your first step is acknowledging the huge added responsibility you are taking when you’re incorporating movement in a skydive. I see most just going for it without getting a basic understanding of navigation and exit order. So, get educated by a local expert on what that entails and then go solo or keep it to 2-ways and very, very small groups for a season or two. Stay humble, ask around and always underestimate your skill level. For sure take a look at the articles I wrote for Parachutist. There’s a lot more detail in those.
What does the future hold for angle-flying?
I predict there will eventually be more angle camps than there are actual skydivers in the world and the eventual formation of a new discipline with a very long acronym like AFXCXWSXVFS which involves angle flyers, wingsuiters and canopy flyers carving around a 4-way VFS team. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re doing this in some Nordic country already. Meanwhile, I’ll be doing my 2-ways between espresso breaks.