Once again, skydivers from all around the world descended on Rantoul, Illinois for ten days of sun and fun. Perhaps a few wondered whether it would be the same without Hot Rod's chopper and the Jet, but only those who came found out!
The flight line this year was all we could have wanted, even without the 727. Skydive Arizona, Fayard Enterprises, and the irrepressible Mike Mullins provided the main flight line of 4 Otters, two Casas, and the Super King Air. Specialty jumps were many and varied, with the Pitts Special Inverted Biplane, balloons, the C-130, a Sikorsky CH-24 helicopter, a DC-3 and even a Beech 18. I seem to remember many years ago being so glad when turbines became the standard jump plane at larger DZs and replaced the old piston workhorses, and now they're specialty jumps! Also, for those with deep wallets and insomnia, $350 bought you a ride to 30,000 feet in the super King Air - with a 5:30 am dirtdive.
The Big Top was parting hard again this year, with beer, cocktails, Jell-o shots, live music, and skydivers having themselves a good time. Across the way, the front row of tents by the runway featured The Rodriguez Brothers, the Flying Hellfish, the Carbone Zone, and many others to prevent you taking up boring pastimes like sleeping.
For the first time in quite a few years, we had some significant weather at the Convention. Aside from the usual big storm, there were quite a few daylight hours lost to cloud cover and light rain throughout the week. On the first Friday evening we were entertained by the sight of a couple of loads landing with a magnificent lightning show in the background. Lemonhead and I have each managed over 100 jumps for the last two conventions, but this year could only squeeze in 90 (could have been 91, but I snoozed on the King Air's final load at 7:00pm on Sunday). Well, at least we all got to talk to a few vendors and see all their cool new gear.
Things got off to a good start on Friday morning with the first Early Bird King air of the week. In past years, we've often had trouble filling the Early Bird; this year, it was often full by 7:30am for the following morning. Even Packin' Kathy and Larry the Squeeze missed one when it filled up. Speaking of whom, how many 5-month-pregnant women do you know who get up at 6:00am, run 5 miles, then go on a 14-way skydive with no jumpsuit because it doesn't fit any more, then start a 13 hour day of packing, and then do it all again the next day?
The pace, when weather wasn't interfering, was brisk. Rarely did we have to wait more than 10 minutes for a lift when we checked in at the loading tents. With all the usual suspects in Tents 1-3, the Convention Load Organisers were rocking all week. Further on down the row, we had the Muff Brothers, the Free Flyers, and Roger Ponce's Conceptual Contingent all jumping hard. Also in the house were the Golden Knights Demonstration Team showing the flag and smoke all week, and wowing the whuffos. Even with the short wait times, I don't remember seeing aircraft sitting idle very often, so kudos to Don Kirlin for getting the load capacity just about right.
In Tent 1, we had a pretty good week. Lemonhead and I worked with groups of 10-20, and rarely had a poor skydive, with virtually every evening's 40-way doing a nice smooth 2-point dive - not bad for a pick up load. Scotty and Tammy celebrated their 1 year anniversary with a cool 20-way heart formation, and we built an 18-way Lemon (and a few other points) for Lemonhead's 4000th. We took a 17-way chunk off the ramp of the C-130 at (we found out later) about 150 mph, and you can guess the result - Norman Kent got a great view of that one.
On a sombre note, we lost a brother on Wednesday evening, when Frank "Pops" Ludvik was fatally injured. Pops was a fixture on the Early Bird load, a long-standing member of the Flying Hellfish, and an all-round great guy. Thursday morning saw us doing a missing-man dive on the Early Bird load in his memory, just the way we'd done it the previous day when he was with us in person. All our condolences go to his family, the Flying Hellfish, and all our brothers and sisters at Skydive Tecumseh. We'll miss you, Pops.
So ends our second Convention in Rantoul, and what a great Convention it was. Once again, this town and DZ are much better than the Q-place, and it just seems to get better every year.
Don't miss it, Chaps. We'll see you again next year!
If you have any feedback you wish to provide the Convention Load Organizers, please write to WFFC@Freefall.com.