by Brian Giboney
Cornelia Mihai, D-31070, is a focused and hard-working skydiver who at the 2014 Fédération Aéronautique Internationale World Championships became the first female to medal in a canopy piloting event. Originally from Romania, Mihai is now a member of the Skydive Dubai Canopy Piloting Team and is regularly atop the podium representing the United Arab Emirates in international canopy piloting competitions. She is also a tandem and AFF instructor.
Nicknames: Romanian Devil Witch (as Ian Drennan once called me)
Birthplace: Ploiesti, Romania
Marital Status: In a relationship with Duncan French
Occupation: Canopy pilot and skydiving instructor
Education: Degree in economics, economy of tourism from Petrol si Gaze University in Ploiesti, 2007
Pet Peeves: People stepping on my lines when I pack
Jump Philosophy: “Remember you have to be able to walk to the podium,” my friend Wuzi Wagner once told me. It makes perfect sense to me; it reminds me where my own limits are.
Team Name: Skydive Dubai Canopy Piloting Team
Sponsor: Skydive Dubai in the United Arab Emirates
Container: United Parachute Technologies Vector Micron 306
Main Canopy: NZ Aerosports Petra 72 and 64, and Sophia 61 [for swooping]. Performance Designs Comp Velocity 75 for freefall jumps.
Reserve Canopy: Performance Designs Optimum 113
AAD: CYPRES 2 Speed (but I don’t switch it on for swoop training)
First Jump: Static-line jump in 2002
USPA Licenses and Ratings: D-31070, tandem and AFF instructor, PRO
Medals and Records:
Dubai International Parachuting Championships 2013—bronze in speed; USPA National Championships of Canopy Piloting—overall third place in 2014 and overall first place in 2016 as a guest competitor; 5th FAI World Championships 2014—bronze overall; 8th FAI World Cup 2015—gold in distance; World Air Games 2015—bronze overall, gold in distance, bronze in speed.
Women’s canopy piloting distance world record—164 meters; women’s canopy piloting speed world record—2.339 seconds on a 75-meter course. (I’m aiming to get the general world records though, not just the female category.)
Total Number of Jumps: 8,500-plus
Hop and Pops: 3,000
Largest Completed Formation: I’ve been on three of the 2016 head-down world record attempts when we built 150-ish formations
Total Number of Cutaways: 12
Would you rather swoop or land on an accuracy tuffet?
Swoop, but I don’t mind trying the accuracy tuffet once in a while just as a challenge. I did a jump at Project Orange in 2013, and I did make it to the tuffet but not on the target. Everyone was laughing at me because I had a swooper body position in the harness, all tucked in.
Most people don't know this about me:
In 2011 I was training hard to participate in an amateur Muay Thai competition. It didn’t happen in the end because I moved to another country. Maybe it’s a good thing because in a Muay Thai fight, either you win or lose, but you still get hurt.
Of all your skydives, does one jump stand out most?
I’ll never forget my first-ever canopy flock with Jonathan Tagle and Billy Sharman. Also flying in the mountains in Norway with my teammates.
Who have been your skydiving mentors?
Jonathan Tagle for a few months when I started working in Dubai. Unfortunately, he died shortly after. And my teammates Patrick Kaye and Billy Sharman. I learned a lot from them.
What safety item do you think is most important or most often neglected?
What's the most bad-ass thing you can do in the air?
Pfff … I think I still have a lot to learn.
If you could do a fantasy 2-way with anybody, whom would it be with?
I would love to jump with my friend Livia Ene. We started together, and she stopped skydiving years ago. I’ve been trying to get her to skydive again at least once for about 10 years.
What has been your most embarrassing moment at a drop zone?
When a tandem student payed full price just to get photos while geared up, by the plane and in the landing area. He never had the intention to actually skydive. I was the tandem instructor who had to play this charade just so he could get Facebook photos. Afterward, I asked my manager never to send me such a customer again.
The toughest thing to do in the sport of skydiving is:
Deal with the sad news that a friend or someone you knew died in an accident and accept the fact that you’ll never see them again.
What kind of skydiving student were you?
I think I was pretty average, but once I understood how something worked I would apply it pretty well. Unfortunately, when I started in Romania there wasn’t a lot of information available, so it was pretty hard to improve my skills.
While in freefall, what has been your strangest thought?
I had a lazy pull and my pilot chute stayed in my burble and knotted so my D-bag came out only to the first rubber band. I did my emergency procedures, and after my reserve opened I noticed my pilot chute stuck between my reserve risers and my main canopy hanging just below my feet. My first thought was a happy one: “Oh that’s awesome, my main is right here!” My second thought was, “Oh, a lot of things could’ve gone wrong!”
What has been your best skydiving moment?
In Italy in 2012, at my second-ever CP competition, right before the comp started, Billy Sharman (who later became my teammate) gave me one of his Skydive Dubai yellow jerseys and said, “Don’t get it wet!” and I didn’t.
What makes Cornelia Mihai tick?
A good challenge, so generally a good battle in competition. A canopy piloting competition has nine rounds so no matter how good you are, if you relax or you lose your focus you can make a mistake that can cost you the entire competition. So it’s a battle all the way to the end.
You are the first female swooper to medal in an FAI event. How did you pull that off?
A lot of hard work and training and trusting my abilities. I felt honored to be on the podium next to the people who had been on the podium since before I even started competing.
What’s the best thing about being successful in a previously male-dominated sport?
Guys telling me, “I just got beaten by a girl!”
How did you become interested in CP?
I always enjoyed flying my canopy and I really wanted to compete at the 3rd Dubai International Parachuting Championships. I tried to put a 4-way FS team together, but it didn’t work out. I decided to go anyway. The only individual disciplines I could participate in were canopy piloting and accuracy landing. I went for canopy piloting.
You were the first woman to place first overall at the USPA CP Nationals. How did that feel?
Even though I won as a guest I am proud of it because the USPA Nationals is one of the hardest comps out there, and I was also passing through some tough times. I dedicated it to my father who passed away shortly after the awards ceremony.
Do you have any closing comments?
I hope that more women get into canopy piloting, but I hope there will never be a female category like in other disciplines. There’s no need for that!