Bill Booth: Skydiving Equipment Innovator

Friday, July 14, 2017

There are few details of personal appearance more legendary in skydiving than Bill Booth’s beard. Every single skydiving student has seen it, after all–the informational video Bill appears in is required viewing before you take to the sky. We always giggle when we read reviews in which folks make a special point to comment about that beard of his, even with everything else that they experienced as part of the jump. We think it’s a shame that the world at large doesn’t know how integral his contributions have been to our beloved sport.

So: Who the heck is that bearded guy?!

Bill Booth Skydiving Video

As it turns out, “that bearded guy” is a super big deal. Bill Booth, to put it simply, is an icon of our time. He has, hardly arguably, contributed more innovations to the sport of skydiving than anyone else on the planet, including a number of safety-related inventions that have saved innumerable jumpers’ lives. He even–get this–invented the means of tandem skydiving.

That’s why it’s Bill that shows up in that video you remember. All the skydiving centers that use the equipment he invented must show this video. When the legendary waiver video was first shot, Bill’s company was called “Relative Workshop.” These days, the company has changed its name to “United Parachute Technologies,” but the man behind the magic is the same.

Bill Booth started skydiving back in the 1960s, when skydiving was a very dangerous hobby indeed. The big, heavy military surplus equipment that sport skydivers were using had a tendency to behave very poorly on jumps–malfunctions were a part of everyday life, as were off landings (due to the equipment’s inherent unsteerability) and painfully hard landings.

In 1972, Bill Booth decided to put his brilliant mind to work in the interests of making skydiving safer, more accessible and more fun. He set up a little factory/lab in his Florida garage and, by the late 1970s, had already contributed two major innovations to the world of skydiving, both of which are part of pretty much every single sport skydiving rig on the planet: the “Hand-Deploy Pilot Chute System” and the “3-Ring Release System.” He won lots of awards for this stuff, which is unsurprising because these inventions in great part make up the technological backbone of modern skydiving.

Fast-forwarding a bit to the late 1980s and early 1990s, Bill’s inventions ushered in new ways of skydiving that would not have been possible using the old equipment. These freefall disciplines that made their way into the skydiving mainstream–skysurfing, freestyle and freefly skydiving–subjected parachute systems to direct, high-speed airflow from every possible direction, putting the integrity of the container at risk. Bill and his team of engineers went to work again to design a container that could take it.

Enter the Wonderhog.

Named for its “piggyback” design (in which the reserve parachute sits in a tray directly above the main), Bill’s first container/harness system incorporated all of the best safety improvements of its era in one convenient package. The basic design of the Wonderhog, although greatly dialed-in over the many years since its invention, remains the gold standard in sport and tandem skydiving container/harness system designs. In fact, since 1977, every single Skydiving World Championships podium has seen at least one team wearing one of Bill’s systems. And, notably, he’s still involved in running UPT.

As a tandem student, you owe Bill a particular debt of thanks. After all, Bill is the reason you can jump. He was instrumental in obtaining FAA recognition of the tandem jump as a means of teaching skydiving to newcomers. (From the invention of the tandem rig in 1984 to 2001, tandem skydiving was possible in the US only as a “volunteer experimental test jumper” under exemptions to FAA rules; Bill helped the FAA understand the equipment and define their rules to fit the modern usage.)

So the next time you see Bill’s beardy face pop up–on a waiver video or otherwise–you can hail him as the cornerstone of the sport he truly is. Beardy Bill Booth is our hero, and he should be yours, too!

Skydive Tecumseh opens April 1, 2017

I've been here 2 times now and both times have been the experience of a lifetime! I plan on going again next summer as well. When people ask "why jump out of a perfectly good airplane" I reply with "because it's a perfectly good plane to jump out of!!" The people here are amazing and every time someone is looking for a good place, skydive Tecumseh is the only place that I recommend. I also like the fact you can donate the little bears too!!

Kelly Bishop Bono