UK Armed Forces score highly at parachuting championships

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Members of Her Majesty's Armed Forces have won all the major events at the British National Canopy Piloting Championships held in Bad Lippspringe in Germany in July

The championships, held at the Joint Services Parachute Centre, were won by Major Alastair McCartney, aged 34, from the Royal Logistic Corps, who has now secured a place at the World Championships in Russia this month.

In addition to winning the overall championships Major McCartney also won the accuracy category and came second in the speed section.

Lance Corporal Sean Sutcliffe came second overall, finishing runner up in the distance section and third in accuracy, while Sergeant Wez Westley won the speed and distance events.

Warrant Officer Class 1 (WO1) Spencer Hogg came third in the distance section and Corporal Stu Storey, who is based at the Joint Services Parachute Centre, was declared the British Forces Germany Champion. They have all been selected to represent Britain at the World Championships.

Seven Armed Forces personnel took part in the championships.

The National Championships are open to both military personnel and civilians and are held in Germany because of the centre’s world class facilities which include one of the best parachute landing ponds in Europe.

Major Alastair McCartney
Major Alastair McCartney [Picture: Dominic King, Crown Copyright/MOD 2010]

The championships, in which competitors jump from a height of 5,000 feet (1,500m), consist of three dangerous and complex categories: ‘speed’, in which parachutists nose dive towards the Earth at speeds approaching 100mph (160km/h) before pulling up to glide through a short course as fast as they can; ‘distance’, in which competitors navigate a course for as far as possible; and ‘accuracy’, which includes complex manoeuvres, skimming the surface of a pond and a precision landing.

Major McCartney, who earlier this year was part of a team of soldiers mistaken for UFOs by locals while doing a winged suit jump in the skies over Sennelager, took up parachuting at the age of 16, following in the wake of his parents who are both keen parachutists. He said:

It’s an amazing sport - just like running a 100-metre sprint; you have to be athletic in what you are doing.

I’m delighted to have won. It’s pretty exhilarating and a lot of fun to jump out of a plane and twist your parachute so you come down as fast as possible. It sounds crazy and dangerous but there is a lot of risk management, we prepare well.

Major McCartney, who has already served in both Iraq and Afghanistan since commissioning in 1996 and is currently learning Pashto for a return to Afghanistan, added:

Parachuting is a fantastic sport with high pressure where you have to make instant judgements in extreme circumstances. In this sense it is good preparation for army life as soldiers are often put in intense situations when they deploy.

Parachuting is one of the most popular adventurous training sports for Armed Forces personnel. It provides a good opportunity to hone important adventurous training skills, enhancing an individual’s ability to withstand the rigours of operations and rapid deployments.

Major Sebastian Muntz, Officer Commanding the Joint Services Parachute Centre, said:

The closest thing to jumping out of an armed vehicle into a combat zone is jumping out of a plane with a parachute on your back. It’s an intense and high pressure sport and is an extremely useful character-building exercise for soldiers.

It can be a dangerous sport which is why every competitor has to do at least 1,000 jumps before being allowed to take part in the competition; you have to be confident in yourself as a parachutist and be able to put on a good show. But it’s not all about competing - we would urge anyone who wants to really challenge themselves and likes adventurous training to do a parachuting course.