Cheryl Stearns is an aviator and the most successful competitive skydiver in the world.
Her accomplishments include:
- United States Parachute Association Museum’s Hall of Fame Inductee (2010)
- Embry-Riddle Eagle of Excellence Award, Daytona, Florida (2009)
- Action Maverick Award from STREB, New York (2009)
- Amelia Earhart Pioneering Achievement Award from Atchison, Kansas (2007)
- Arizona Aviation Hall of Fame inductee (April 2007)
- Embry-Riddle Wall of Fame inductee, Daytona, FL
- Wiley Post Commission’s 2005 Wiley Post Spirit Award recipient. This annual award recognizes an aviation innovator and pioneer who does not receive government or large corporation’s funding.
- A specially created Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI) Centenary Medal awarded to her for her significant personal contribution to the development of air sports and aviation (October, 2005)
- Diplome Leonardo da Vinci, the world’s highest award in aerosports, for her unique achievements in skydiving.
- Two-time Women’s Overall World Champion in style and accuracy parachuting (1978, 1994)
- A total of 30 world records in parachuting. At one time held four different world records simultaneously: a feat no other parachutist, man or woman, has matched.
- Twenty-five time U.S. Women’s Parachuting Champion
- Three time overall women’s style and accuracy champion at the military world championships (1991, 1995, 1996)
- Guinness World Record holder for the most parachute jumps in 24 hours by a woman – 352 jumps (November 8-9, 1995). During this endurance test, Cheryl added an additional challenge by aiming for a five-centimeter target on each jump. Despite the cold and wind, Cheryl hit the target a record 188 times: 104 in daytime, 84 at night.
- 75 first place women’s titles from the annual U. S. National and biannual World Championships in Parachuting and scores of medals from other national and international competitions. Four times Cheryl has been the overall U.S. Champion for men and women combined, most recently in 1998.
- Over 18,000 skydives, the most of any woman in the world
- Master of Aeronautical Science from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Pope Air Force Base campus.
- US Airways captain in the Boeing 737-300 and Embraer 190, a first officer in the Boeing 757/767 and in the Airbus. She has flown over 75 different types of aircraft, has over 20,000 flying hours.
Cheryl began skydiving in Scottsdale, Arizona at age 17 by convincing her mother to sign for permission and loaning Cheryl forty dollars for her first jump. Her father then tried to encourage her in a new direction by paying for her flying lessons. Cheryl fell in love with both activities and set her sites on success in both.
Cheryl continued developing her flying and parachuting while she attended Scottsdale Community College on a tennis scholarship. In 1975, after graduating with an Associate’s in Arts, with highest distinction, Cheryl contacted world-renowned skydiving coach Gene Paul Thacker to see if she could work for him at his airport and learn competitive parachuting from him. With Thacker’s promise to help her, Cheryl moved to Raeford, North Carolina,with her dog, her parachute gear, and fifty dollars in her pocket. Between flying and maintaining planes for Thacker’s skydiving center, Cheryl learned the finer points about her chosen sport. Cheryl focused on competition in the “classic” events of parachuting, style and accuracy. The style event consists of jumping from an aircraft at 7,500 feet. Then, while in freefall, the style jumper completes a series of six maneuvers (turns and backloops) as quickly as possible. All turns and loops should begin and end at the pre-determined heading. The accuracy competition involves controlling the parachute during landing so that the skydiver’s heel touches the center of a target (currently, a two centimeter disk) placed in the landing area.
In 1977, after winning her first national championship (1976) and establishing a world record in accuracy, Cheryl joined the U.S. Army and became the first woman member of the Golden Knights, their elite parachute team. She served two three-year tours with the team, winning many national and international championships. During her assignments with the Golden Knights, Cheryl won recognition as the leading performer in her sport and did numerous special skydiving demonstrations. Her most memorable was parachuting into the grounds of the Statue of Liberty trailing the American flag. In 2003 the U.S. Army Women’s Museum at Ft. Lee, Virginia, honored Cheryl by opening an exhibit featuring her accomplishments in parachuting and aviation. Cheryl retired as a Master Sergeant from the US Army Reserve in 2005. She then served on the US Army Women’s Foundation Board of Directors.
Besides her success in skydiving, Cheryl has excelled in the air as a pilot. After earning her instrument, multi-engine, and instructor ratings in Arizona and gaining experience flying for Raeford Aviation, Cheryl taught flying during her free time while in the Army. She also found time to earn the degrees of Bachelor of Science in Aviation Administration (Magna Cum Laude) and Master of Aeronautical Science from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Pope Air Force Base campus. She subsequently gained experience flying medical evacuation, teaching and competing in aerobatics, flying and jumping for Air Show America, and flying for Henson Airlines. In 1986, Piedmont Airlines hired her. Now, with Piedmont’s successor, US Airways, Cheryl is currently a 737-300/400 Captain. She has been a Captain on the Embraer 190 and First Officer on the Boeing 757/767 and Airbus 319/320/321.