World records, for Jerry Jackson, are getting to be old hat.
The 67-year-old Del Mar resident notched his 13th and 14th records earlier this month when he joined a group of over-60 divers hell-bent on breaking every skydiving mark they can.
On May 4, the Skydivers Over Sixty group (SOS) took to the skies over Perris, Calif. to create the largest freefall formation of people aged 60 or more. That jump assembled 65 divers, breaking the record of 60 they set five years ago.
Two days later — and after repeated attempts — they pulled off the far trickier feat of the largest “two-point sequential freefall,” in which jumpers build a formation, break up, then re-form in a different arrangement. The 60 divers in that jump shattered the previous record of 31.
As the final jumper in the formation, Jackson has to plummet at speeds topping 200 mph to catch up to the formation, then at just the right moment, cut his speed in half in order to approach his target at their exact velocity and trajectory.
Somehow, it all feels only natural.
“Humans have always wanted to fly, ever since we were cavemen watching birds,” Jackson said. “It’s in our subconscious. For a human to be able to finally pull off that dream of flight, part of our DNA says, ‘This is really cool.’”
Expert skydivers from at least five countries came together thanks to SOS, which is a subgroup of the Parachutists Over Phorty Society (POPS). Most members have logged thousands of jumps over their 30, 40 and even 50 years of skydiving. Several of the divers are more than 80 years old.
They convene every year to try to attempt record-breaking jumps. This year, they were under the tutelage of Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld, a world-renowned skydiver and motivational speaker.
Jackson, an environmental engineer with a deep love of aviation — he also builds and flies experimental airplanes in his free time — has been skydiving for 45 years. Each dive stokes his love of flight and his engineering mindset. But when he’s in the air, falling in unison with dozens of others, it’s the elegance that’s strikes him the most, the bodies carving vertically through space, hurtling inevitably toward the ground.
“There’s a lot of poetry and art — the speed, the grace, the beauty of it all,” he said.
More than half of his world-record jumps have come over the skies at Perris, the same drop zone where he took his first-ever plunge 45 years ago. In those days, Perris was a dirt field with a Cessna. Now, the airfield is a world-class skydiving hub that he goes to once a month to keep his skills sharp.
On Friday, May 19, he’ll be putting those skills to the ultimate test, when he makes his highest-altitude jump yet, of 30,000 feet — a full 10,000 feet higher than any jump he’s ever tried. And later this year, he’ll be joining another group of skydivers for a world-record attempt in North Carolina.
Those record-breaking jumps offer more than mere thrill, he said, recalling the time he was part of a world record for the largest formation ever attempted.
“I found myself turning and seeing the other jumpers coming down and thinking, ‘What a view. No human being has ever seen this before, no other human being has seen 316 people converging in freefall.’”
That record got beaten by a 400-person formation 12 years ago. But he’s showing no sign of slowing down, leaving plenty more jumps and plenty more records yet to come.
“We all think we can jump forever,” he said. “We’re all looking forward to turning 70 and breaking big records. There is no reason to stop.”