Tomeka Sinclair THE ROBESONIAN
Lumberton Airport becomes training ground for parachute team
May 6, 2022
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  • Falling thousands of feet from the sky and landing on a target 2 centimeters in diameter is the type of precision needed to qualify for the World Freefall Style and Accuracy Landing Championship competition that will take place this summer in the Czech Republic. 

    “That is the size of a U.S. 1 cent penny,” said Mark Jones, a member of the All Veterans Group Parachute Team. 

    Landing mere centimeters from the dead center is the difference between a bad jump and a good one. 

    “At the World Championship level, that is a bad jump, to miss by an inch and a half,” Jones said. 

    To increase that precision, the style and accuracy portion of the U.S. Parachute Team has been using the Lumberton Regional Airport as a training ground. As of Friday, the U.S. Parachute Team had completed only about seven practice jumps, low because of weather conditions, but the discount price for the aircraft to disperse the jumpers could not be beaten for the expensive sport that become more and more of a novelty in the United States. 

    The aircraft was provided by Mike Elliott, president of the All Veteran Group, which is a group comprising both active and retired military and patriotic Americans. 

    Since its inception in 2011, All Veteran Group has focused on representing companies and military veterans with the highest level of professionalism through parachute demonstrations, tandem parachute experiences, brand ambassador programs, sponsorships and special events, according to its website. 

    Jones has loaned his expertise by helping coach the U.S. Team in their training at the Lumberton Regional Airport. With five decades of experience and about 17,000 jumps under his belt, he believes he is the man for the job. 

    “There’s a huge mental element in competing as a world-class athlete and this is no different,” Jones said. “I give them thoughts of how I would mentally skydive in a competition — things I would think about, things I wouldn’t think about.” 

    Back when Jones started competing, he was jumping on a target that was about 10 centimeters in diameter. 

    “It went from 10 centimeters to 5 centimeters and then there were too many people with all dead centers. It went from 5 centimeters to 3 — same thing happened, too many dead centers. It finally got down to 2 centimeters and it’s probably going to stay at 2 centimeters,” Jones said. 

    Hitting the target dead center is a matter of knowing just the right adjustments depending on the canopy to ensure a slow vertical drop onto the target. A specially modified shoe with a heel about 3 centimeters in diameter at the most is needed to attempt to hit the target, Jones said. 

    “They’re making corrections with a little bit of brakes, a little bit of this — as little as you can to stay steady to be able to…” said Dana Englestad, head of delegation and Team Leader for the U.S. Parachute Team said finishing with a clap of the hand indicating the hit to the target. “This can make a difference in the score. This can be the difference between a zero and an eight.” 

    A zero represents a dead center on the target. 

    During the training at the Lumberton Airport, Jones records the jumps to coach and gives advice on the 

    “Right after the jump, we’ll have a video session,” Jones said. “We’ll watch the video, show them the video, tell them of course what they did very well. Here’s where you did good, here’s where you made a small correction that wasn’t needed or here’s where you should have made a correction.” 

    “It’s fine-tuning,” Englestad said. 

    Jimmy Drummond, a multi-national gold medal winner is no stranger to competing but still needs the training to prepare for a competition like the one coming in the Czech Republic. 

    “We came here to just polish our skills just as a team… better and better and hopefully get in a better position for when we go overseas.” 

    Drummond, a firefighter, has been skydiving for nearly 30 years. 

    The competition is scheduled to be held on July 16-24. The U.S. Parachute Team will be at the Lumberton Regional Airport through Sunday if weather permits.