Skip to content



More than 1,300 skydivers enjoy big sky over Pepperell

More than 1,300 skydivers enjoy big sky over Pepperell

PEPPERELL — Sunday’s rain dampened skies over Pepperell for participants in the 13th annual New England Sky Diving Festival but weather from mid week up to that point was excellent.

When the last flight landed at the well-known landing zone off Route 111, more than 1,300 jumps had been made from three aircraft — a 21-seat DeHaviland Twin Otter, a 31-seat Aviocar Casa and this year, a four-sear Robinson helicopter from C.R. Helicopters of Nashua, NH, according to airport owner Fran Strimenos.

“It was fantastic, a great time had by all,” Strimenos said.

Skydivers from throughout New England participated, joined this year by others from Arizona and California who had heard about the annual event and wanted to jump over New England for the first time.

Skydives have been made at Pepperell Airport since the late 1960s. More than 100 jumpers made their first jumps during the festival.

Unlike previous events, this one did not feature competitive skydiving.

“This was basically a fun event,” Strimenos said. “We’ve had competitive jumps in the past but we just wanted to enjoy it this time.”

Jumpers at Skydive Pepperell hold several New England records including the largest formation of men and women, a 76-person formation completed in 1997; and the highest number of points completed in a large formation, a three-point, 43-person formation completed in 1995.

Organizers were on hand to coach larger groups of jumpers who perform intricate geometric patterns in both freefall and while flying their canopies. Jumpers have approximately 60 seconds of freefall from 13,500 feet in which to do whatever they are attempting before they must separate to safely open parachutes at 2,000 feet.

The event was free to the public and as usual, many spectators lined the grass beside the parking lot to watch jumps of up to 30 people descend groundward about every half hour.

Passenger rides in the fixed wing aircraft and in the helicopter were also available.

Accompanying a flight of skydivers is a special treat, particularly the quick descent earthward at a 60-degree angle once the last jumper has silently disappeared through the rear door of the twin-engine aircraft. Often, the plane beats jumpers to the ground despite the necessity of make a wide circle around the jump area.

According to master jumper and New Hampshire attorney Paula Philbrook, skydiving equipment has advanced considerably over the past several years. Round parachutes have been replaced by rectangular “ram-air” canopies that have better directional control and allow softer landings.

The canopies are made of a series of cells similar to a honeycomb, connected side-by-side length-wise with the front open to the air and the back sewn closed. Once inflated by the force of the wind, the canopy is a very rigid, rectangular plane, similar to an airplane wing that can be steered easily. Even on the ground a strong wind can inflate a parachute just piled haphazardly.

Skydivers are always equipped with two parachutes, a primary and a main. The reserve must be packed and inspected every 120 days by a Federal Aviation Administration certified rigger, whether it has been used or not.

Main parachutes are not 100 percent reliable but malfunctions are rarely the result of mechanical failure. Malfunction can generally be traced to an error in packing, body position at deployment, or poor pre-jump inspections. If a malfunction occurs, the main parachute is jettisoned by pulling a cutaway handle and a second handle activates the reserve.

Although jumpsuits are not required, fabrics and size help control descent speed and maneuverability. Hard helmets are required for student jumpers. Those with experience can opt for leather aviator-style hats, hard helmets or hard helmets with visors. Goggles or sunglasses are a necessary part of a freefall if not using a helmet with a visor.

Join the Conversation

We invite you to use our commenting platform to engage in insightful conversations about issues in our community. We reserve the right at all times to remove any information or materials that are unlawful, threatening, abusive, libelous, defamatory, obscene, vulgar, pornographic, profane, indecent or otherwise objectionable to us, and to disclose any information necessary to satisfy the law, regulation, or government request. We might permanently block any user who abuses these conditions.