If you’ve frequented Skydive Perris in the last few years, you’ve probably seen our interviewee milling about. He can be spotted pretty easily, just look for the notorious zoom lens and camera. Both are usually blocking his face from view as he captures image after image: a portfolio of smiling faces, once in a lifetime moments frozen, saved within a digital image, each a testament to the palpable energy that fills a skydiving drop zone.
After providing Skydive Perris with over 30,000 photos, it’s high time we get the man behind the camera fully into frame. His name is Dennis Sattler, and after hearing his story, you’ll see it’s no wonder he has found himself back in the mix at Skydive Perris.
Dennis has been around skydiving for quite a while, and in a most interesting way, you can revisit landmarks of the development of skydiving within the trajectory of his skydiving career.
“I started jumping when I was a junior in high school, the week I turned sixteen. I turned 16 on Monday and made my first jump the following Sunday. I’d been visiting the dropzone since I was 15 and a half. I got a motorcycle and started going out. We’d moved from Santa Monica to a small town outside of San Diego. And on the way to church one day, I saw a sign in a store window that pointed out to the San Diego School of Sport Parachuting.”
Dennis had known from that first visit to the San Diego School of Sport Parachuting that he had to take flight. He didn’t have to wait around to be convinced to jump:
“I knew right away I wanted to do it. My dad, an Air Force pilot, was a member of the Sky Blazers, based in Germany. They were an early jet demonstration team similar to the Thunderbirds or Blue Angels. Unfortunately, he was killed in an air show in England in 1952, when I was 2. So, I guess it was just sort of in my blood.”
As was the typical progression at the time, Dennis began with static line from 3,000 feet—a far cry from our jumps from 13,500feet—but captivating nonetheless:
“I tell ya. The way it felt to put your feet out to get all the way out and go. You were independent from the very first.”
How did this static line progression work? As Dennis remembers it,
“If you did well, you made 5 static line jumps. The first 2 were just static line and then the next three you practiced pulling your rip cord, and then if you did that satisfactorily, you started doing clear and pulls and then you just kept lengthening your delays, went to five, 10’s, 15’s 20
‘s 30’s. 7,500 feet and 30 second delays was typical of jumping at that time. Once in a while we had a Twin Beech and you’d go higher, but most were from 7500 feet”
Dennis has been pretty committed since the start: “I made my first jump and bought my first rig the first week.”
This was 1965 and just the start of a lifetime love affair with skydiving.
“In July 1972 I went in the Army hoping to join the Golden Knights. A buddy I’d started jumping with, Ed Parrish, had enlisted a year before and made the team. So, I thought if Ed can make the team, I can make the team. I missed tryouts that November because I hadn’t been to Army Airborne school yet, a requirement for tryouts.”
Right before Dennis joined the Golden Knights tragedy struck: “8 March 1973, the Gold Demonstration Team was leaving on their first demonstration tour of the year in March. Their C-47 was caught in a thunder storm, lost a wing, and killed all 14 members on board. I escorted Ed’s body home to San Diego for his funeral, and when I returned to Ft. Bragg, there were orders waiting for me to go to Airborne School. The Knights had a team to fill, so several at Ft. Bragg with prior experience from the 82nd Airborne and the 7th Army were recruited to fill the vacancies. I completed Airborne School and reported directly to the team.”
Dennis thoroughly enjoyed his time as a member of the Golden Knights: “My years on the Golden Knights were always spectacular, the best gear and aircraft, and hundreds of demos all over the country and competitions from Hawaii to Yugoslavia. During this time, I jumped Hueys, Chinooks, C-47’s, Caribou, and C-130’s. Just imagine 10 people doing a demo into a huge air show or a high school on a recruiting tour out of their own C-130. Nothing beats standing on the tailgate of a C-130 with a few of your closest friends”
During the 80’s the Cold War began to flare and tensions between the US and Russia were evident. Within many realms, the competition was on to prove who the superior nation was. Who would have guessed, Dennis’ skydiving trajectory includes a piece of Cold War history?
“When I left the army, jumping probably slowed down, I had 1100 jumps when I went in the Army and about 3600 or something when I left. And I jumped off and on. And then in the early 80s, there was a project to attempt to break a Russian record by 10 men and 10 women making a jump 10 miles high, about 50,00 feet.”
While eventually the venture went bankrupt, what an unreal record attempt to be a part of.
After the record attempt, Dennis took around 20 years off, what we will call a “skydiving sabbatical.” During this time, Dennis got married, had children, and worked as an airplane mechanic in Pittsburgh for 13 of those years. He focused on his life outside of skydiving. Dennis recalls: “In the time between ‘83 and ’03, I only made two jumps”
So, after 20 years without jumping, what got him to spread his wings and take flight once again? His son.
Dennis says, “When my son was 20ish he decided he wanted to skydive. So, I got qualified again and joined him. We made a couple hundred jumps together mostly. Some of these two ways are my most memorable skydives”
While his son no longer jumps, Dennis does. In fact, since returning to jumping, he’s almost made more skydives in this part of his life than the first half! Despite sustaining a few injuries in this half of his skydiving career, Dennis is still at it.
The best part? Dennis has every intention of continuing for a while to come: Dennis turns 70 September 20th? What’s he doing to celebrate? He bought a new rig of course!
If you see Dennis around Skydive Perris, don’t be shy! Flash him a smile and who knows? You might end up in one of his portfolios!
Categorised in: Skydiving
This post was written by Gabriel