'CReWsing' the skies of History - An interview with Dr T

'CReWsing' the skies of History - An interview with Dr T

Published: February 1, 2016

Back in October 2015, 44 Canopy Pilots (otherwise known as Badass Crew Dogs) gathered together above the skies of Skydive Nagambie, Victoria to break the Australian Canopy Formation Record. One of those bad ass Crew Dogs was the one and only Dr Tee, (otherwise known as Tommaso Liccoli) an accomplished AFF instructor and Relative Work Tutor at SA Skydiving Adelaide. Dr Tee was one of the select few who was invited to attend the 9 day event in an attempt to set a new Australian record. Canopy Relative Work is not for the faint of heart, when learning to skydive, parachutists are taught to spend most of their time avoiding each other in the sky, where as parachuting CReW dogs on the other hand attempt to link up in the sky by hooking their feet in the lines of other parachutes to form large canopy formations. It is an intimidating, yet very rewarding discipline that provides spectacular skydiving visuals. Here is our interview with our own Adelaide Skydiving Instructor and CRW dog, Tommaso Liccoli.

Tommaso Australian Canopy Relative Work Record Interview

SASD: Hey Tommaso, so we wanted to have a chat with you about your recent involvement in the Australian Canopy Relative Work (CRW) Record. 44 people under their open parachutes joined together in one, big flying diamond. It is an awesome achievement to be a part of.

Just to get us started, what's your day job when your not busy jskydiving in Adelaide and breaking records?

TL: I have a PhD in wine microbiology and I play around with microorganisms in a laboratory to make better quality wine. Maybe not as 'adrenaline pumping' as skydiving, but science is still quite exciting! And it is also where I got my nickname from, Dr. Tee!

SASD: Where was the record held? Why there? How many Aussies were involved all up?

TL: The record camp was held at Skydive Nagambie in Victoria. It is a central location in Australia, convenient for the 50 participants and large skydiving planes to access (which means cheap skydiving!). It is also a rural area, with many paddocks for safe off-dropzone landings!

SASD: What first instigated you to want to become a part of this awesome achievement?

TL: Flying parachutes in the sky is one of my favourite parts of skydiving, ultimately it is the most important part in order to get back on the ground safely. I wanted to be part of this experience as learning how to build a large formation helped develop my canopy piloting skills, and combining this with the exhilaration of flying your canopy as a team with 50 other skydivers was an unforgettable experience. Also the possibility of jumping with some of the best canopy pilots in Australia and in the world, and to be part of a skydiving national record doesn't happen everyday!

SASD: Can you tell us what sort of preparation had to go into making a record like this happen?

TL: To prepare for this kind of event requires an unbelievable amount of effort and even a summary of the main steps would be too much to go through here. Two of the best skydivers in Australia, Jules McConnel and Michael Vaughan were the driving forces for this record to take place: for over three years in their spare time between 2-way CRW competitions, they were travelling around Australia teaching people canopy formation skills. Not only did they carry around the appropriate equipment (SASD: CReW canopy formations require a special type of parachute) and consolidated technical skills, but every single person who attended their training camps was totally overwhelmed by their enthusiasm and contagious passion... Once the disease began to spread the "CReW dogs" become more numerous and the pack around Australia reached 50! Unfortunately Michael did not have the privilege to be part of the event and to see his dream come through... However a big 'V' for Vaughny was our tribute for him throughout the camp!

SASD: What sort of training did you have to do in the lead up to the record?

TL: To fly parachutes in proximity to other people and link them together in CRW is one of the oldest disciplines in skydiving. However, not many people are practicing in this discipline very often these days: new parachutes fly differently, and not to mention faster, and are just not ideal for CRW and skydivers tend to fly at a "safe" distance from each other. So many of us had to start months in advance sourcing specific gear and learning the basics of this amazing discipline when skydiving in Adelaide. Many jumps in small formations and many lead-up camps pushed our skills to a sufficient level to safely participate in larger canopy formations and for the record.

SASD: Did you ever have any doubts or fears about being on the record?

TL: I've never felt so scared for so many days in a row... CRW can be a very dangerous activity: many things can go wrong very fast and the possibility of two or more skydivers getting entangled with their equipment is high. I was astonished when I was offered to be part of the record attempt, but the awareness of the risks involved added a further layer of mixed emotions. Fortunately I was able to prepare myself physiologically and use my fears constructively: I felt more "alive" than ever in the months leading up to the event and I performed at 110% during the whole camp!

SASD: What was going through your head on jump run of the record breaking skydive?

TL: "Holy Moly!",... or something like that...!! The reality is that for over a week everyone's nerves and concentration were pushed to the limit and to mentally rehearse to perfection the "next" jump become a routine during the plane ride. So, repeating this exercise a few times it "chewed up" some of that nerve wrecking time while sitting in the plane. It also helped to increase confidence and to stay calm. But it was hard to stay focused during the record attempt jump runs as many distractions were creeping into everyone's head: three planes were flying in synchronised time and altitudes; the chase planes were flying over the building formation of parachutes with tremendous prospective; each jump cost several thousand bucks; the weather gods were not so kind with us, making further chances for the record attempt unlikely. Clearly, no one wants to be that person that did not make it to the formation and ruining everything.... No pressure, not at all!

SASD: How did it feel once you were in the air and everyone was beginning to form up? What was going through your mind?

TL: Once the door opens and you are in the sky, you are finally immersed in the fluidity of the elements and it is liberating. At this stage everything feels like a "usual Sunday morning skydive" and you can rely on your technical preparation to get your task done. The jumps were planned very well and we had lots of time to get into our designated "waiting" position. This was just in front of the formation, in line with your designated group of fellow skydivers. But... wait a minute: now that you are there flying next to this gigantic formation of nylon and strings you have time to appreciate its majesty and its power. Yes, it's terrifying, again! "Will I dock on it?" "Will I dock in a timely manner?" "I don't want to dock too hard and upset the other 40 parachutes creating a mesh of lines and fabric..." No further questions: it is your turn and you are in the middle of the main action!! Somehow with your preparation and the help of the skydiving gods you are finally part of this "dynamic monster": it moves, it is colourful, it makes sounds, it is alive! Progressively you get absorbed in the middle of it, as other parachutes join around your legs and arms. From my position I was able to look up admiring rows of people's faces peeping out behind a rainbow of colours on the background of the big blue sky.... COMPLETED! All 44 people were part of the same body!

SASD: What are three words that describe how you felt when you knew that the team had gotten the record?

TL: "This. Is. Amazing". But if you were to give me a few spare words I would add "Thanks to my life for moments like this!!"

SASD: Why do you think people go to such extraordinary lengths to make a record happen?

TL: Probably it is something that equates to every record and it is similar to what a steaming pot feels when the pressure gets released... Accomplishing a record is to return to a tranquillity state after a long period of physical and mental tension. Very, very rewarding.. And most importantly you have cooked the dinner too! (laughs)

SASD: Thanks for taking the time Dr Tee, it is much appreciated and certainly an eye opening experience! See you at the dropzone!

TL: Yahoo for "CReW"!

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