Arrival and first practice day
Today, all 21 members of the display team for Yaocheng have arrived at the Qiaojia Apartment Hotel; one Egyptian, one Australian, two South Americans, three Europeans, five Canadians and nine Americans. For me, the trip involved three flights, starting in Groningen at 01:00 on Monday morning and ending at 13:00 on Tuesday when I arrived at the hotel. The long and draining experience of travelling to our destination is something all members of the team now share, despite our different starting points. The last members to arrive were faced with a cancelled flight from Beijing to Tiayuan and had to complete the journey via high speed train. While that makes the experience richer, it’s hard to appreciate such things if you’ve already travelled a long way and you are expected at breakfast at 6:30 in the morning.
Over the next three days we will be doing a morning show, flying a 16-way, and an evening show. The later show will involve a low pass at 5000 ft (1524 m), which will see two jumpers performing a ‘Canopy War’ and two others performing a downplane, then a pass at 7000 ft (2133,6 m) will drop a 9-way. All groups will be using smoke and/or streamers. If you are counting, you may have already figured out that in the morning we have two people on the ground; for the first two days that is Sarge and myself. So, today I was able to watch the first training jump from the ground and hear the spectators’ reactions. Of course, the spectators don’t notice the small details that we do on a training jump. We noticed that the formation did not fly very healthily, and from that have worked out how to get the right trim for the formation for the rest of the event.
The bus left the hotel at 7:10, taking the team to Yaocheng airport where the tight scheduling continued. After all, we are part of an aviation show and have to seamlessly align our performance with that of preceding performers. On top of that, a few of us still had to hook up canopies that had arrived during the night; for this event we are jumping canopies one size larger than usual, so are ‘smartly’ swapping between ourselves. The reason for up sizing is the landing area, which is small and 2,500 ft (762 m) above sea level, there is no room for error.
Today, we only made a training jump in the morning, so there was some extra time in the afternoon. Event organiser Chris Gay had plenty of organisational tasks that still needed attention, and he kept some of us busy getting the smoke pots, flags and streamers ready. Nine of us attended the Shanxi Aeronautical Sports Development Forum in Taiyan, a 1-hour and 20-minute bus ride away from the hotel. Our reason for attending this forum was that we are part of development in China when it comes to sport skydiving. Sarge addressed the attendees on behalf of the CFS World Team and thanked them for allowing us to be part of their program for the sixth time since 2011. Then, the rest of the 4-hour session was carried out in Chinese, which took its toll on us, especially those suffering from jetlag. The official photographers noticed that many of us could not keep our eyes open, they were having a hard time capturing an ‘active’ listening CF team. So, we left with the excuse of getting an early dinner and continued our sleep in the bus and then at the hotel, making sure that we will be ready for the first day of the air show.