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Major John Stopford-Pickering – Expedition Leader
10 June 2022
On 15 April 2022 Norfolk ACF completed their expedition to Skydive Hibaldstow in Lincolnshire returning home after more than 500 skydives in total with 9 cadets as newly licenced skydivers and 7 more cadets and CFAVs hoping to achieve their licences over the coming weeks.
The group were scheduled to depart for Skydive Spain in Seville on 04 April 2020 …. when Covid19 struck and we went into lockdown. Hopes for a rearranged expedition in 2021 were soon dashed and eventually it was agreed that the expedition would take place at Skydive Hibaldstow (sister drop zone to Skydive Spain) in North Lincolnshire during the Easter school holidays 2022.
The group comprised 20 students (3 CFAVs and 17 cadets) plus 3 licenced CFAV skydivers (one who learnt to skydive as a cadet in Norfolk ACF) plus 2 CFAV ground support.
The course was headed up by Maj John Horne (ret), former OC Joint Services Parachute Wing Netheravon, who had kindly volunteered his services for free, and was ably assisted by other experienced Accelerated Freefall (AFF) Instructors, including Milko Hodgkinson – one of the most experienced skydivers in the world and a member of the British formation skydiving team.
The ground school covers all the emergency safety drills, plane exits, the procedure for the first AFF level, deployment of parachutes and safe landings. After a busy weekend the group returned to Norfolk ready to head back to Hibaldstow the following weekend for the start of the actual expedition!
There was a lot of nervous anticipation as the students kitted up for their very first skydives from 15,000 feet, but by the end of day 2, everyone was able to congratulate themselves on the achievement of completing at least two AFF levels – some even getting as far as Level 3.
Unfortunately on Day 3 the winds were too strong for jumping so the group were given an introduction to parachute rigging and packing by a member of the instructor team, Karen Saunders, who is a Rigger Examiner and also in charge of Tom Cruise’s rigs for the Mission Impossible films!
As the weather continued to be poor the group went bowling in the morning of day 4 and to a climbing wall in the afternoon. On day 5 they visited the Royal Armoury at Leeds – which proved popular and interesting.
Finally, the sun came out again and jumping progressed for the next 4 days. By day 10, four of the cadets had completed all 7 levels of the AFF course – and each one was announced over the tanoy at Skydive Hibaldstow to applause!
On the course there was a whole family of mother and father (both CFAVs) and their son a cadet.
Another CFAV, Lt Darren Cumming, was unlucky enough to lose his shoe on exiting the plane, banging his ankle in the process. Although no bones were broken, he was advised by our medic to rest the ankle and therefore had to pause his training. He hopes to return and complete the course at a future date – but keep your shoes double laced next time Darren!
We fell foul of the weather again, so the group had a canopy handling theory session delivered by one of the advanced instructors and everyone took the theory test which is a requirement of the British Skydiving A licence. On day 12 we went wall climbing again.
Finally the weather turned and jumping resumed.
For those students who had completed the AFF course, they now had to pass Level 8 – a “hop n pop” low altitude jump from 6,000 feet and then go on to do ten consolidated (solo) jumps practising various manoeuvres under the watchful eye of their instructors, before they could achieve A licence.
During the course 4 students decided not to continue and returned home early – but every single one of them felt proud that they had had such an amazing experience and achieved at least 2 AFF levels.
For those that completed the course and have learned to love skydiving, we’re hoping to organise continuous training. Sian Stokes, a member of the UK’s foremost female skydiving team, who regularly competes internationally, was in attendance during the course and has offered to coach those cadets keen to form a team and enter the UK Skydiving National Championships, while Milko has said he will be their cameraman (formation teams require a cameraman to record their footage in freefall for the competition).
I think everyone who attended the expedition is to be commended on their resilience for sticking with it despite the extra 2 years it took due to the postponement, and I believe every member of the group feels proud of their own personal achievements.
📹Check out the video of Norfolk ACF’s skydiving trip on Facebook.