I trust you’ve all been well, I’ve been super busy dealing with my day job, dozens of different appointments that I kept putting off because of skydiving (Dr, Dentist, etc…), getting back to training at the gym regularly (6 days a week).
Basically, just been quite hectic this past while.
So anyhow, without further ado, here’s part 3 of our trip to Florida.
Our visit to UPT.
On our 4th day in Daytona, we realized that we couldn’t simply spend our time skydiving and that we had to go around and do some tourism. Our first stop was UPT. Being our sponsors and being that they simply ROCK when it comes to customer service, they took us on a tour of the facilities.
Mark Klingelhoefer (who from now will be referred to as Mark K for obvious reasons) was the man to show us around. I must say… This man knows his stuff. There is not a piece of equipment that he doesn’t know inside and out and he is more than happy to tell you about it.
Mark used to sell replacement gear so he has gotten to know everything piece by piece. I won’t go into details about every bit of equipment on a container as it would be long and tedious to read, but if you’re curious, just head on over to the UPT Facebook page to see all the different add-ons and parts of a Vector 3 there are. If you still have questions, just send him a message.
So UPT’s facilities are located in DeLand florida. They have 3 addresses. The main building where everything is made and the offices are, there is the shipping and receiving building and the rigging loft.
We started off in the main building.
Mark showed us some of the more “special” containers.
The black and red “thing” in the middle was Bill Booth’s first ever container. It was the beginning of a new era in sport skydiving. Notice that there is no reserve flap. This is because this rig preceded reserves being packed into the container. People still jumped with chest or belly mounted reserves.
Speaking about reserves. Above, you will find the “cutaway” snaps. You would open up the mechanism, put your thumbs into the metal loops and pull both simultaneously. If you didn’t pull them at the same time, you’d end up in quite a mess.
Next came the extractor. Nowadays, your pilot chute is a little less than 2 feet across. This was it’s grandfather. The first ever hand deploy pilot chute. As you can see there were air pockets somewhat similar to those on a ram air canopy that would cause the drag that would pull out your main. (And no, it’s not collapsible).
Next came this furry beast. This was Bill’s 10 000th rig manufactured. (Notice some upgrades?). To celebrate his 10 000th rig, Bill decided that he wanted it to cost 10 000$ to make. So he had all the metal parts gold plated and put mink fur lining all over it. Mink fur being the most expensive available at the time. But after completing it, he realized that it had only cost him 6 000$ to make.
So he added two of these:
Bill only flew it once to say that he had jumped it and planned to put it away. But a few weeks after he had made it, he got a phone call from none other than Playboy mogul Hugh Heffner. Hugh had heard a rumor about the rig and wanted to know if it was true. Sure enough, Bill told him about it and Hugh asked him if he could borrow it for a short while. Two Playboy Playmates ended up jumping the rig…. Bill’s only disappointment? He got to jump the rig, the Playmates got to jump the rig, but he didn’t get to jump the Playmates.
Above: Bill jumping rig 10 000.
At some point, Bill went to a ZZ Top lookalike contest and ended up winning 1st place. What did he win? A pair of blue leather snakeskin boots.
He was so proud of these boots that he decided to make rig # 20 000 and a jumpsuit to match.
The only problem with a jumpsuit that matched blue leather snakeskin boots? Well… leather jumpsuits in Florida on a heavy set man… You get the idea.
I don’t have images for # 30000 and 40000, but # 50 000 was also a very odd looking one:
And finally number 53821. this one was used for a jump from Everest.
The rig was standard except a couple of mods: 1) it had small loops that held his oxygen tubes in place and 2) the handles were modified to fit his thick gloves.
After Mark gave us the tour of all the rigs, he brought us through the workshop. I call it a workshop and not a factory simply because everything is done by hand and I have the image of a factory needing machines.
The first area was a stitching area where the pieces are stitched together in groups. The person in this picture was making reserve cover flaps for military orders. (The whole row she’s in does NOTHING BUT military orders). We can’t divulge how many containers are made for confidentiality reasons, but I can say… It’s a LOT.
Another view of the same room, this time from one of the edges to show you just how big the room actually is. (There are two identical rooms like this plus a HUGE empty storage area that they recently built)
Now, a container is built of many different pieces. In each area, someone is responsible for cutting shapes for some parts, someone else stitches those together, someone else puts another part that was made elsewhere in the workshop together with the now made piece and stitches it, and so on. It’s a veritable relay race with each person doing something different. For example: we met a woman who was making hackies to be stitched onto pilot chutes. All she did all day was stitch two pieces of leather together and filed them with filler. Someone else would then stitch them onto the pilot chutes as they are ordered.
Above is the back pad. Notice that the harness isn’t a part of it? It’s actually stitched on as well. (It’s done very securely, but it isn’t made as a single piece… Hence the warning not to put your lines bgetween the D-bag and the reserve as it could risk ripping it. You wouldn’t detach from your parachute, but you’d have some expensive repairs to get done)
The final picture shows you just how many different colors you COULD have on your custom Vector.
For those of you wondering: The pig logo is called the wonderhog. It was designed in the 90’s as the name of the first sports modified container was the wonderhog. It was named the wonderhog because the reserve was piggy backed on top of the main instead of being belly mounted.
UPT has a long waiting period simply because they cannot fill all the orders in a shorter time span. All the staff is supposed to be off on Fridays yet they have been working every Friday for months simply to get all the orders out, yet more simply keep on coming in.
It was simply awesome getting to tour the UPT workshop, I learned a hell of a lot from Mark and I have to say. Bill is a mad genius for coming up with all of his inventions and if it wasn’t for him, most people involved in skydiving would either be jumping completely different gear or simply wouldn’t even be involved in the sport at all.
I’d like to extend a HUGE thank you to everyone at United Parachute Technologies for their hospitality, Tara for getting me my rig on a weekend so that I could jump with it, Mark for taking us on the tour and Rosi for agreeing to sponsor us.
Part 4 to come soon…
In the meantime:
Blue skies everyone!