Short History of Silvertip Skydiving
This was read at the cookout of the anniversary celebration
Welcome to the 40th anniversary of the Silvertip Sky Divers (SSD). The
oldest Collegiate parachuting club in the world. (That's the club not the
members!) I'd like to introduce our special guests, Our Regional Director
BT Taylor and USPA's Directory of Safety and Training, Glenn Bangs, who
recently took George Bush on an AFF Level I skydive. Unfortunately our
good friend, Silvertip member and the President of USPA, BJ Worth was not
able to make it tonight.
First Let me say that it's a great honor and privilege to be asked to give
the historical review of our organization.
We owe our roots to the U.S. Forest Service, as does the U.S. Army
airborne. The smoke jumpers started in 1939, pioneering jumping as a way
of life. Not to mention elevating drinking to a higher level. Shortly
afterwards the U.S. Army asked the smoke jumpers to teach them how to train
airborne troops to the same level of survivability.
These then were the same pioneers who realized jumping was just plain fun!
As crazy as it sounded to sane people, they did it just because they liked
it. Well, it got pretty boring around Missoula in the winter with no
jumping or forest fires (and back then no ski lifts), so they sometimes
went to school at U of M just to while away the time and stay warm. Oh
yeah, they got their winter beer money from family and various government
agencies with labels on them like "tuition, unemployment, ..." Those are
two more long standing SSD traditions, upheld by almost all of our past and
As luck would have it, one of them discovered the university would help
support sanctioned clubs on campus. Definition: "Beer Money." They had to
do two things: 1) attend the university and 2) offer the sport to other
university students!!! #1 = were already doing that & #2 = easy, what do
you have to know to fall out of an airplane??? Afterall, they didn't know
very much themselves. All they knew for sure was, you can buy a new main
and reserve (already packed for umpteen years) for $14 at the local
army/navy, and ripcords should be pulled when you see the sky so you don't
get opening when you are face to earth. And that was the beginning of our
club, founded in the fall of 1958 by "Pete" Errol Harkness and Jeff Davis
as the MSU Parachute Club. In 1961 it was renamed MSU Silvertip Sky
Divers. The first "game" jump was in 1959.
Hard to believe but it's true! I know it is because Stanley Oliver Sykes
told me so.
In 1966 the SSDs bought their first airplane, 2816A, which was crashed
(ground looped I believe) in 1967 by Bob Schuttie in Banff Canada. Is Bob
here? I was shocked as to how little info on that subject I found in all
the past records.
Then in 1967, when I started jumping, we bought our second aircraft 57C.
This plane was like the brother I never had. I grew up in it both jumping
and as an aspiring commercial pilot. We loved and took care of that ship
until 1970 when it and three of our dear friends perished in a tragic
mid-air over Missoula.
This period was also the heyday of Skydiving in Missoula. Not to mention a
very exciting time in our sport. Relative Work was born. We went beyond
the baton pass to building 10 ways. Our Club was on the leading edge of
all this excitement. Our availability of large A/C was staggering. We had
a fleet of DC-3s, Twin Beeches, Curtis Wright Travel Airs, a Stagger Wing
Beech and a DC-2. We had about 40 active members and trained approximately
100 students per year. We hosted what is believed to be the first 10-way
money meet in the early '70s. Jerry Bird and his All-Stars came and gave
RW seminars to all his competition prior to taking our money. Names like
John Ward, Randy Mosely, Bob Murry, Bob Smith, Jim Maxon, Larry Mason, Andy
McFarland, Jeff Frangoes, BJ and Sam Worth, Carna Sunbee, Mike Olson, the
flying Nardinies, Rich Swinderman, Sherrill Cyr, Liena Larson, Peggy
Lotten, Alva Simes, Jay and John Andrus, Tara Sales, Ron Bright and way
more than my dwindling mind can remember. These were potentially exciting
times, pioneering times. The most exciting time in my life. They have
changed us forever!!!
Then came 11E, the high visibility version of C-180, Lime Green and Puke
Yellow. The end of the 70's key folks that ran the club were jailed or
left the area. The club almost died. After that the club never tried to
buy another plane, though several of our club members did. I never knew
who owned the C-45 (let alone how they got the money!). And believe me,
there is no word of that business in the old club paperwork.
1980 was the low point. Only about 5 active jumpers when 11E puked the
engine, and was sold for scrap. Dave Stewart, Russ Read, Kirk Baker, and
Rob Hepp started restructuring the Club. Folks like Dan Horton, John
Whitcopp, Blain Wright, Hill Billy, Scott Spraycar.
'85 and '86 some of the club members competed on an 8-way intermediate team
at the Nationals. BJ and Mirror Image spent a whole day showing them the
exit that helped them place first.
During the 80s and 90s Montana Para Sports, and Big Sky Para Sports supply
the aircraft and commercial operation, and we all owe a great deal of
thanks to Gary and Tina Sanders for investing so much into this sport as to
allow us to still jump here. The Club is still maintained by the active
jumpers for improvements and enhancements to the jumping community.
As Chris Needles wrote in October 1996 Parachutist, people are starting to
take up jumping at two different ages, in their 20s, and then there are
some of us who are taking up the sport for the second time, in their late
30s and beyond. Well beyond for some of us! Chris alluded to the reason
for this renewed interest as it's being easier on you physically, easier
openings, much easier landings, much more friendly reserves. Building a
family, raising kids, "2nd childhood" and better Orthopods as some others I
feel he failed to mention.
And in conclusion, I would like to say this is just a very brief history of
our club as compiled from searching all the old club files and my own
failing memory. I know all of you have tons to add to what I've said, and
I hope all of you spend some time tonight reminding each other of how it
was and how much fun you had. And above all, I hope you remember how much
you have now because of the Silvertip Sky Divers.