In Recess TBJ January 2022

Might as Well Jump

Houston attorney Russell M. Webb, 71, is at over 5,000 dives and counting

Interview by Adam Faderewski


Russell M. Webb captures a picture of his legs over the pyramids in Giza, Egypt, as part of the fourth Pyramid Boogie. Photo courtesy of Russell M. Webb.

In the modern world, it’s not uncommon to hear about someone being a frequent flier, but what about a frequent diver? Houston criminal defense attorney Russell M. Webb could easily earn that distinction—having jumped from planes, helicopters, and hot air balloons more than 5,000 times over 43 years. Webb celebrated his 71st birthday with a jump over the pyramids in Giza, Egypt, and has no plans of stopping as he aims to join the Jumpers Over Eighty Society when the time comes.

HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN SKYDIVING? HOW MANY JUMPS HAVE YOU MADE?
My first jump was on May 14, 1978, on Mother’s Day, exactly 10 years before the day I graduated from law school. My age was 27 years, five months, and 20 days. As of November 25, 2021, my 71st birthday, I’ve been jumping 43 years, six months, and 12 days, and I have 5,091 total jumps.

WHAT IS THE HIGHEST YOU’VE JUMPED FROM?
21,000 feet on jump 2,005 on August 14, 1994, over Quincy, Illinois, using oxygen above 14,000 feet. Several record jumps were above 18,000 feet also.

WHAT ARE SOME UNIQUE PLACES YOU’VE SKYDIVED OVER?
Well, the pyramids of Egypt will be very hard to top, but I’ve jumped in more than half the states, sometimes even renting a small plane and pilot at a general aviation airport just to get a jump in a particular state. Any favorites? Giza, of course, but skydivers love to talk about the different forms of lift, i.e., aircraft, they’ve ridden to altitude. Major skydiving events are called “boogies,” and the largest have been the now dormant World Freefall Convention and Couch Freaks in Iowa—those events often hosted unique aircraft.


Webb posing in front of one of the pyramids in Giza. Photo courtesy of Russell M. Webb.

Some of the aircraft I’ve jumped from include the Boeing 727 (2,000th jump); the last flying Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation; the Douglas DC-4, DC-3, C-47, and R4D (all generally DC 3s, all really old!); the North American B-25 Mitchell bomber; hot air balloons; and Cessnas 150, 152, 172, 182, 195, 206, and 208 Caravan. How do I know this all? My logbook has been digital for over three decades, and every single jump is logged.

WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE PLACES TO JUMP?
Any sort of “off-drop zone” landing area like beaches, stadiums, nudist camps, and impromptu places back in the “old school days.” We landed in a city park in Denton after jumping from the B-25 bomber. For drop zones, I love the big ones, like Skydive Spaceland and Skydive Arizona. Lake Whitney State Park was always a favorite because they have a runway there. With less than 50 jumps, I exited over downtown Commerce and had to pick a spot to land in town—that was a vacant lot next to a grocery store and with a round parachute!

I can throw my stuff in the car and drive to Rosharon to get on a plane within less than an hour of arriving. I usually go on weekdays so I can jump solo, at a lower altitude, and fly around with a selfie stick.

DO YOU HAVE ANY CERTIFICATIONS IN SKYDIVING?
I hold the highest level “license” from the United States Parachute Association. They’re numbered sequentially, and I have D License 7014. (The numbers are now over 40,500). My beginner license number is A 6367, and the numbers just hit 100,000!

In the 1980s, I was an instructor and jumpmaster, and I brought over 300 people into my world through instruction and physically putting them out of the plane. Some stuck around, and some became very experienced and either owned a drop zone or participated in many world records, including the largest freefall formation ever, at 400!

I was also a tandem skydiving instructor and later a tandem examiner (taught experienced jumpers to be tandem instructors.) Over about a decade, I made 1,856 tandem skydives with another human strapped onto my front side. During that time, I owned three different tandem parachutes and jumped as an independent instructor at several places.

I was on the world-record S.O.S. (Skydivers Over Sixty) largest freefall formation consisting, totally, of skydivers over 60 years of age. I’m now a member of J.O.S. (Jumpers over Seventy), and the Egypt trip established the record for largest freefall formation of J.O.S. Only nine more years to J.O.E. (Jumpers Over Eighty).


Russell M. Webb (center), Suzanne Hickman, and Gregg Brelsford skydive on the day of their law school graduation. Photo by Fred Goebel.

WHAT’S THE RUNUP TO THE JUMP LIKE? DO YOU FEEL ANY STRESS OR TREPIDATION BEFOREHAND? OR HAS THAT EMOTION WANED WITH THE NUMBER OF JUMPS?
The latter. I was scared the first 50 jumps or so, but it got easier.

WHAT LED TO CHOOSING TO CELEBRATE YOUR LAW LICENSE WITH A JUMP? AND THEN TO COMMEMORATE IT?
I didn’t celebrate my law license with a jump, necessarily, but the dates of my law school graduation and first jump are the same—May 14.

HAD THE OTHERS YOU MADE THE JUMP WITH 30 YEARS AGO GONE BEFORE? WHO WERE THE OTHER TWO THAT JUMPED WITH YOU ON YOUR LAW SCHOOL GRADUATION DAY?
Suzanne Hickman stopped jumping some time back, and Gregg Brelsford has also stopped, as far as I know. We were all experienced skydivers (and law students) when the photo was taken by Fred Goebel, using my camera and mounting helmet.

I’ve never seen a fatal accident happen. I’ve seen several people saved by Cybernetics Parachute Release System, or CYPRES, which is designed to cut the closing loop of the reserve parachute if, below a certain altitude (750 feet), the descent rate is too fast to survive. I’ve had one for the past 30 years, but I went 13 years without one. TBJ

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