Tuesday, February 24, 2009
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Skydive 'boogie' could paint more color into Lincoln's summer skies

(Originally posted Monday afternoon)

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[February 24, 2009]  Each year, all summer long, anticipation builds in Lincoln for the days when the skies will once again be filled with those large, spectacularly colored objects: hot-air balloons. Then, when late August arrives, for one long weekend the mornings and evenings are filled with dazzling masses of the huge vessels that float lazily over town.

InsuranceThere is also a buzz about town as the streets are filled with cars, people are out and about everywhere, and businesses see an influx of visitors and the local people who have stayed in town for the art and balloon festivities.

It is one weekend, and when it is over, planning begins for the next year.

Several years ago the Logan County Airport became home base to the balloon festival. Balloons either launch or land on the grounds, and the airport grounds are set up to host spectators and balloonists.

Well, now there may be something new that could also provide unusual viewing and entertainment in the skies over Lincoln and the grounds at the airport. Next year, if not this year, Lincoln could become home to a skydiving boogie.

A skydiving boogie is a gathering of enthusiasts that attracts participants from all over the United States and beyond for a few days of fun and fellowship.

Organizers presented their plans before the county board's airport committee earlier this month, since the Logan County Airport is owned and operated by the county.

Beth Mahlo from Rock Island and Mark Gadert from Springfield explained that because of its central location between other boogie events, the community's accessibility, and the airport's and community's size and available space, the Logan County Airport would make a great place to host an event. The nearest events are in Iowa, Indiana and Wisconsin.

Mahlo said they would do all the promotion and setup. She described it this way: "What we do is set up a little city and create an atmosphere that the skydivers can enjoy, and they come hang out for three to four days."

She has been doing these events for years and said that she has the connections to the skydivers. There are people out there right now who would like to come to a boogie in this type of area. There's even a man in France who knows about their hopes to have an event here and has said that he would like to come to the event if it were held here, "in your community," she said. She believes she could get 200 skydivers here the first year, and 300 to come the second year. And, while not yet named, this would likely become an annual event that they would keep to a moderate size.

Mahlo described some of what a boogie is all about. The people who come to a boogie are mix of people from all walks of life. Many of the skydivers are in professions that include doctors, lawyers, farmers, judges and dentists, to name a few. There would also be those affectionately called "drop-zone bums" -- people who follow boogies to do such jobs as packing parachutes for a living. Between flights everyone has a great time interacting with the drop-zone bums, often being the ones looked to for tips on how to do a particular maneuver. The days are filled with good camaraderie, and great fun is had by all. When a day is done, many stick around to enjoy food, fun and fellowship at the airport, with some of the participants even opting to camp on airport grounds.


"It's tremendous fun and great entertainment for the community," Mahlo said. With jumps taking place all day long, the activity generally attracts small, steady crowds. There might be 25 people in the stands watching at any given time. People watching just come and go all the time, she said.

"The people are fascinating," she says. She explained that some of the skydivers paint their hair wild colors; that is to help identify their group members while in the air. There would be some skydivers with advanced skills who would be doing some complex performances, including parachute stacking.

Mahlo's interest began with her husband. He is a skydiver with many years of experience. They've traveled all over the U.S. from Wisconsin to Texas going to boogies, and she's been organizing them about a dozen years. "I've been involved in little-bitty boogies and great big, gigantic boogies," she said. "And what we're looking to do here is somewhere in between."

Mahlo explained some of the benefits to the community. There would be the all-day entertainment watching the skydivers. Some of them are fascinating people, and there would be opportunities to get their autographs, Mahlo said.

The event would bring in tourist dollars, particularly benefiting hotels, restaurants and gas stations.

Local organizations would be asked to supply the sale of amenities, such as food and drink stands for the participants, who generally prefer to hang out at the airport while activities are taking place.

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The organizers are asking for use of the airport facility, camping on-site, that local vendors be allowed on-site to provide amenities, and that they would be allowed after-hours entertainment of a band and a bonfire, with alcohol sales provided by a local vendor.

An accomplished skydiver himself, Gadert has been a 20-year pilot, a skydiver pilot, flight instructor, and he has also been involved with boogies for years. He would be responsible for the flight operations.

The organizers had targeted mid-July as the best opening in the boogie circuit.

Chuck Holzwarth, owner of the aerial farm chemical application business that operates out of the Logan County Airport, was present during the meeting. Holzwarth was asked about when his season peaks. He said it is July. He has five to six planes running all day the whole month. One of his air tractors is either taking off or landing every five minutes on average from sunup to sundown throughout July. So, he preferred that the boogie not be scheduled during that month.

Gadert said that depending on how many skydivers participate, they would probably employ two planes, one a King Air and another turbine aircraft. They would be taking off with a new load of skydivers every 30 to 40 minutes.

He and Holzwarth spoke on the spot about the possible arrangements. Gadert believed they could work together to not interfere with the ag business and yet keep skydivers safe by restricting skydiving activities and the drop zone to the north end of the airport.

"We're not here to take over the airport," Gadert assured. There would not be any temporary flight restrictions. He said that he would file a notice with the FAA to make pilots aware of the unusual activity taking place, but the airport would remain fully operational to all planes.


One of the biggest hitches arose over liability insurance for the event. The organizers had planned their standard $1 million coverage, with signed waivers from each skydiver.

County finance chairman Chuck Ruben felt that the amount would not be enough to protect the county and that waivers are not strong enough to hold up in court.

The organizers said that aviation insurance has become quite high. Mahlo said that waivers are used at other boogies and have even held up to testing in court, but that the organizers would consider other affordable options, if something could be found.

Airport committee member Bill Martin suggested seeing what insurance the chamber gets for the balloon fest.

It was unknown if everything could be in place for a event in Lincoln this year, but the boogie organizers agreed to work with the ag business on choosing a date and look at the insurance options. If they and the committee could resolve all the matters, the event could possibly get its start in 2009.


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