RAEFORD, N.C.—The wind zipping through your suspension lines at 95 mph, 4 feet off the ground, sounds like a jet engine, said Greg Windmiller.
He had recently broken the world record for 2019 during the 10th World Cup of Canopy Piloting in South Africa, representing the U.S. But just a few jumps later, an Italian competitor broke Windmiller’s record, taking the top spot.
Greg was back in North Carolina after his latest competition fixing the mirror on his truck while doing this phone interview. Greg is the brother of Tony Windmiller, the current building inspector for Bowling Green.
“He’s a pretty big deal in the skydiving world,” Tony said, holding up his cellphone with photos of his brother, Greg, standing next to actor Josh Duhamel on the set of the second Transformer’s movie. Greg has worked on several movies, as well as done stunt work or advising for others. He’s taught several celebrities how to sky dive, and even taught former President George H.W. Bush, when he wanted to sky dive.
Their father was in the Army when Greg was born in Germany. The family moved to Louisiana, Mo., when he was just about 2 years old. The family was originally from Missouri.
Greg moved to Mississippi with his family when he was 16, he said, because his father wanted to near Greg’s grandfather. Mississippi was not where Greg wanted to be, and he said he wasn’t really interested in college, so as soon as he was able, he enlisted in the Army.
“I joined the Army when I was still in high school,” he said.
Once through with basic training, Greg continued on with specialized training as an Army Ranger. His unit required him to learn skydiving. He attended the Special Forces Military Freefall School.
His first jump, he said, was terrifying.
“Fear of heights is something almost everyone has. I wasn’t too sure what was going to happen. The biggest fear is the fear of the unknown. But once I did it the first time, I was hooked,” he explained. “Once I did it for the first time, I knew what was going to happen; I knew what the feeling was going to be and I knew how it was going to happen, and so it was a lot less scary.”
His unit would go deep behind enemy lines for surveillance and reconnaissance.
“We’d get there by using either water infiltration techniques or we’d utilize military free fall, which is the military term for skydiving,” he said.
He did not see a lot of military action, but did some Joint Task Force operations on drug interdiction for the U.S. Border Patrol.
After 10 years in the military, Greg joined the Army’s elite parachute team, The Golden Knights.
“It’s a way for the Army to interact with the public,” he said, “and it’s a great recruitment tool.” The team would travel all over the country at air shows to do parachute demonstrations.
“We would take people for tandem sky dives,” he added.
Greg retired from the Army in 2016 and started his own business, Superior Flight Solutions LLC. But even before he retired, he had been training others in the art of free fall.
He trained Mike Rowe, who did the show “Dirty Jobs,” when Rowe was doing the show “Somebodies Got To Do It,” which are the fun jobs, he added.
“I was the one giving him the classes that he had to take” in order to sky dive,” Greg said. “And I either jumped tandem or shot video for others, such as Chuck Norris and Tiger Woods, so I got to jump with quite a few famous people.”
In order to promote his business, Greg competes in several skydiving competitions.
“What I do is called canopy piloting. It’s where you take a very small parachute and generate a lot of speed,” he said. “Skydiving is kind of quick paced like NASCAR. Then imagine even faster cars. The parachutes we fly are like Formula One cars. We have the fastest parachutes in the world,” Greg added.
In comparison, Greg said, the parachute Bush senior used in his tandem jump was 320 square feet. When he did his military jumps with the Golden Knights, the parachute was 370 square feet. The smallest someone might use when learning how to sky dive is 280 square feet. The competition chutes Greg uses are about 75 square feet.
“They’re extremely small; about the size of a tablecloth,” he said. Moving across the ground, the speeds can range from 92-95 mph.
He has six world records. While is South Africa he broke his sixth world record. But that record didn’t last long. His friend from Italy broke Greg’s record in the very next round.
“The current world record is being held by Mario Fattoruso,” he said.
There is a national competition each year in the U.S. “And every nation has their version of nationals,” he said. “And during the nationals, the top eight to 12 people of that nationals competition gets to represent their country at world-level competitions. What we just did was called The World Cup of canopy piloting in Pretoria, South Africa. Next year, we’ll be going to Siberia in Russia.”
At a world cup competition, Greg could face between 75 and 95 competitors. At a world championship he could face between 100 and 130 competitors.
Each competitor does nine total jumps over three separate events. Each event has three jumps. The competitors are judged on speed, distance and accuracy.
Awards go to the top three competitors of each event.
“They will also take the overall standings of all the scores and have first, second and third overall,” he said.
World championships are the big meets. “There, everyone is going for the medals. At world cups, they aren’t as big, and for that reason everyone is going for records.”
Countries bid on holding the competitions much like is done for the Olympics. They have to present what they’re willing to offer, such as reduced cost housing and they try to make it as cheap as possible for the competitors, including registration fees.
Even so, he added, it still costs quite a bit to compete in these events. Travel costs are usually the biggest expense. His flight to South Africa was about $1,200 and the registration fee was about $1,000.
“The competitors pay for the host to put on the venue and to make sure they have an airplane there, but also to pay for flying the judges there and housing them. Because with out the judges you can’t have a competition,” he said.
At this level of competition, Greg does have about a dozen sponsors. With most of them, however, the sponsorship only entails giving him a good discount on the equipment he needs to compete.
The largest skydiving container manufacturer, Sunpath, is one of his sponsors. The container is what he packs the parachute into.
“There’s no sponsor that just gives me money,” he said.
Primarily, in his business, Greg coaches and trains special operations units, such as Navy Seals and Delta Force, special forces, Air Force special operations units.
They don’t use the small parachutes, he added, but he teaches them how to exit an airplane at 25,000 feet and land a 15- to 25-man group in an area about one-third the size of a football field.
“So they can travel anywhere from 15 to 25 miles behind enemy lines,” he said. “And they can do this at night.”
Occasionally, Greg will come back to the Louisiana area for family visits. He remembers when there used to be a skydiving operation at the Bowling Green airport. “But it shutdown. There wasn’t a lot of desire for it,” he said.
He kind of shrugged off the notion that he was famous in his family. Greg noted that his brother, Tony, was a firefighter at one time, and that kind of bravery deserves recognition, too. Greg’s career choice is sort of prophetic because of his last name: Windmiller—one who mills the wind.