When Rosharon's Dan Raffaelli isn't flying planes, he's jumping out of them.
The Venezuelan-born swooper (a sport more technically known as canopy piloting) recently won the gold medal at the 2010 U.S. Parachute Association National Canopy Piloting Championships in his town, which sits in Houston's backyard. Swooping is a close cousin of skydiving, in which jumpers use high-performance parachutes to manipulate their speed and trajectory. To win the top prize, Raffaelli had to compete in speed, distance and accuracy — meaning he had to land at high speeds at a near-exact spot.
The competition lasted several days, requiring jump after jump. About 50 swoopers competed for the top prize.
By day, Raffaeli works as a pilot for aircraft manufacturer Hawker Beechcraft. He added jumping out of the planes he flies to his resume in 2001, and began competing at the national level just last year.
Next year, he plans to take on the world. "The goal this year is to hopefully keep up the training now that I have full support and go to nationals again," Raffaelli tells CultureMap. "Hopefully then I can be a part of the U.S. team and next year participate in the World Games."
Perhaps JetBlue's infamous ex-flight attendant Steven Slater can take a page from Raffaelli and learn how to bolt a plane in a more graceful way.