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Flying high

19/05/2017

The Tigers’ officer commanding Captain Wicks gives us a glimpse into the awe-inspiring world of display parachuting, and tells us how support from P&O Cruises has helped take the team to new heights

A member of the Tigers Display Team parachuting with the P&O Cruises flag

 

P&O Cruises is proud to continue its support of the award-winning Tigers Parachute Display Team. As full-time army personnel in active service with The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, the team members train, perform in displays and host tandem days in their precious free time. They’re also entirely self-funded, so the partnership with P&O Cruises is absolutely key to ensuring they can continue to jump.

 

We sat down with The Tigers’ officer commanding, Captain Ian Wicks, to find out more about becoming a daredevil parachutist, jumping into events and how the P&O Cruises partnership has put them in the strongest position yet as they start the competition season…

 

How did you get into parachuting?

I did my first jump on a static line (connected to the plane) in 1990, two years after I joined the army. But then I didn’t jump again until 2010, when I trained in Cyprus to be an accelerated freefall parachutist. Now I’ve done more than 300 jumps and I’m an instructor, so I can teach people how to parachute from having never jumped before.

 

And when did you join The Tigers team?

I took over as officer commanding in 2012. Previously, the team was full-time, but it was about to fold so I volunteered to take it on and make it work as a part-time team. It’s tough sometimes, because we’ve all got full-time army jobs. I manage the careers of 726 soldiers in my regiment, and then in the evenings, when I come home, I’ll sit at the computer and reply to emails about The Tigers (much to my wife’s dismay!). At weekends, I’ll go away and do displays with the team. It’s quite full on.

 

How do you select members for the team?

To be a display jumper, you need to have done a minimum of 200 jumps – so the first thing I do is send potential new members to train at the Joint Service Parachute Wing at Netheravon for a year. At the end of that, they’ll have done almost enough jumps and then we take them away with us on the next training camp to get them up to the 200 mark.

 

However, parachuting is only half of what we do. When we jump into an event, we belong to that event for the whole day. We chat to the public, show them our kit, answer their questions – whatever the organisers want us to do. So I need guys who have good social and media skills, too. We’re ambassadors for the sport, and now also for P&O Cruises.

 

So do you train soldiers to become parachutists?

Yes, every year we select 16 soldiers from our unit who want to learn how to jump – this year we’re bringing them to California, thanks to support from P&O Cruises. This is a great way for me to recruit new team members – three of our current team learned to jump that way. It also allows us to give something back to the regiment for allowing us to do the display events. Last year, we received a Certificate of Merit from the British Parachute Association for our contribution to British parachuting because we’ve qualified so many people over the past five years.

 

What does the training involve?

First, we do a full day of ground school and a written exam, which they have to pass. Then, at the dropzone they have a medical and receive a canopy, jumpsuit, helmet, radio etc. Then we take them up to 13,000ft.

 

For the first three jumps, they have two instructors with them – one either side – then just one instructor for another five jumps. On their ninth jump, they’re on their own. After that, they’ll do another 10 jumps performing certain tasks, such as turning the parachute. This is done over two weeks, and at the end they receive their A Licence from the British Parachute Association.

The Tigers Parachute Display Team jumping in formation

 

How many are on the team?

We currently have six full-time members and two part-time, including me.

 

When do you begin training for the season?

After the two weeks we spend with the 16 students, the rest of the team join us for another fortnight of team training. It’s all about getting everyone up to speed, teaching new guys the routines and learning some new tricks for the season.

 

How dangerous are these stunts?

Very. And it can be quite daunting. At Bournemouth Air Festival, for example, you look out of the aircraft and all you can see is people – you can’t see where the crowd ends. And where you’ve got to land looks like a postage stamp, even though it’s actually the size of a football pitch. So yes, we all get a bit nervous – but it’s a good thing. It’s what makes you do your checks and think about what you’re doing so you never become blasé about it.

 

And of course, everyone wants to be different because that’s what singles you out from the other teams. For example, we were the first team to have two parachutists land with a flag between them. We also do ‘wingsuiting’ – where someone freefalls wearing a nylon bodysuit that has fabric stretched between the arms and legs to create a ‘wing’ – which other teams do, but not during displays.

 

Where do you do the training?

In the past, we’ve gone to dropzones in Europe, but it’s often been difficult to get in the number of jumps we’d like because of the climate. This year, for the first time in five years, we’re absolutely thrilled to be able to take the students and team to train in California at one of the world’s best dropzones – all thanks to the financial support from P&O Cruises.

 

California’s climate means we can do around 10 jumps a day – which will make all the difference. All the best teams go there to train, so we’re in a very privileged position. It’s the best start to the season we could have.

 

That’s incredible. How did P&O Cruises become involved with the team?

In 2015, we performed at the launch of Britannia. Afterwards, I was talking to P&O Cruises CEO David Noyes, and I told him we were in desperate need of a sponsor. I said to him: ‘Would you happen to know anyone?’ And he just grinned and said, ‘Actually, I do.’ Three weeks later, P&O Cruises made us an offer we couldn’t refuse.

 

What kind of events do you typically do?

We do a lot of different events – from Scout parties, weddings and country fetes to international airshows and royal engagements. Last year, for example, we jumped into the Queen of Denmark’s garden to give Her Majesty a birthday card and a box of chocolates from the regiment, because she’s our colonel-in-chief. We also host tandem days, where people choose a charity to raise money for and we jump with them out of a plane at 13,000ft, reaching speeds of 120mph.

 

Do you have any special events to mark the regiment’s 25th anniversary?

Yes, in September the Queen of Denmark is going to present us with our new regimental colours at the cricket ground in Canterbury. It’s a big deal, because it only happens once every 25 years, and all four battalions will be on parade.

 

What other events do you have lined up?

First, we’re off to Malta for the European Airshow Council Convention, where last year we won first prize for our media coverage and promotion of the sport. We’re the first parachute team ever to win that. After training in California, we’ve got a whole host of exciting events lined up including the Bournemouth Air Festival, which draws crowds of around 1.3 million, the Formula 1 British Grand Prix and various events with P&O Cruises. Altogether we’re doing about 25 shows over the five months, which is around 50 jumps in total. And for all of them we’ll fly the P&O Cruises canopy and flags. We’re really excited about this year and celebrating what a great partnership we have with them.

 

Find out more about Tigers Parachute Display Team >

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