As its National Airborne Day, it seems fitting to post our wrap-up of this year’s Leapfest today – hard to believe it was already a week ago that the skies over southern Rhode Island were full of parachutes…

National Airborne Day on Aug. 16 honors the occassion of the first official parachute jump of the US Army, conducted on this date in 1940, by the volunteer Soldiers of the Parachute Test Platoon.  Other nations had already established Airborne Forces even before the US of course, including Italy, Germany, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and even France.  The Canadian Army established its first airborne unit in July 1942.

Red Army paratroops ‘jump’ from the wing of a Tupolev bomber in an exercise during the 1930’s.

Military parachuting has come a long way since those early experimental drops, and many lessons were also learned the hard way from the combat parachute drops during the Second World War.  Today’s Paratroops jump from turbo-prop and jet-powered aircraft as well as helicopters using either a static-line to automatically deploy their parachute, or by freefalling and then manually pulling a so-called ‘rip cord’ to deploy their ‘chute – and modern parachutes also come with non-steerable and steerable round canopies for normal operations, or highly-manueverable ‘ram-air’ square canopies for special operations.

Current-day US Army Paratroopers jump from a C-130 using the new, cruciform-shape canopied T-11 non-steerable parachute.  The T-11 system has replaced the T-10 parachute that was in use for over 50 years.

Leapfest is the largest, longest standing, international static-line parachute competition. It is hosted each year by the 56th Troop Command of the Rhode Island Army National Guard to promote training and esprit de corps within the international airborne community.

The team from the Czech Republic walk off the Drop Zone after a jump.

Leapfest 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.  Each team consists of 5 participants: 4 jumpers and 1 alternate jumper.

The combined teams from the Italian Army, Navy, Air Force and Carabinieri pose for a group photo.

Jumpers exit from a CH-47 Chinook helicopter at an altitude of 1500 feet (457 meters) using an MC-6 static line deployed, steerable, parabolic parachute and aim to land as close as possible to a marked, designated ‘X-marks-the-spot’ on the Drop Zone.

Military parachuting is not without risk – as this young Dutch Paratrooper found out the hard way…

Upon landing and completing a PLF (parachute landing fall), participants are timed by qualified judges until they reach the designated target.  The individual and team with the shortest overall elapsed times are the winners.

Two Canadian jumpers consult the score board to check their standings.

This year’s winning teams were:
1) Detachment 2, 165th Quartermaster Company
2) Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 160th SOAR
3) Georgia National Guard Joint Team

This year’s individual winners were:
1) SSG Dean DeAngelo, Georgia National Guard
2) SGT 2ND Juan Carlos Ruiz, ODC Mexico (ABN)
3) SFC Rober Hughey, 160th SOAR

2nd Sergeant Ruiz of the Mexican Army’s Brigada de Fusileros Paracaidistas (Parachute Rifle Brigade).

After the conclusion of the competition phase of the event, the participants engage in several Friendship Jumps that enable many of the jumpers to earn the jump wings of other participating countries.  The Wings Exchange forms the final part of the Closing Ceremony.

Paratroopers from all participating countries and units form up for the Closing Ceremony and Wings Exchange.

British ‘Paras’ are awarded the US Army Basic Parachutist Badge.  Next to them, South Africans await their turn.

US Army Basic Parachutist Badges prepared for the ceremony.

German Army bronze-level Parachute Wings ready to be awarded to participants who made the required number of jumps under the command of a German Jumpmaster.

Mexican Jump Wings ready for awarding.

A tray full of Italian Jump Wings ready to be awarded to those who earned them.

For more photos of the action at Leapfest, check out the Strike-Hold Facebook page.

Also check out the Leapfest photo album on the Facebook page of the 982nd Combat Camera Company (Airborne).

To see some really great photos of the Leapfest action check out this album from Maia Kennedy Photography.

And finally, to keep up to date with all the latest news about upcoming Leapfests, and/or to register a team, be sure to bookmark the official Leapfest website and Facebook page.  It would be really awesome to see even more foreign teams participating – so please help spread the word!