AXIS Decennial at Skydive AZ!

November 2020 marks AXIS Flight School‘s 10 year anniversary at Skydive Arizona!

10YearsLogo

In celebration of our ‘tin anniversary‘, we reflect on some of our favorite highlights and exploits over the past decade and give thanks to our Students, Sponsors, Team Mates, and Skydive Arizona. Without you, we would not be living the dream.

Screen Shot 2020-03-22 at 5.22.54 PM.png

AXIS Flight School® Sponsors

We also want to give a special shout out to the various skydiving magazines who have spent many hours editing and publishing our work with the community.

Here is to the next 10 years of Awesomeness!

November 2010AXIS Flight School® sets up shop at Skydive Arizona.

April 2011 – AXIS published its first Foundations of Flight article in Parachutist Magazine.

July 2011 – Nik performs his first canopy burn for the music video 4 years by Kid Savant.

September 2011 – AXIS organizes at MOAB.

October 2011 – Nik makes an appearance in the ESPN Body issue with his team mates on Arizona Arsenal.

March 2012 – Nik wins the 10th Annual Freefly Money Meet.

April 2012 – AXIS coaches and organizes at the Skydive Expo in Deland Florida.

May 2012 – AXIS offers canopy flocking courses at Skydive Arizona.

August 2012 – AXIS coaches and organizes in Europe during the summer. Several more trips follow in the future.

June 2013 – AXIS trains the first Operation Enduring Warrior AFF student Todd Love. Many more wounded veterans join the program to receive their USPA A-License and go beyond.

July 2013 – AXIS releases its first version of a free online DrawGenerator for formation skydiving disciplines. More performance tools are added over the years.

September 2013 – AXIS Flight School’s swoop and slide footage airs on VH1’s 40 greatest viral videos.

September 2013 – Nik wins his first US National title in 4-way VFS while on Arizona Arsenal.

December 2013 – Nik is the primary videographer for the Women’s Vertical World Record 63-way over Skydive Arizona.

December 2013 – Nik performs “The Huckleberry”.

February 2014 – AXIS jumps with Cory Remsburg during the Tee it up for the Troops golf outing in Scottsdale, Arizona.

June 2014 – AXIS skydiving video is featured on the TV show Jeopardy.

September 2014 – Nik wins silver at the 21st FAI World Formation Skydiving Championships in 4-way VFS while on Arizona Arsenal.

September 2014 – Nik wins his second US National title in 4-way VFS while on Arizona Arsenal.

September 2014 Arizona X-FORCE competes at its first USPA Nationals at Skydive Chicago. The team went on to compete and medal (2 silver, 3 bronze) at five consecutive USPA Nationals, in addition to medaling at several indoor skydiving competitions (bronze at USIS). AZ X-FORCE participated in two FAI World Cups, earning bronze in 2019. Peak performances for outdoor included: 17.8 average, 24points single highest scoring round. Peak performances for indoor included: 26.1 average, 46points single highest scoring round.

March 2015 Brianne receives the Chesley H. Judy USPA Safety Award.

March 2015 – AXIS Swoop ‘N Slide video footage is featured on GoPro, and is featured on 60minutes.

March 2015 – AXIS releases YouTube video “A Case of the Mondays”.

July 2015 – Nik captures epic video footage with a RED camera for Rockhouse Motion.

September 2015 – Ben Lowe joins AXIS Flight School under the label X-Ratings to offer rating courses.

October 2015 – Arizona X-FORCE takes 3rd at the USPA Nationals.

November 2015 Brianne’s burning parachute jump video goes viral, reaching more than 1M views.

April 2016 PD’s the Dream of Flight campaign.

April 2016 First 3-way XRW night jump over Skydive Arizona.

May 2016 Performance Designs releases the one-year anniversary Valkyrie ad featuring Brianne swooping her canopy through a wall of fire.

August 2016 – Brianne receives the USPA Regional Achievement Award for her involvement in Operation Enduring Warrior.

October 2016 – Arizona X-FORCE takes 3rd at the USPA Nationals.

December 2016 – Skydive Mag publishes Nik’s Body-flight Theory paper in four installments.

February 2017 – Nik’s aerial photography is featured on FOX 10 News.

March 2017 – Nik receives the Chesley H. Judy USPA Safety Award.

April 2017 – AXIS installs a personal weather station as Skydive Arizona and broadcast info online for locals.

April 2017 – AXIS coaches placed 3rd with their player coach team X-Defy at the iFly Virginia Beach Indoor Nationals in 4-way Formation Skydiving.

August 2017 – Arizona X-FORCE takes 4th at the 21st FAI World Cup in Germany.

September 2017 – Arizona X-FORCE takes 2nd at the USPA Nationals.

September 2017 – Brianne sets World Female Performance Record, as well as North American Female Competition and Performance Records in Speed Skydiving.

February 2018 – Brianne and Nik receive their pilots license (ASEL).

March 2018 – AXIS collaborates with the IBA to produce video tutorials.

March 2018 – Nik receives his IBA Trainer Level 4 sign off.

September 2018 – Arizona X-FORCE takes 2nd at the USPA Nationals.

January 2019 – Arizona X-FORCE takes 3rd at the USIS Nationals.

July 2019 – AXIS published its 100th Foundations of Flight in Parachutist Magazine.

August 2019 – AXIS introduces its Merit System.

September 2019 – Arizona X-FORCE takes 2nd at the USPA Nationals.

October 2019 – Brianne is the first American to medal in FS and VFS at the same World level competition.

October 2019 – Arizona X-FORCE takes 3rd at the 22nd FAI World Cup in Eloy.

December 2019 – AXIS collaborates with Good Goblin Games to produce the AXIS Skydiving App.

September 2020 – AXIS hosts its first Crucible Indoor Tournament.

October 2020 – AXIS builds a home studio to produce high quality educational videos.

November 2020 – AXIS continues to support the OEW Skydiving project.

The Crucible Indoor Tournament

The Crucible is just over a week away!

This fun event, created and organized by AXIS Flight School®, exposes participants to the challenges of competition, while meeting new likeminded flyers. The Crucible is a great learning opportunity for those who wish to take their flying abilities to the next level.

Bring only yourself — everyone flies with everybody.

September 12, 2020 — 5:00 PM at Skyventure Arizona

Click here to register (Limited to 12 slots)

Competition Format

The competition format is an all-play-all tournament, in which each competitor meets all other competitors in turn. Each participant flies with every other participant once. Athletes try to accumulate wins into a final statistic by collecting as many points as possible in a 35 second working time. The Crucible round-configuring-system is a fair way to determine a winner from amongst all participants. One or two bad performances do not jeopardize a competitor’s chance of ultimate victory. Therefore the Crucible tournament fosters a fun and inclusive environment.

All participants are guaranteed to showcase their skills for the entire duration of the event. Final scores of the competitors represent the results over a longer period against the same opposition.

On average a Crucible Tournament takes four hours to complete from arrival to departure. This includes the competitors brief, prep time, short breaks, flight time, and awards ceremony.

Speed Maze

Each flyer showcases their individual flying skills during two rounds called the Speed Maze. The solo flyer races against the clock in order to collect as many points scattered around the tunnel walls as possible. There will be pads on the tunnel walls, numerically sequenced from 1-10, and the competitors have to tag them with their hands or feet in numerical order. Once a competitor tags number 10, s/he repeats the sequence from number 1 until the end of the 35 seconds working time. The points collected during the speed maze rounds are added up and are part of every athlete’s total score.

Helpful Links:

Register (link to Square online store)

Competition Rules

AXIS 2-way FS Dive Pool

Random Draw Generator (select FS, AXIS, and Open)

NEW YouTube Playlist – Skills and Fitness

Brianne and Nik introduce fitness expert and skydiver Darrel Wang. Darrel has a lot of experience to draw from when it comes to training programs, as he was an olympic trialist and professional athlete for a number of years. He has worked with Team USA Track and Field as well as Cycling, and has consulted the MLB, NBA, and NFL.

In this new video series, Darrel introduces us to exercises to enhance our skydiving experience. The specific proprioceptive skills and drills are intended to facilitate skydiving and tunnel flying specific adaptations and may or may not directly translate to other sports.

Shooting Location: MINT Strength – Scottsdale, Arizona.

A Video Experiment

AXIS Flight School is trying something new during the COVID-19 shuttdown.  Since jumpers and tunnel flyers are grounded for a while, AXIS is giving workout realted videos a try on its YouTube channel. The new content is intended to support physical skills relevant to skydiving, rather than focusing on aesthetics. In the first video, Nik covers the topic of grip strength and shares some of the excersises he does to stay in jumping shape. If you enjoy this kind of content and would like to see more, please let us know in the comment section of the video. Happy Training!

Disclaimers: Niklas Daniel is not a doctor or a medical professional. Always consult a physician before starting any exercise program. Use of this information is strictly at your own risk. AXIS Flight School will not assume any liability for direct or indirect losses or damages that may result from the use of information contained in this video including but not limited to economic loss, injury, illness or death.

Skydive Radio Interview on Visualizing

AXIS Flight School would like to thank Garnett and Dave at Skydive Radio for hosting us on their show (#249). Brianne and Nik discuss the value of incorporating visualization parctices to enhace performance.

Visualizing interview 1:37:20 – 1:55:00

Screen Shot 2020-04-06 at 11.40.10 AM.png

AXIS introduces new HFS dive pools

AXIS Flight School has introduced a new discipline – HFS (Horizontal Formation Skydiving), which is intended for indoor skydiving and utilizes both the belly and back-flying orientations simultaneously. It is therefore related to the horizontal rounds drawn during an MFS advanced event, but with an expanded dive pool in order to facilitate more rounds. These disciplines are a great stepping stone for those with formation skydiving experience and are wanting to explore free-flying. There are two versions to choose from: 2-way and 4-way. Both have been added to the AXIS DrawGenerator.

The 2-way HFS dive pool incorporates some elements from the USPA MFS and Collegiate dive pools, as well as the USIS 2-way VFS event. In addition there are some new formations created by AXIS to further expand the pool.

The 4-way HFS dive pool is an adaptation and was inspired by the 4-way VFS discipline.

OEW in the Eloy Enterprise

Disabled veterans learn how to skydive

 

ELOY — Two paraplegic military veterans have taken up a new hobby and recently began their journey of obtaining their skydiving license.

Ryan Newell and Chris Wolff traveled to SkyVenture Arizona from Kansas and Texas for their first training session with AXIS Flight School instructors Brianne Thompson and Niklas Daniel.

Newell and Wolff are part of Operation Enduring Warrior, which is a veteran-founded nonprofit organization that offers various programs including skydiving.

The skydiving program offers an unparalleled sense of freedom of flight and endless mental, physical and emotional rehabilitative solutions in what can feel like a completely new dimension in their lives, often becoming a lifelong hobby, advocates say.

“The concept I tell my children all the time is society says I can’t do this. I can tell them to sit back and watch what’s about to happen,” Wolff said. “It lets them know and understand that the only person that’s going to change you is you, and the only person to hold you back is you. There’s going to be a time when you find a wall that stops you, but what is it? Is it an equipment issue, is it a strength issue? There’s something that goes on that you can break through, but it’s not going to be maybe the way society thinks it’s suppose to be done and that’s the biggest thing we have to look at.”

Wolff had some previous skydiving experience with four tandem jumps, but Newell had no freefall experience.

At SkyVenture Arizona, the two veterans spent many hours in the wind tunnel learning the basics of how to control their body during freefall.

“It’s amazing,” Newell said. “You’re free. It’s like nothing else in that moment matters, it’s just you and the wind. It’s the most incredible feeling to be in there and be free.”

Wolff pointed out that in the wind tunnel there was a different sense of freedom compared to when he did the tandem jumps.

“You’re defying gravity when you’re in the wind tunnel floating above it, but you’re by yourself; you’re not attached to anybody,” Wolff said. “You’re in control of your turns, your rotations, everything that you’re doing you’re not relying on somebody else. It’s kind of like having training wheels and you kick the training wheels off and you don’t have them anymore.”

Wolff spent 10 years in the Air Force and went to Afghanistan as an aerospace maintenance craftsman to disarm weapons. Everything went smoothly and he returned home, he went through the redeployment line and during the medical portion of the process where he got his vaccines and updates, he got a flu shot.

“Nineteen days later I woke up paralyzed from the neck down from a flu vaccine,” Wolff said. “I laid in a hospital bed for 2½ years as a C5 quadriplegic. All I could do was move my neck side to side, I couldn’t talk, couldn’t function anything on my own.”

Then one day Wolff slightly lifted his arm off the bed and 11 years later he’s able to stand up and walk with forearm crutches.

Newell spent eight years in the Army and was in Afghanistan riding in a Humvee when his accident happened.

“I ended up rolling over 100 pounds of homemade explosives that detonated right underneath the truck and it took my right leg instantly,” Newell said. “It broke my left leg femur in half … I don’t remember anything from that portion of it — just what everybody had told me. I was the only survivor out of the Humvee and that’s actually what drives me to all the stuff that I do, it’s because I live for my teammates.”

Newell and Wolff spent five days in Eloy during the first session of their training before traveling back home. They both enjoyed learning from Thompson and Daniel and pointed out that they enjoyed the experience with their instructors as well as the whole skydiving community in Eloy.

“They take the time and they focus on each individual need and they’ll tell you if you’re doing it wrong,” Newell said. “They had me flying on my own during the first session of being in the tunnel. I’ve talked to three other drop zones and even though they have instructors there, they didn’t want to take the risk of training an amputee and these guys didn’t hesitate one bit. These two just flat out go, it doesn’t matter what the injury is, if it’s amputation or paralysis, they will find ways to make us fly and there’s other drop zones that won’t do that.”

Wolff added that he’s also faced the same obstacles at other drop zones, where they don’t want to take that chance on him.

“In the adaptive world is where we have a lot of roadblocks,” Wolff said. “Finding people that are willing to take what is considered abnormal, but to us is normal life and pushing the limitations of what was considered the norm to this new type of adaptive skydiving, that’s not really adaptive. We’re a skydiver just like everybody else. Adapting is one of the biggest hurdles in trying to find that person that’s willing to just consider.”

Wolff’s end goal is to be able to continue being an example for other people who are trying to break through barriers and to also change the thought process of those who may unintentionally set those barriers. An added bonus is that he has found an activity that he can enjoy with his daughter.

“I always look at what my daughter can do,” Wolff said. “From playing with a soccer ball to riding her bike or something like that and being able to see something that her and I can do together. That my injury isn’t considered the problem of why we can’t do it but the availability to do it or it’s something we have to work together to do. I don’t have to worry about that barrier anymore.”

Newell’s goal is to eventually have enough people go through the training to establish a skydiving demonstration team.

“We want to be able to show not only everybody here in the U.S. but the whole world with a disabled demonstration team,” Newell said. “To show them that we came to AXIS Flight School and they taught us from Day 1, and go all the way to become a demonstration team of wounded warriors or even wounded individuals in general. Show the world, hey. Get out there and do something. It’s not the disability, it’s the ability.”

Behind the AXIS Skydiving APP

Woody Icon.jpg

Over the past three years, AXIS Flight School has been involved in a joint venture with Good Goblin Games to develop a new kind of skydiving app – AXIS Skydiving, available on Google play and on the Apple App Store. The goal was to create an educational tool/reference manual that covers body-flight and canopy-piloting concepts in a fun and engaging manner. Brianne Thompson and Niklas Daniel are the co-founders of AXIS Flight School and have a history of writing educational articles and creating online video tutorials. Bruce Fournier is a talented animator and app developer and fun jumper at Skydive Arizona. Brianne and Nik are the subject matter experts for the app’s content, providing Bruce with instruction and feedback in creating the animations. The purpose of this app was to develop an innovative way for an audience to visualize movement. From the start, the team wanted to utilize a 3D model. This allows the user to interact with a subject of interest in a way that a picture or video cannot provide. It is important that a user can change viewing angles, time, and use tools that can help visualize the body’s interaction with the relative wind. This led to the creation of Woody, a three-dimensional interactive dummy and AXIS’ new official mascot. Woody offers viewers insight by demonstrating specific maneuvers related to skydiving. In addition, each chapter in the app also comes with a detailed article, photos, and links to tutorial videos. Specific maneuvers are quickly and easily located as they are grouped into categories, such as body-flight orientation and transitions. Brianne puts it simply: “This is the best damn skydiving app in the history of the world.”

AXIS App group pic.jpg

Photo by George Hargis

 

Playing with Ideas

Accomplishing this would have been difficult to do with most standard developer tools. In order to jump over this first hurdle, the team was inspired by video games, as they are specifically designed to display and animate 3D graphics. With a background developing games for mobile devices in his past and still creating game prototypes in his spare time, Bruce understands the potential and power of such an approach. We quickly decided to make the app in a video game engine called “Unity”. This game engine has grown rapidly in the past decade and is used by small indie developers to big name game studios. Although video game engines are rarely used for educational apps, Unity provided all the tools and flexibility needed for the AXIS Skydiving app endeavor to take shape.

AXIS Feature Graphic.jpg

Creating Woody

Woody was created and animated in a 3D animation program called “Maya”, which is

9.png

Woody flying on his belly.

also used by major video game developers and movie studios. Created entirely from scratch, Bruce did not use any downloadable or royalty free elements. This is where the team decided on what Woody was to look like and any other accompanying gear he might use such as a rig, canopy, and more. Creating the correct and engaging visuals proved challenging. The original idea was to have the app feel like a textbook come to life with Woody jumping off every page. However, the first few drafts were aesthetically boring and uninteresting. After multiple redesigns, the team settled on a look that can be described as stylized minimalism. Through the process of trial and error, the team learned that “less is more”. Avoiding elements that can confuse and distract the viewer, AXIS wants you to see only the bare necessities and what is relevant.

 

Bringing Woody to Life

After Woody took shape and was finalized with Maya, he was then imported into Unity to breathe life into his movements and appearance. There were some unforeseen challenges in the animating process where the team had to think outside the box. Referencing pictures and videos of a particular action is helpful, however the team had to take a different approach when applying standard animation techniques to skydiving. This is because realism and accuracy of execution is the backbone of the app. Animators typically reference the ground and analyze the position of their subject’s feet. Doing this literally grounds the character and guides the animation process. Woody always being in the air however makes the animation process difficult since there is nothing to ground him in reality and is just one of many hurdles we had to overcome. Bruce: “ Animating Woody was a unique challenge compared to the usual way I animate. Most other animations of a humanoid character I can much more easily reference by physically doing silly things myself like jump, run, and crawl around to get the feel of how something is suppose to look. I just hope no one else is around at the time to watch me make a fool of myself. Pictures and videos of someone else performing the action is always very helpful but this also came with its own problems compared to the usual way I animate. When referencing a picture or video, one of the first things I do is look at the ground and see where the person’s feet are positioned. Having this initial point of origin helps guide many things down the line for the whole animation. For skydiving it is literally not grounded. It also doesn’t help that this is an educational app and the animations in particular have to be accurate. Depending on the project you know you can fudge some things and as long as it looks cool and somewhat believable to the average end user it gets a pass. Big name movies and video games do this all the time. We can look at one of our favorite super heroes Iron Man as an example. It may look really cool when he is flying but in reality he would be crashing into the ground if we think about the real physics of how something is flying.”

AXIS App working.jpg

Photo by George Hargis

Though Nik and Brianne help Bruce with the animation of movements, Bruce spends most of his time working on the app by himself. Working on the project part time, around five hours per week over three years, Bruce has spent more than seven hundred hours in front of his laptop!

Teaching Woody to Fly

Bruce: “At first I simply tried to read AXIS Flight School’s articles as a guide to the animation and reference pictures as best I could. I am also a novice skydiver compared to someone like Nik and Brianne and figured I could at least have a slight idea in my head how it should look and feel. Long story short, the first batch of animations came out a little sloppy. We later found the best method to make animations is to have Nik and Brianne sit in with me where I do all the technical computer magic and they describe in detail how Woody should look and occasionally Nik or Brianne have to look silly for me to reference from.”

Nik: “It was a fun and challenging process to teach Woody to fly. Since Brianne and I

15.png

Woody flying Head-down

coach full time, there was no difference in our approach. AXIS is fully aware that there are many ways to perform a particular maneuver. Models and analogies are always limited in their descriptive power. Choosing a method and focusing on tracking the movements of joints is one effective method of getting a concept across. Of course focusing on joint movement alone is not the whole picture. Timing and body tension are impossible to relay in an image and even video, that is why every chapter in the app has an article to help cover these aspects.”

Brianne: “In order to get the most realistic and accurate representation, Nik and I always started at Woody’s core and worked outward. Since we did not have a net or tunnel walls to reference, we needed to keep a close eye not just on Woody’s body movements, but how he moved through space. Without a reference we frequently used masking tape as a place holder on the monitor we were working on.”

Canopy piloting

In addition to body-flight concepts, the AXIS Skydiving app also features canopy handling drills. As canopy parts and elements are very intricate in nature, AXIS turned to its canopy sponsor Performance Designs. Since accuracy is the backbone of the app, the team wanted to ensure that the depictions and animation of a canopy would be realistic as possible.

5.png

Woody under Canopy

PD was able to provide a 3D mesh of one of their products – the Sabre 2. This was instrumentally helpful, but Bruce had to go to work on building a version that could be joined with Woody. Bruce: “Building a functional container with a canopy was one of the most difficult things I ever had to create. There is so many little details and functions that most people don’t realize. There was now three layers of complexity at any given time: 1) Woody by himself, 2) A container that freely moves and morphs accurately on top of Woody along with the function to show if it is open or closed, and 3) Lastly a canopy attached to the container that also functions from real world inputs like pulling your toggles or rear risers. Like the animations before I really couldn’t fudge anything since this was an educational app where accuracy is the most important aspect of the entire project.

The rig I made is a mix of three different rigs. I used several reference pictures of Vectors and Curvs, along with my own Mirage that I closely studied. The first attempt I made at

4.png

“Comin’ through!”

building a canopy on the other hand wasn’t bad and in most cases I would have been happy with it and moved on, but again this is an educational app and there were too many small mistakes that a real canopy would not have. A lot of 3D animation work is studying the environment around you that most others don’t notice. It can be a scary though if you have a lot of the basics down of how something is supposed to work but it just isn’t quite coming together.

Just because I have an accurate looking canopy now there was still a lot of work to be done in order to make it work in our app. I first had to delete a lot of geometry. This does make the canopy look a little more blocky with jagged edges, but building stuff for a game is a huge tight rope dance between what will look good and what will actually work with no slow down. The computer or in our case limited mobile devices have to process everything in real time. From there I have to texture the canopy so it isn’t just grey. Then I have to rig it. This means I have to build a skeleton for the canopy and lines. This might sound a little strange but you have to think of how the canopy is going to move and bend for our needs. I place several “bones” that have “joints” and this dictates how the canopy can actually move. After making the skeleton I then make special controls so I can more easily create animations instead of moving one bone at a time.”

Extra Tools

In addition to featuring top-notch animations, the app also includes some useful tools to jumpers of all kinds. Calculators to determine: exit separation, reserve repack cycle, wing loading, and a canopy size orientation guide. Formation skydiving competitors can benefit from an adjustable count down times with audio cue, access to dive pool images, and a performance analyzer.

Moving forward

The AXIS Flight School team is excited to have launched their innovative new app and is looking forward to watching it grow and evolve. As motion-tracking technology is not available to the team, each maneuver that Woody performs is hand animated and requires many dedicated hours of screen time. There are limited copy and paste features available in this work process. This means each animation is created nearly from scratch even as the app is updated with new content on a monthly basis. Bruce: “From developing other projects over the years I have learned that it is best to try and make everything as modular as possible. That way I can take out and plug in just about anything much more easily instead of redoing everything from scratch.”

“Thank you for downloading and subscribing!” – The AXIS Team

Fly Smart. Train Hard.