The Progression of Vertical Formation Skydiving

Friday, April 10, 2020

There are several different skydiving disciplines (ways to fly your body in the air) to explore within our amazing sport. One of the benefits of indoor skydiving is the ability to accelerate the learning curve in order to become an expert within the discipline. While highly skilled, our skydiving predecessors had to invest much more time via traditional skydiving to become proficient. The use of indoor skydiving, particularly with the more technical skydiving disciplines, has proven to be a game-changer.

One exciting and compelling discipline we’ll explore today is Vertical Formation Skydiving.

Vertical Formation Skydiving (VFS) is relatively new compared to the other disciplines such as Style & Accuracy or Formation Skydiving. VFS began in 2004 and it quickly gained popularity amongst skydivers.


Let’s break this down – Vertical refers to the orientation you’re flying in the wind, and vertical implies flying in a head-down or head-up position. Formation means you’re flying with others creating specified shapes, and in this discipline, it indicates flying with four other flyers. And nowadays, skydiving can refer to indoor or the classic outdoor sport of skydiving. VFS differs from traditional Formation Skydiving (FS) as FS is flyers flying in a belly-down orientation.

VFS is an organized discipline that is also a competitive discipline. In the competition manual, there are several designated formations called Randoms and Blocks. Randoms are a single-point formation (meaning it is a static formation). Blocks require a dynamic move in between to complete the formation – the move in between is called the inter. Each formation built is referred to as a point (even in non-competitive VFS).


Before VFS became a recognized and competitive discipline, there were many skydivers exploring a newer discipline called ‘freeflying.’ Freeflying is a very fluid type of flying where flyers fly head down or head up, or even sideways! In freeflying, formations weren’t the goal as the discipline was new, just flying relative to someone was super cool!

In the 2000s, jumpers started exploring joining together to create new formations, but overall it was an informal type of skydiving. Even though freefliers were craving the evolution, it wasn’t until 2003 did professional skydiver, Melissa Nelson Lowe – who was inspired by those jumpers – start the process of putting pen to paper, promoted it amongst the community, and brought the idea to the United States Parachute Organization to make it a formal event at the US Nationals. There were many involved in making this happen (you can read about it more on Melissa’s blog HERE), but in 2005 the first test event happened at Skydive Perris and in 2008 it was recognized as a national discipline, and in 2006, the International Parachuting Committee recognized it as a worldwide discipline in competition.


The formations have evolved from the very beginning as many teams tested these formations and realized what was realistic, what was not, what was too hard, etc. But the answer to how many formations there are, the possibility with 3-dimensional flying is that there is much to be explored! However, in a competition (and as of this writing), the VFS dive pool consists of 22 block formations and 16 random formations.

Here are a few sample formations from the United States Parachute Association’s Skydiver Competition Manual, which you can also find the 4-Way VFS Dive Pool HERE:


Fun Fact 1: The names of these formations in the 4-way VFS dive pool were all made up! We had a chance to sit down with the discipline’s creator, Melissa Nelson Lowe.

“I knew I was about to talk to a panel of judges and decision-makers who did not fly or understand this discipline. When I originally wrote the rules, I tried to mirror as much of the language that already existed for Formation Skydiving and the same with coming up with formations. Before creating my own formations, I looked at FS 4-Way Skydiving Formations and tried to design similar for vertical and named them accordingly. Some formations that still exist are the Satellite and Star.”

Fun Fact 2: At the 2005 USPA Nationals, Melissa Nelson Lowe, Rook Nelson, Amy Chmelecki, and Andy Machiodi entered as a team competing in 4-way Formation Skydiving (belly to earth orientation discipline). They wanted to draw attention to the upcoming work Melissa had done in promoting 4-way VFS and on round 10, the team decided to do much of the draw as they could – vertically! It was the first time the community had seen anything like that! (And they even did the round wearing their bootie suits!) Check it out here:

Fun Fact 3: When Vertical Formation Skydiving began, it was originally called VRW – or Vertical Relative Work. It was decided to change it from VRW to VFS to keep it consistent with the competition language for USPA and IPC.

Discover the other disciplines of indoor skydiving here:

And if you are excited to discover the thrill of flight, give us a click or call! We look forward to showing you more of this incredible sport!

My wife and I came here a day after our wedding for a little fun. We had a blast. We will be returning in the future. Dave was a great instructor.

Allen Kurtz