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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Down-to-Earth Sport

As a yellow bus filled with parachutists bounces through the field toward a transport helicopter, 20-year-old Volodya Sbrodov, one of the jumpers, reflects on his unusual hobby.


"I got into it because I was always kind of a crazy guy", he says. He twists around in his seat, lights a cigarette and laughs loudly with his parachuting pals. Any fear he feels is hidden beneath layers of humor and bravado. "It is much more scary to drink vodka", he exclaims, adding that parachuting is a narcotic in itself.


As the feature attraction of last Saturday's events in the Moscow Air Show, Sbrodov and the Moscow Parachute Club got to show off some of their tricks, which included acrobatics, fireworks and accuracy exercises.


Although the annual air show is the biggest event of the year for the group, they meet regularly throughout the year to practice and stay in shape.


The club includes 35 parachutists, pilots and coaches, ranging in age from 17 to 45. Some of its members take part in international competitions, but for the most part, the jumpers are in it for the thrill.


On the bus, not everyone is as hyped up as Sbrodov. For Maria Steblyeva, 22, the athletics of parachuting is what counts. She frequently refers to sky-diving as a sport, and says that "it is interesting to control your body in the air, especially if you jump in a group".


But if it's a sport, it is a dangerous one. Vladimir Gorbunov, president of the club, says that every year, at least one person is killed.


Gorbunov has made more than 3, 000 jumps, but for now he concerns himself mainly with the economic survival of the group. Until three years ago, the state provided everything from parachutes to plane fuel, but now all the money has dried up.


There were two ways to go", Gorbunov says. "We could have gone to the government and asked for money, or we could have taken the commercial route".


They did the latter. Since 1990, the Moscow Parachute Club has become self-sufficient through sponsorship and parachute lessons for Westerners, and now Gorbunov wants to expand the club to include flying lessons.


Once in the helicopter, the horsing around ceases, and the noise of the rotors makes conversation impossible. It would probably be calm even without the clamor. The parachutists make quiet preparations for their dive, tugging at straps, peeking out the cargo door from time to time to check altitude and location.


At 2, 000 meters, the chopper sweeps back over the airfield. Through a break in the clouds, dormant planes on the ground at the Military Aviation Museum are visible, as well as a black stripe of spectators standing on the field.


An alarm sounds and the parachutists hustle out of the cargo door. Some plunge into the sky as they would dive into a swimming pool, while others step out the door gingerly, as if they were getting into a hot bath.


Within minutes, almost all 20 jumpers are out of the plane. A couple of thousand feet later, they are separating into groups and arranging themselves in acrobatic formations - a pyramid, a human tower, a circle. On the ground, the crowd stands transfixed.


Two jumpers with fireworks strapped to their calves are the last to bail out, and three minutes later, as they float toward the ground, red and green flares shoot from their legs to the delight of the spectators. This is the show's finale.


Back on the ground, everyone is safe. Sbrodov is as spirited as ever. How was the jump? "Fabulous", he says. "It was better than sex".