by Amy Markert
Cheryl Stearns of Raeford, NC has landed
her name in the parachuting world record books once again! On
November 9, 1995 she completed 24 hours of continuous skydiving,
with a total of 352 jumps! That equates to one jump every 4.09
minutes for 24 hours!!
The previously standing world records, officially recognized by
the United States Parachute Association (USPA) and the Federation
Aeronautique Internationale (FAI) were: for women - 255 jumps
set by Cheryl Stearns in 1987 at Lodi, CA and for men - 331 jumps
set by Jay Stokes earlier this year at Raeford, NC.
But Cheryl was not content with just one record entry this time
around. She wanted to add a new dimension, a greater challenge
to this record attempt. She incorporated one of her championship
skydiving talents into the 24 hour scenario--she made each one
of her jumps a Precision Accuracy Landing on a 5 centimeter target,
and established these new world records:
-Most number of dead centers ( 0.00 m- Bulls eye) in a 24 hour
-Most number of Dead Centers Daytime- 104
-Most number of Dead Centers Night - 84
Most remarkable and significant facts and figures:
-A total of 279 out of 352 (79.3%) jumps were scored at 5 centimeters
-A total of 301 out of 352 (85.5%) jumps were on the electronic
scoring pad (16 cm or less)!
-She scored dead centers an her 332 jump (the jump that broke
Stokes record) and on her record setting 352nd jump!
-In the 24 hour period that Stearns performed this record breaking
feat, there were more hours of darkness than daylight. Add the
bone chilling low temperatures during the night hours and it is
a real wonder she was able to complete so many jumps and to land
with such accuracy.
-The wind conditions throughout the night and much of the following
day were far from ideal, with winds estimated at 35 kts(40mph)
at altitude, and several layers of varying wind speed and direction(the
dreaded dog legs) creating especially difficult accuracy conditions.
A veteran skydiver (D-4020, POPS 4795) Cheryl has held 29 world
parachuting records, countless championship titles and has been
awarded the most prestigious international aerosports award, the
Diplome Leonardo da Vinci, for her unique achievements in skydiving.
So what drove her to brave the below freezing temperatures on
a windy autumn day, to assault the record books again? Her love
of the sport and the sheer challenge of it!
The lure of a challenge, the love of the sport and faith in Stearns'
abilities also attracted a host of supporters to back Cheryl's
world record attempt. And Cheryl is quick to acknowledge that
although her name will be in the record books, she did not do
this alone. She attributes her success to the efforts of a fine
team, made up of over 150 friends and fellow skydivers, whom Cheryl
is most grateful to.
The record attempt took place at her hometown drop zone, Raeford
Parachute Center, in NC, where many of the same players had gathered
in July of this year to join Cheryl in celebrating her 40th birthday
and her 10,000th parachute jump. The Raeford parachute Center
is owned by Gene Paul Thacker, Cheryl's first parachuting coach
and her aviation mentor.
Planning and preparation began months in advance, and centered
around technical and logistical challenges, Cheryl's planning
goal was to make 400 jumps in 24 hours, that equates to an average
of one jump every 3.6 minutes. Her experience as a pilot (She
currently flies Boeing 733-300/400's for USAir and has logged
11,000 flying hours.) and as a jumper (her new jump total is 10,651)
told her that this was possible, but would depend upon a myriad
of conditions being just right. Some of these conditions were
beyond control -- chiefly, the weather. But some of the conditions
could at least be favorably influenced ( if not controlled). These
included: (1) the equipment, (2) the aircraft and pilots and (3)
the ground support.
Stearns took on much of the planning and logistical arrangements
herself, but also enlisted the skills of Cheryl Whitford, a long
time friend of Stearns' and another Raeford resident. Whitford,
like Stearns, is a skydiver, and also is a senior rigger. Stearns
relied on Whitford to spearhead the equipment preparation and
many of the support issues.
Stearns and Whitford had collaborated on the 1987 record attempt
and drew on that experience to plan their strategy. They decided
that a total of 12 complete rigs would be required so that the
parachute packers could keep pace with the jumping and to allow
for any equipment repairs or rigging that might become necessary
during the 24 hour period. Some of the gear belonged to Stearns.
The rest was graciously loaned by other jumpers and manufacturers.
Stearns chose the North American Aerodynamics Para-Foil, 252 square
feet, as the canopy for the record. This canopy helped Stearns
win the US Women's National Championship 17 times. The characteristics
that make this a good Accuracy canopy also make it a canopy that
requires some effort and strength to spiral (steer). Effort and
strength were two commodities Stearns knew she would need to carefully
ration if she was going to last 24 hours of holding deep brakes
on Accuracy approaches. She would need to spiral for quick descents
because she did not have time for a normal canopy ride. Stearns
hoped to meet a turnaround goal of 3.6 minutes per jump with a
minimum opening altitude of 2000 feet above the ground (AGL),
as prescribed by the United States Parachute Association's (USPA)
Basic Safety Regulations (BSR).
Cheryl Whitford, Dave DeWolf and Craig "Pork" Van Camp
designed and installed a pulley system to each of the canopies.
The "De-Pork Pulley System" consisted of an extra line
finger trapped to the outside A-lines of the canopies, looped
through two very small rings, one attached to the connector link
and one attached to the cascade lines. This line terminated with
a soft toggle handle velcroed to the front risers. Stearns could
spiral the canopies quickly and effortlessly with this steering
system. Stearns made numerous tests jumps on all of the rigs,
to help perfect the pulley system and to adjust the brake settings
on each canopy- a critical detail for Accuracy landings.
To keep those 12 rigs ready to jump, a host of riggers and packers
were needed throughout the 24 hour period. Whitford, scheduled
all of the volunteers, recruited approximately 22 folks to do
the packing. At any given time, at least 6 people were flaking/folding
canopies, stuffing them into bags, stowing lines and closing packs.
There were qualifies Senior and Master riggers scheduled around
the clock as well. This dedicated bunch worked steadily through
the finger numbing 26 degree cold windy night. Like Stearns, they
just kept cranking them out!!! Sore knees and sore fingers abounded,
and so did the laughs and the camaraderie. Their high quality
work was evident. Although Stearns endured a few hard openings,
and almost cut away one temporary bag lock, there were NO MALFUNCTIONS
and no cut aways throughout the entire 24 hour period. BRAVO TO
THE PACKING CREW! Bob Williamson of the DO DROP INN, Mount Pleasant,
NC a rigger and around the clock packer himself, donated prize
money to recognize the "hardest working" packer for
the event. Whitford choose a young local jumper, Andrew Christian,
to receive the prize money and the honors. Christian donated his
own personal equipment and worked cheerfully and tirelessly around
the clock, packing parachutes.
The Planes and Pilots
The airplanes and the skill of the pilots were also crucial factors
in attaining a new world record. Again some of the best in the
business were there to make it happen. Dave Johnson of Chuckey,
TN, a jumper and a commercial pilot for USAir, brought his Cessna
185, and set his own record for the fastest turn around time of
the record attempt" two minutes and forty seconds, from exit
to exit of two consecutive jumps!! Bobby Frierson of Denmark,
SC brought his Cessna 182 and flew dozens of sorties. Raeford
Aviation pilots Randy Matthes, Randy Cadette and Randy Kern volunteered
their services, flying Raeford Aviation's Cessna 182s. Russ Downing
also lent a hand, and two other pilots, Lonnie Willer and Woodie
McKay were available on standby. And none of the airplanes would
have kept flying without the mechanical skills of Raeford Aviation's
The Ground Support
A myriad of other ground support duties were essential to setting
the new record. Sherry Schrimsher, President of USPA, acted as
Chief Judge for a distinguished panel of 8 judges (all volunteers),
including Bruce Wicks, Roger Gardner, Kirk Knight, Jim Nipper
and current US Army Parachute Team (USAPT) Golden Knight competitors,
Tommy Welgos, Bill Jackson and Chris Moore.
There were many other current and former USAPT members providing
support around the clock. As with all skydiving activities, the
Golden Knights applied their professionalism, teamwork, and skill
to support excellence in the sport. Stearns is also a former member
of that elite group.
John Eiff drove from Florida to provide his air tuffet for the
target/landing area. After 352 accuracy landings, Stearns was
especially grateful for this impact absorbing cushion.
Even General Wayne A Downing, Commander in Chief, US Special Operations
Command, MacDill AFB, FL dropped by during the event to lend his
encouragement. Stearns is an Army reservist assigned to his command.
A total of over 150 volunteers worked between eight and twenty-four
hours each, to perform all essential duties. These volunteers
came from the local area, NC and SC, and from FL, AZ, VA, PA,
CT, MS, TX and NJ! Duties included: recording results, controlling
aircraft, helping Stearns clear the accuracy pit and change gear
between jumps, a skydiving pit crew, shagging canopies/rigs between
the landing and packing areas, fixing food to feed all the volunteers,
lights, cameras, judging, packing, flying, etc. etc just to name
the major activities. Hundreds of other details were attended
to by this assembly of dedicated and skilled volunteers.
And as the sun began setting behind the tall Carolina pines, 24
hours after the start of this remarkable skydiving event, Cheryl
Stearns made her final approach to the target area and scored
a "dead center" on her record breaking 352nd skydive,
concluding this world record the way she does everything--with
style. Cheryl was presented with a bottle of champagne and a dozen
red roses as she smiled broadly, ignoring the fatigue. Sherry
Schrimsher and Gene Thacker proposed a toast to Stearns' achievement
and her lifetime of skydiving accomplishments, to which a large
assembly of volunteers and well-wishers enthusiastically responded
"Hear! Hear!". In turn, Stearns offered a toast to the
crowd, thanking them for their support. "This record belongs
to all of you too-- I couldn't have done it without you!"
Stearns repeatedly praised the championship "team Effort"
of all of the volunteers and the generosity of her sponsors. She
recognized all of those mentioned earlier in this article, and
especially the following: Jackie and Ben Haddon, The City of Raeford,
North American Aerodynamics, Johnny Higgins and Bryn McLeod, Jeff
Steinkamp, The House of Raeford, Mrs. Jeanne Marcher, Skydive
Dallas and American Chiropractic Care, Richard A McKinley DC.
Cheryl Stearns is a tribute to the United States skydiving community
and represents the indomitable spirit of adventure that keeps
us in the forefront of this wonderful sport. Congratulations Cheryl!
You just keep goin' girl!!!
About the Author
Amy Markert, D-6394, is a Style and Accuracy enthusiast, most recently
a member of the 1994 US Style and Accuracy Parachute Team. She
is a Major in the US Air Force and lives in Alexandria, VA.
ęCopyright 1996 by Jan Meyer.