By Tech. Sgt. Julius Delos Reyes
50th Space Wing Public Affairs
Two Airmen represented the Air Force during the United States Parachute Association’s National Championships of Canopy Piloting at Zephyrhills, Florida, April 8.
Matthew Shull, 6th Space Operations Squadron, placed fifth overall in the Open/Professional class, while first-time national competitor Matt Reilly, 50th Operations Support Squadron, placed seventh in the Advance/Amateur class. Canopy piloting is a series of tasks designed to test a parachutist’s ability to control his canopy and fly accurately.
“I love being able to represent the Air Force, I’m very grateful for the support I’ve gotten from the U.S. Air Force Sports and my unit here at 6 SOPS. The time I’ve been given to train makes all the difference when competing alongside the best skydivers in the world,” Shull said.
He said placing fifth was an amazing experience, but his goal was to be part of the U.S. team, which the Reserve captain just achieved.
“This year, they were only taking the top eight,” Shull explained. “Being able to compete at this level with so many sponsored and pro canopy pilots was definitely challenging. Jumping is my passion for sure, but it’s not my job, I have to pay for my gear and my training. The top pros show up each year with new gear and the latest prototype parachutes. So considering that, I feel pretty good with fifth place.”
For Reilly, already an experienced skydiver with more than 1,000 jumps prior, participating on the competition side of the sport was a new and fantastic experience. Additionally, it provided him the opportunity to test and demonstrate his skills.
“Given my relatively low jump numbers — 1,000 jumps is on the low end — and lack of competition experience, I’m pleased having finished seventh out of 24 excellent canopy pilots. I flew very conservatively, not wanting my inexperience to get the best of me. With continued competition — specific training this season, I’m confident I will be in contention to win my division at next year’s Nationals,” he said.
Reilly started skydiving in 2012, pushing the envelope to constantly improve and grow his skill set, especially with canopy piloting. Prior to the competition’s designated practice days, he had never trained specifically for these competitive events as Colorado drop zones lack the requisite pond and swooping courses.
“Fortunately, with my canopy piloting knowledge and experience, I was able to learn and adapt quickly to the specific demands of competitive swooping. I was also very fortunate to have Captain Shull providing me with expert advice and coaching throughout the competition. I owe much of my success to Captain Shull’s guidance,” he said.
Meanwhile, Shull started preparing back in February, when the Florida Canopy Piloting League kicked off. He used those events to practice leading up to the nationals.
“It’s actually the only practice I can get during the Colorado winters,” he said.
In addition to the competitions, he also prepared by ensuring his gear is good to go and he’s mentally ready to compete.
“I’ll look at aerial views of the course, replay video and use GPS data to review my flight path, kind of like studying before a test. The last thing I can do is training. I always arrive a day early to practice. I’ll just pick the event I think need the most work on, then I’ll do about 4-8 jumps until I feel completely dialed in,” Shull said.
With an impressive performance during his first showing, Reilly said he will continue to compete.
“I love having an avenue through which I can test my flying abilities against some of the best canopy pilots in the country,” he said. “The competition atmosphere itself is addicting. Everyone is there to win but, at the end of the day, we are all sharing in a sport and lifestyle we love. Consequently, there exists a high level of respect, support and comradery between competitors.”
For Shull, he is absolutely excited to be part of the U.S. parachute team, which is consist of the nation’s best aerial athletes in all disciplines. They are scheduled to compete in the World Championships of Canopy Piloting in Farnham, Canada, in late August.
“Being able to represent my country at the world championships is probably one of the proudest things I’ll ever do,” he said.