WA POPS Achieve a New Record!

Last updated 06 Sep 2023

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Congratulations to the Parachutists Over Phorty crew in WA, who achieved a new POPS record on Saturday 12 August 2023 in Jurien Bay. Here are some words about, and stories behind, the record jumps, written by Shirley Cowcher.

What is the collective noun for a group of older skydivers? It depends how old they are.

A Successful Year

This year has been quite the year for the older flat fly skydivers in WA. At the instigation of Tom Kenny, they have achieved three State Records and one APF Notable Event for large formation flying. That is quite an achievement.

It started in February, when a group of Skydivers Over Sixty (SOS) achieved an inaugural WA SOS Large Formation Record; an 11-way, completed on Saturday 4th February. This was broken the next day with a 12-way, and one participant from Saturday wasn't available on the Sunday, so they unfortunately held the record for less than 24 hours. All the participants were elated, and no more so than Tom, who was seen shaking his fist in joy.

WA SOS Record, Feb 2023 by Adam Fiannaca 
Photo: Adam Fiannaca

New Goals

As a result of the success of the SOS record weekend, Tom set his goals a little higher.

The WA Parachutists Over Phorty (POPS) Large Formation Record stands at a 17-way, and Tom wanted to aim for a bigger formation. There was an obstacle to this ambition that we couldn't overcome however; we required two aircraft to fly in formation to be able to go bigger. Skydive Jurien Bay had the capacity - they had done it before for the Australian Ladies Large Formation Sequential Record, achieved in April 2021 - however, on this occasion, there was a concern about weight limitations and participants' mobility (we are talking about older people!). Given the potential obstacles, we decided to go for a sequential record initially, with the chance of going for an ever-so-slightly larger WA Large Formation Record if we were successful at the sequential attempt. As it turned out, the option of a WA Large Formation Record was taken off the table a couple of weeks before the scheduled weekend, when one of the pilots broke his leg. Good job we had a Plan B!

And so, planning began.

Planning Stages

All those that registered an interest were told they had to attend at least one training weekend and had to be available for the complete record weekend. This meant that a couple of people who fell sick on the training weekends, or who had commitments for one of the days of the record weekend, were not able to participate, which left a pool of eighteen participants.

The plan was set: Start small, getting everyone a record by doing the same planned jump twice on the same day with two groups of participants, and then go bigger, aiming for the same; one main group, with some jumpers substituting in and out of the group.

Record Day: Saturday

As we all know, the weather is something we cannot control; and for the record weekend, it was no different. Most people arrived on the Friday evening for a briefing on the plan of action and the dive plan: a two point 12-way. On Saturday morning, we woke up to no wind, but cloud at varying levels sitting directly above the DZ. It was clear in Perth and it was clear in Geraldton, but the cloud sat directly above Jurien Bay.

We dirt-dived, visualised, did climb-outs at the mock-up - we even laid it down on the damp grass. Then we dismissed the group for an hour and did it all again. At 2pm we had the discussion of calling it a day, but Don Woodland was convinced that there was blue sky on the horizon, and the group agreed to wait for a further hour. And Don was right!

WA POPS Record Group #1: 1st Point WA POPS Record Group #1: 2nd Point
Group 1: 1st and 2nd Points. Photos: Heath Baird

The first group geared up and took off at 3pm, with some cloud around but it was clearing. The group exited well, flew their slots, and had completed the second point by 7,000 ft. A record achieved, providing the judges could see all the grips and changes clearly. But there was no waiting around for that. Those of the first group who were going up again, packed and dirt-dived the same jump with the six new jumpers slotting into the group. The second group took off at 4pm with clearer skies. This time the exit wasn't so clean, and the flying wasn't as smooth. With a couple of moments of panic moving from the first to then second point, the record was achieved, and it was sent to the judges for a decision.

WA POPS Group #2 1st Point WA POPS Group #2 2nd Point
Group 2: 1st and 2nd Points. Photos: Heath Baird

Both jumps were reviewed and the Chief Judge, Johannes Debler, announced the results later that evening (immediately after we had finished watching the Matilda's win their Fifa World Cup Quarter-Final match against France on the penalty shoot-out - what a night): WA POPS had achieved a WA Large Formation Sequential Record, as well as an APF Notable Event for an Australian Large Formation Sequential Record; eighteen participants each making a record on a two-point 12-way!

Day Two: Sunday

Even so, there was not time for celebration, as Sunday promised to be a better day. We were going for a two-point 16-way and only had, at best, two attempts at it. After a 16-way, we made two attempts at a 14-way, unfortunately with no success. The day did, however, give all the participants a taste for bigger formations and an understanding that the bigger they get, the harder they are.

Fun Facts About The Team

During the event, Dixie Lee collected some data from the participants, including the camera flyer, Heath Baird, which makes for some interesting reading:

Age Range: 41 to 68 years old, with an average age of 56.5 years old

Total Life Experience: 1,074 years

Total Years in Skydiving: 448 years

Total Number of Malfunctions Survived: 105

Total Number of Jumps: 61,428
(38,775 of these completed by only four of the jumpers)

Record Holding Skydivers

Congratulations to the four women and fifteen men on the record loads:

WA POPS Group #1 WA POPS Group #2
Photos: Johannes Debler

Kim Brooks, Bree Campbell, Ching Howe Chan, Mick Connolly, Shirley Cowcher, Adam Fiannaca, Jim Gloriod, Paul Gresser, Bruce Harrison, Tim Hurford, Terry Irving, Tom Kenny, Tony Muir, Micky Paris, Geoff Quinsee, Kelly Waller, Ian Wilkinson, Don Woodland, and Heath Baird (camera).

A Special Thanks

Many thanks to the Chief Judge, Johannes Debler, for judging and organising the other judges; to Heath Baird who flew camera; to the Skydive Jurien Bay staff, the owners Pete Lonnon and Chrissy Sparrow for supporting these events in many ways; to the WAPC for allocating funding to the event, which we didn't end up needing; to Tom Kenny for his persistence in getting me involved and keeping communication open with the registrants; to Don Woodland, my co-conspirator in coaching and organising the participants; and to Dixie Lee for being my voice when I lost it on one of the training days, dealing with me when I wake up in the middle of the night asking what he thinks of then dive plan I've put together, and for collecting the amazing statistics on all of the participants.

About the Author

Shirley Cowcher

Originally from Manchester in England, Shirley Cowcher has been skydiving for 29 years, has an APF Certificate F, around 3,500 jumps to her name along with numerous records, and is an extremely well-respected member of not only just the WA skydiving scene, but all across Australia and beyond.

[Photo sources: Heath Baird, Adam Fiannaca, Johannes Debler, Shirley Cowcher]