33rd Annual Leapfest Competition


27 July to 2 August 2015

I attended the annual Leapfest competition, held at the University of Rhode Island, on 1 August 2015. I am fortunate that this event is only about 2 hours from me.

For the background and description of the event – from the Leapfest website:

“Leapfest is the largest, longest standing, international static line parachute training event and competition.

Each team consists of 5 participants: 4 jumpers and 1 alternate jumper. Jumpers exit from a CH-47 Chinook helicopter at an altitude of 1500 feet (457 meters) using an MC-6 static line, steerable, parabolic parachute.

Participants aim to land as close as possible to a marked, designated area within the landing zone. Upon landing and completing a PLF (parachute landing fall), participants are timed by qualified judges until they reach the designated area.

This is both an individual and team event. Each jumper must complete 2 jumps to be qualified for the individual award, and each team must complete 8 jumps in total to be qualified for the team award.

In addition, we will be hosting a foreign jump exchange followed by a foreign jump wings pinning ceremony”

The 2015 winners are:
“Winning team: Delta Company/2ND Battalion – 160th SOAR (A) FT. Campbell, KY
The winning individual was from 12 (Minden) Air Assault Battery, 12th Regiment Royal Artillery UK”
Viewing of the event is open to the public, at both the pickup zone (PZ) for the parachutists at a large field next to the University of RI, and drop zone (DZ) in a large farming field behind an elementary school. For an aerial view of the area, please click here.

The parachutists are carried in 4 CH-47F Chinook helicopters, that were provided by 2 National Guard units:
Pennsylvania Army National Guard from Fort Indiantown Gap, 07-08738 and 07-08735
New York Army National Guard from Rochester, 12-08863 and 12-08865

The Rhode Island National Guard provided the UH-60A Blackhawks, that carried media and a medical aircraft.

The participating teams were:

Associazione Nazionale Paracadutisti d’Italia Italy
Associazione Nazionale Marinai d’Italia Italy
21 Air Assault Battery, 47 Regiment Royal Artillery United Kingdom
12 Air Assault Battery, 12 Regiment Royal Artillery United Kingdom
7th Parachute Regiment Royal Horse Artillery United Kingdom
Group Support Battalion 19th Special Forces Group (ABN) USA
Delta Company/2nd Battallion – 160th SOAR(A) Kentucky USA
HHC 3/160TH SOAR (A) Georgia USA
Army Warrior Training Center Fort Benning USA
158th Rigger Support Team – Maryland USA
Luftlande brigade 1 SAARLAND Germany
144 PARA MED SQN United Kingdom
3R22R Canada
C Co. (LRS) 1-158 CAV – Maryland USA
C Co. (LRS) 2-152 Reconnaissance and Surveillance Squadron Indiana USA
C Co. (LRS) 1-134th CAV Nebraska USA
U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development & Engineering Center Massachusetts USA
1st BN (ABN), 509th Infantry Louisiana USA
Special Operations Detachment (SOD) – NATO Maryland USA
Special Operations Detachment (SOD) – Korea Colorado USA
195th FSC (SO) (A) Nebraska USA
982nd Combat Camera Company (Airborne) Georgia USA
B CO, 1-143rd IN (ABN) Alaska USA
HHT 1/297th CAV (ABN) Alaska USA
13 Air Assault Support Regiment RLC United Kingdom
404th Civil Affairs Battalion (Airborne) New Jersey USA
As the crews were preparing for the day, I walked around and took photos of the Chinooks and participants. The weather was simply beautiful. At 0800, the official opening ceremonies began. It was interesting to see the international participants standing in formation together. Shortly after at around 0830, the first troops started boarding the Chinooks with liftoff just a few moments after that. Thus began the cycle of the Chinooks orbiting in the area at 1500 feet, dropping the participants, returning to the PZ for more troops, and lifting off again with more troops. Once fuel was needed, the Chinook would travel to Quonset Airport just north of the area, for that task.

I photographed the operations at the PZ to include the helicopters, participants putting on their gear, and returning troops arriving by bus from the DZ. At around 0930, my schedule UH-60 flight was about to begin. I ventured out to the waiting Blackhawk, with its rotors spinning just feet above me. I jumped in the always-friendly crew strapped me in. This would be my 3rd UH-60 flight with the Rhode Island National Guard, and they never cease to impress me with their professionalism and friendliness. We soon lifted off for a rendezvous with an airborne Chinook. Come to find out, the UH-60, with its side doors open, had a problem keeping up with the Chinook. So it was decided to return to the PZ, and remove the windows. We had to maintain the established orbit to return, so it took a bit to get back. we landed and the crew jumped out and removed the windows, and closed the doors. It was the first time I had witnessed this. After just a couple minutes, we were airborne again.


We caught up to one of the Chinooks and shadowed it, until the troops started to jump. Unfortunately, my view from within the UH-60 was mostly blocked during the jump time. But I did manage to get quite a few shots otherwise. If you have not tried photographing another helicopter from a helicopter with doors/windows open, it is a challenge to say the least. However, it is an incredible experience.

We returned to the PZ, and I did some more helicopter and troop photos from there. A fellow photographer and I decided to head over to the DZ to catch some action there. The public crowd there was amazing, and luckily, we were escorted right out to the field where the 3 large “X’s” were. We were told by our escort that we have to really watch the incoming parachutists, because they could literally land right on us if we were not paying attention. It was a neat perspective to catch the somewhat-violent landing of the troops so close, and then see them race to get up and get to the X, all while the wind caught their parachute and provided immense drag to the runner.

We made 2 trips out to the landing area, before heading back to the PZ for some last minute helicopter photos. The flying was coming to an end around 2:00 PM, and I had lots of shots I was pleased with.

I want to pass very special thanks to Lt. Burmeister, the Rhode Island National Guard, crew of my UH-60 flight, and the Leapfest participants and organizers. I cannot say enough good things about all of the above folks, who are extremely talented and receptive to media coverage.

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