Reserve Citizen Airman soars to new heights in Dubai

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Laura Turner
  • 310th Space Wing Public Affairs


Hobbies among Reserve Citizen Airmen have a tendency to vary, with anything from running a marathon over the weekend to going for a hike with the family. For Maj. Matthew Shull, 6th Space Operations Squadron, his hobbies involve defying gravity and constantly testing his physical limits in a sport known as canopy piloting, or ‘swooping.’

Canopy piloting involves an evolution of parachute flight, from flying slow docile parachutes once designed to just save a pilots life, to fast, high performance gliders. Swoopers are challenged with showcasing the skills required to fly those parachutes.

“They take us up to about 6,000 feet, we exit the aircraft and immediately deploy our chute,” said Shull. “We fly over the course, set up on a pond, and then initiate a steep turn to generate as much speed as possible.  We time the turn to recover out of the dive as close to the entry gates as possible. The top pilots can drag their feet through the entry gate at speeds around 85 miles-per-hour with amazing control.”

Depending on the event, competitors are scored based on how far, fast or accurately they can land.

“It is 9 rounds, or jumps, held over several days,” said Shull. “Each round is worth up to 100 points to the best performer. Three rounds in each event; speed, distance, and zone accuracy. Every competitor is scored on how well they do each round compared to the other competitors.”

In order to prepare for this physically rigorous competition, Shull attends 5-10 regional swoop competitions each year to practice for the national event. Shull placed 4th during the U.S. Canopy Piloting Nationals in Raeford, North Carolina, in Sep. of this year, placing him in a top spot on the U.S. Parachute Team. The team consists of the 12 best canopy pilots in the nation, including two members of the U.S. Army’s Golden Knights Parachute Team.

"Maj Shull takes the focus and innovation that he brings to his Air Force duties and applies them to his canopy piloting,” said Lt. Col. Paxton Mellinger, 6 SOPS commander. “I believe that's why he is able to compete successfully on the international level."

This year’s world event, the 9th World Cup of Canopy Piloting, took place in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, from Nov. 27 – Dec. 1.

DUBAI, UAE - Maj. Matthew Shull, 6th Space Operations Squadron, takes the DMSP (Defense Meteorological Satellite Program) mascot for a flight during the 9th World Cup of Canopy Piloting event in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Dec. 1, 2017. Maj. Shull has been a canopy pilot for over 14 years and completed close to 50 competitions. As a Reserve Citizen Airman, he is the Mission Assurance Flight Commander at 6 SOPS and a Satellite Vehicle Operator for the DMSP. (Photo by Maj. Matthew Shull)

Shull has been jumping for over 14 years and competed in canopy piloting for 8 of them. He has done close to 50 competitions so far.

"What's amazing about Maj. Shull is his combination of excellence and humility,” said Mellinger. “I was not aware of his success in canopy piloting on the international level until he asked if he could organize a parachute jump for the unit.  I started asking questions about his qualifications and experience and that's when I learned he has made thousands of jumps and has competed at the national and international levels for several years."

Shull placed 42nd out of 94 competitors at the Dubai event and said he felt good that his runs were on par with some of the best canopy pilots in the world. He feels confident that he will have another chance at redeeming himself at the World Championships, held in Poland next July. The U.S. Team took 2nd Place overall, scoring just behind the United Arab Emirates Host Nation Team and above France.

“I’m very proud to have been able to represent my country, as well as the Air Force, at [the international] level,” said Shull. “A world event like this, especially when held in Dubai, makes us all feel like we’re in the Olympics.”

To read more on what Shull does as a Reserve Citizen Airman at 6 SOPS, please visit the following link: 6 SOPS flies the COOP