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You are Here: Parachute History.com >> Skydiving >> First Rigger at Orange SPC

First Rigger at Orange SPC

by Tom Craighead

I was the first parachute rigger at the first commercial sport parachute center in America (Orange Sport Parachute Center). Orange was also the site of the first World Championship in America, 1962.

I hooked up with Jacques Istel (known as the Father of Skydiving in America) soon after his partner Lew Sanborn (D-1) did ... not as an employee, but as a former paratrooper. The timing was right inasmuch as I was newly discharged from the Army in September,1955. Istel invited me to join his group of beginner skydivers to compete in the World Championship in Moscow. Unfortunately, I was married with two kids, and could not afford to go. They had to pay their own way.

Batch Pond's Good Hill Farm in Woodbury, CT, was the 'birth place' of skydiving in America. Via Pioneer Parachute Co., Istel and Sanborn hooked up with Batch Pond. We jumped there with Batch's sons Nate and Larry Pond. The first sport parachute meet in America was held at Good Hill Farm (1957). Istel, Sanborn, the Pond's, myself and a bunch of college kids competed.

A short time later, Istel signed a contract with the City of Orange, Massachusetts, to rent their dormant airport. After signing the contract, Istel learned from the FAA, that he could not open his "dream" operation without a FAA licensed rigger on hand.

Istel invited me to go with him to the FAA in New Jersey to take the written test for parachute rigger. Jacques believed he had enough knowledge about parachutes to pass the test, having received instruction over at Pioneer Parachute Co. in Connecticut. And I was a former parachute rigger in the Army 11th Airborne Division.

Istel failed the rigger test, and I passed. That is when he asked me to come with him to Orange so as to comply with the law, by having a FAA licensed rigger on board. I spent most of my time in the pack shed designing modifications of Air Force outdated C-9 canopies. George Flinn, Nate Pond, Dana Smith and I test jumped them for effectiveness, and maneuverability. I took the modified 'chutes back to my home Sunday night and hemmed them. They were ready for jumping the next weekend. Before the Interstate Highway system was completed, I traveled to Orange, MA, from Brewster, NY, on a two lane curvy road every weekend for several months until Istel hired a permanent parachute rigger.

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