For Armando and Mario Fattoruso, skydiving has always been a family affair. Armando was born in 1985 in Italy in a small city of southern Italy, near Salerno — Mario, 20 months later — and they can’t remember a time when they weren’t playing out the drama of their lives against the backdrop of a dropzone.
“Every single weekend I was with my whole family at Skydive Salerno,” Armando remembers. “My father was jumping as an instructor and my uncle was running the DZ restaurant. Everyone I knew was there. My brother Mario and I would play with the sons and daughters of the other skydivers who came there from so many different cities. We would play football between the parachutes; we would jump out of the plane in the hangar onto a mattress, pretending that we were already skydivers. And you know what? All of those guys are still skydiving. Some of them are pilots, some are instructors and some others are now helping to run the dropzone.”
“I always say that my first injury in skydiving was when I was two because I was running in the hangar and I fell down,” he jokes. “I had a little cut on top of my eye. For me, that was my first injury in skydiving and, so far, the only one.”
As they were growing up, the boys went the usual dropzone-kid route: packing parachutes for spending money; doing all the other sports they could while they waited their turn. Unsurprisingly, Armando and Mario both started jumping at the age of 16, the minimum age requirement in their native Italy. One week before that sixteenth birthday, Armando remembers stopping his father and asking if it was time to start ground school.
“I remember my father’s face” he laughs. “He looked like he had won the lottery. Because my father wanted to be sure I was ready for my first AFF jump, I would have to say that it was a little bit — okay, a lot — more intensive, and longer, than a normal ground school.”
Armando’s first jump went, predictably, very well. When Armando watched the outside video afterwards, he saw his father dancing with joy as he whizzed out of the frame upon his son’s first deployment.
“He was waving in the air like a crazy man,” Armando laughs. “I don’t think the greatest sportsman at the finish of a competition, knowing he won the gold medal, could have been happier. I have to say, thanks to my father, I still remember the feeling of being a student. My brother and I are USPA AFF instructors, so we try to pass the feeling — the patience; the joy — onward, to the next generation of skydivers.”
Twenty months later, Mario followed suit. (Armando already had 400 jumps by then.) Of course, after AFF comes the real education. The Fattoruso Brothers soon made their first jumps as a nascent team. The challenge of progressing in the sport at a far-flung dropzone became immediately evident.
“We didn’t have that much information,” Armando says. “And there wasn’t really skydiving school as we know it today — like, a canopy piloting school to share articles and see videos. What we could get were videos. We managed to borrow a DVD from the PD Factory team that we got from another guy that went to America.”
“Our English wasn’t good enough to follow the speech,” he adds, “but what we were doing was just pause, slow motion and analyze every single turn they were doing to try to learn what they were doing in the US. We were still young, so we didn’t have that much muscle in the arms, and the canopy was too big for us, but we practiced all the time.”
“Mario and I, we’re survivors,” he laughs. “We pursued canopy piloting with a few basic concepts and by watching the mistakes of the skydivers around us, and by learning lessons from the few skydivers that were traveling around Italy and the world at the time, who brought us back some information that we could study and analyze.”
The brothers made it a healthy competition: If one of them did a good 90-degree turn ten times in a row, the other would have to do it eleven times. The first swooping canopy the brothers got was a Velocity 96. Since there was only one canopy, they had to share it. That got tense — at least until Armando surprised Mario with a cross-braced Velocity for his birthday.
“I packed the new canopy into his container without him knowing,” Armando grins. “As he was boarding the plane, I brought it to him and told him he had to take off our shared Velocity 96 and use his own parachute because I needed the Velocity on the next load. When he pulled, he recognized that it was a cross-braced Velocity I had given him. When he landed, he was almost crying with joy.”
From that moment on, the brothers’ training went full-bore. Dad scrambled to contribute in any way he could — scouring for and borrowing as many video resources as he could to give to his eager sons. When the PD Factory Team came to Italy for the first time, the brothers practically stopped jumping so they could follow them around relentlessly and record every landing.
The work paid off. Mario was the first brother to compete, heading to the Italian Nationals in 2005. He placed third. Armando competed for that medal the year after; he placed 10th or 11th. In 2007, Armando placed first and Mario took the bronze again. Since that year, at least one Fattoruso has made that podium; usually, both.
“At that time, I was studying at the university,” Armando says. “But nevertheless, from that moment, every time there was a competition in Italy, we were there. We found the time. We didn’t compete to show off, but rather to test what we trained. It didn’t matter if it was a good or bad round; a good or bad landing. We always found something to debrief.”
Armando’s first international competition was the second FAI World Championship in Pretoria, South Africa, in 2007. (Since Mario wasn’t there, Armando brought him a Skydive Pretoria t-shirt with the signatures of all of the competitors. He loved it.)
“At that time, there were just a few ponds in Italy, and they were really far from us,” he continues. “Going there to train the week before wasn’t possible within our budget, so we were very serious about debriefing each other. We tried to make it so that I would land first, and he would film me, then the next time, he would land first, and I would film him. We would then use the competition to test our nerves first and our techniques.”
Then the news arrived that the World Cup was to be held in Florida in 2014. It was go time. Armando moved to Australia to train. He jumped up a storm, then did the Australian championships, then zipped back to Italy to the Italian championships. When he arrived in Florida with Mario, the pair joined nearly 100 other competitors, a good half of which were already rocking Petras and Peregrines. The Fattorusos showed up with their 79-square-foot Velocities. Even then, they ended up placing within the top 20.
“In front of us, there were 19 people with Petras and Peregrines,” he smiles, “and behind us, there were also 20 people with Petras and Peregrines.”
That got the PD Factory Team’s attention. Ian Bobo told the brothers that they were looking good with those Velocities, but it was time to level up–and that it was also necessary to commit to attending every single competition out there, no matter where the competition was.
When the brothers got the call from the PD Factory Team in January 2018, it was a dream come true.
“The PD teammates have more or less the same background that we do,” Armando notes. “All of us are at least the second generation of skydivers in our families, and we are all family together. It’s not just Mario and I. We are all brothers. We compete against each other, we push each other and we cheer each other, and that will never change as long as we are alive.”
Being alive, of course, is the key to the enterprise.
Armando was only six years old when he witnessed the incident that impressed upon him the importance of the CYPRES. “I don’t talk about it often because it was a tragedy,” he explains, “But I remember it so clearly. I saw a black object falling in the air with nothing open. It was super hard for me because I knew my father was in that load. We didn’t know who it was. Afterwards, I knew even at that young age that they were saying this guy was jumping without a CYPRES and that is why he died. ”
“Back then, having CYPRES wasn’t common in our sport,” he continues, “but even though I was so young, I remember saying to myself that I would always refuse to jump if there was no CYPRES. Now, I always say to my students–and to all the people in skydiving–that I will never, ever jump without a CYPRES.”
“As it turns out, the CYPRES and I have almost the same skydiving experience,” he laughs. “The CYPRES just turned 30 and I’m 33. The reason why CYPRES is still here is because they make a good product, and the product has saved a lot of lives. The only lives they couldn’t save are those of the people who were sure nothing like this could happen to them. That is the opposite concept of the CYPRES. CYPRES knows that everything is possible, and that’s why they are there.”
“Mario and I could not agree more strongly,” he adds, smiling. “Everything is possible, the good and the bad alike.”