Hannah Betts, D-30022, is a competitive skydiver, instructor and stunt performer who began her jumping career in the U.K. but now lives in California. Betts’ 4-way formation skydiving team—Bodyflight Storm—won the Féderátion Aéronautique Internationale Women’s World Championships and twice won the British Championships, and she was a member of the 181-way team that set the FAI Women’s World Record for Largest Formation Skydive. Skydiving opened the door to a career in Hollywood, where she now does stunt work for TV shows and movies, which have included “NCIS,” “The Walking Dead” and “Antman.”
Age: Older and wiser
Marital Status: Married to Travis Fienhage
Occupation: Stunt woman and skydiver
Education: HND (associate degree) in outdoor education
Pet Peeves: Jumpers not knowing what the upper winds are doing and not giving enough time between exits. Not looking before turning your damn canopy.
Life Philosophy: Do the thing you think you cannot do. Speak up.
Jump Philosophy: Plan for the worst-case scenario.
Team Names: Bodyflight Storm, Alpha Armada, Lawrence and the Freefly Rejects and a bunch of player-coach 4- and 8-way teams
Sponsors: Advanced Aerospace Designs, Aerodyne Research, LiquidSky Suits, Larsen & Brusgaard, Square1 Helmets
Container: Aerodyne Research Icon
Main Canopy: Aerodyne Research Sensei 81
Reserve Canopy: Aerodyne Research Smart 110
AAD: Always. Advanced Aerospace Designs Vigil
Disciplines: 4-way FS, 8-way FS, freefly
Home Drop Zone: Started at Skydive Langar in the U.K., then Skydive Perris in California.
First Jump: I did one tandem for fun while traveling in Australia, then started AFF about four years later in the summer of 2003.
Licenses and Ratings: C-37152, D-30022, Coach, AFF Instructor, PRO
Championships and Records: Of note—FAI Women’s 4-Way Formation Skydiving World Champion in 2008 (Team Great Britain), British National 4-Way FS Champion 2007 and 2008, USPA Intermediate Freefly Champion in 2013, 181-way FAI Women’s World Record for Largest Formation Skydive in 2009
Total Number of Jumps: I stopped logging accurately after 6,500; I believe I’m around 8,000 now.
FS: 5,000 Camera: 1,400 AFF: 1,300 Freefly: 400
Demos: 10 Wingsuit: 10 Balloon: 10 Tandem: Five as passenger Production, stunt and weird jumps: 50
Largest Completed Formation: 181-way
Number of Cutaways: Nine
Most people don't know this about me: I get super nervous when having to compete or perform. Always.
Does one jump stand out most? I remember the feeling of round eight of the British National Open 4-Way FS Championships. I was looking across at my teammate Sparky, we were both smiling, the dive was flowing perfectly, and we just knew that we were going to win the spot to go to the World Championships. We were definitely the underdog team, which made it all the more sweet.
Who have been your skydiving mentors? My teammates and Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld and Travis Fienhage. And I’ve always been inspired by Eliana Rodriguez and Amy Chmelecki.
What are your future skydiving goals? To not have a goal and just skydive for skydiving’s sake.
What safety item do you think is most often neglected? Appropriate exit separation time between groups, loose BOCs [bottom-of-container pilot-chute pouches] and common sense.
How did you become interested in skydiving? I was bored. I’d moved to a city and needed a new stimulus outside of work. I thought I’d just do the AFF course to tick it off my list and that would be it. Little did I know …
Do you have any suggestions for students? Understand that everyone learns at a different pace. If you get stuck on a level, no big deal; it doesn’t mean you’re going to be a bad skydiver. You’ll get it eventually, and everything will click. Be careful who you get your advice from; like doctors, there are excellent and mediocre instructors. Ask around, make sure the advice you’re getting is consistent with other experienced jumpers.
What has been your most embarrassing moment while in freefall or at a drop zone? There are too many to list, but around my 20th jump, when it was so cloudy I couldn’t see the DZ, I landed in a muddy farmer’s field wearing the DZ owner’s white jumpsuit. I flared early and unevenly on a downwind landing and ended up with mud in my teeth … while wearing a full-face helmet. They had to hose me down when I got back to the DZ.
What kind of skydiving student were you, the typical flailer or a complete natural? I was a little flaily on my first few jumps because I was sooooooo nervous. Once I learned to relax, things came fairly naturally to me.
Of all your skydives, is there one you would like to do again? Nope, I’ve had bad and scary jumps but learned from every one of them and passed on my mistakes to others, hoping they won’t do the same.
What do you consider your most significant life achievement? I don’t see them so much as achievements but as leaps of faith that normally pay off if you follow your gut. The achievements normally follow when you push yourself to do something that scares you. Moving to the U.S. with $600 in my account and two suitcases was a good move that changed my life. And giving less f**ks so I have the courage to speak out when I think something is wrong seems to have a positive outcome.
While in freefall, what has been your strangest thought? I wonder if they can smell my fart?
Do you have any suggestions for USPA? Have a system where people can safely report sexist, homophobic or racist behavior at skydiving centers, and hold the DZ owners accountable to change the culture on their DZs.
What has been your best skydiving moment? Whenever I see a student suddenly “get it” and start smiling.
What has been your greatest competition moment? Having that yee-haw moment looking into my teammates eyes before tracking away.
What has been your worst skydiving moment? Watching my teammate’s pilot chute work its way out of her BOC when she was outside on the step. Her canopy opened just as I was giving the exit count, and she hit the tail of the aircraft. Luckily, the wing wasn’t damaged, but she was knocked out cold under a malfunctioning spinning canopy. Flying my canopy around her was the most helpless feeling. I will never forget the relief I felt when she came to and cut away and deployed her reserve. She broke her neck but made a full recovery. Amazing lady.
What drives your competitive spirit? I think I just like trying to be good at stuff.
What’s your best memory of the women’s world record 181-way jump? Watching everyone’s faces when we were told we got the record.
What’s the best thing about being a Hollywood stuntwoman? You never know what you’re going to be asked to do next.
Do you have any upcoming projects? I’m working on a movie, “Jungle Cruise,” as I write this. Fun team and crazy set.
Explain Hannah Betts in five words or fewer: Scared, brave, loud, still growing.