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Skydiving team from Qatar trains at Lodi Parachute Center

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Posted: Tuesday, April 3, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 7:04 am, Tue Apr 3, 2012.

For a moment, the men are nothing more than four or five tiny specks in the sky, framed by red and white parachutes. You have to hold your hand against your eyes to shield the sun from your view; otherwise you could miss the parachuters entirely.

They appear to float effortlessly back down to Earth. And then, in the last 20 seconds, their grace turns into bared teeth and tugging on their parachutes as they try to hit a blown-up target lying on the grass at the Lodi Parachute Center.

The men are part of a nine-member parachute precision team from Qatar, training in Lodi for 40 days in the hopes that they could one day compete for national competitions.

Each team member is young — the oldest is just over 30 years old — and all were all selected from Qatar's national military to be a part of the team, led by precision parachute champion Vittorio Guarinelli of Italy.

They have been in Lodi, staying at the Hampton Inn & Suites, for the past 10 days, each day growing a little bit more comfortable with jumping out of a plane not even 3,300 feet in the air and falling back to Earth.

For the center's owner, Bill Dause, having teams from around the world jump at his business is nothing new.

"Keep up, I am going to show you something (quickly)," he said. "Here is a man from Brazil, and over there, they are from Russia. And that man sitting on that chair, he is from Austria. Where are you from? ... Oh, Vegas."

Dause said his center is known worldwide, so having the team practice there is not surprising, but it is still an honor.

Guarinelli had his team in DeLand, Fla., before coming to Lodi, having them earn their B-license so that they could continue to practice.

A B-license is required by the United States Parachute Association for intermediate jumpers. B-license holders are able to do things like perform night jumps, water jumps and participate in basic group jumps.

B-license holders must complete a certain number of requirements set forth by the USPA.

Those requirements include completing 50 jumps and an accumulated 30 minutes of free-fall time, and parachuters must land within 10 meters of a target set up on 10 of their jumps.

B-license holders must also have graduated from holding an A-license, which they must obtain first. The A-license has fewer jump requirements, among other sanctions.

Guarinelli, who has been precision parachuting since 1984 when he was in the Italian military, has completed more than 8,000 jumps and said even though he is training nine men, he must whittle that number down at the end of training to determine his team.

The team has only been jumping since November, but in that short amount of time, their ability to hit the inflated, round target has already improved since they began jumping last week.

But hitting a large target is just the beginning for the team.

In competition, precision parachuters have to hit a target that is just two centimeters in diameter. And that's not the hardest part.

They have to hit the mark with the back of their heel before fully landing.

To say that precision parachuting is a science is an understatement.

On Monday, gusty winds had Guarinelli drawing diagrams on a white board in green pen, showing his team how to handle parachuting down when the weather is not ideal.

For example, with Monday's winds, parachuters were advised to try and fall between three and five meters per second at a fairly sharp downward angle.

If breezes are fair and the weather is nice, parachuters are told to simply glide down less than three meters per second, and at a very smooth 35 to 40 degree angle.

And even with tough gusts and cooler temperatures, the burgeoning precision parachuters from Qatar are quick learners, and many show potential.

In less than two weeks in Lodi, half of the team are already hitting the inflatable every time, and the rest are descending within inches.

Though the team members chatted amongst themselves in Arabic, offering tips and words of encouragement, they rarely spoke in English, mostly because they do not know the language.

However, at one point during the morning, one of the team members walked over.

Smiling, he extended his hand.

"Thank you," he said, before hustling over to the tarmac to board the next plane with three of his other teammates.

He could not be late for his third jump of the day, after all.

Contact reporter Katie Nelson at katien@lodinews.com.

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