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.
At age 17, Cheryl began skydiving in Scottsdale, Arizona after convincing her mother to sign the permission form and loan her the required forty dollars. Her father then tried to encourage her in a new direction by paying for her flying lessons. Cheryl loved doing both hobbies and set her sights on becoming a champion skydiver and a professional pilot.
While attending Scottsdale Community College on a tennis scholarship, Cheryl continued developing her flying and parachuting skills. In 1975, after obtaining an Associate’s in Arts degree, she contacted world-renowned skydiving coach, Gene Paul Thacker, to see if he would hire her to work at his drop zone and coach her in competitive skydiving. After Thacker agreed to help her, she moved to Raeford, North Carolina, with her dog, her parachute gear, and fifty dollars. Between flying and maintaining planes for Thacker, she focused on competition in the “classic” events of parachuting, style and accuracy.
Style is a type of free-fall competition where the skydiver attempts to execute a predetermined sequence of maneuvers (turns and back loops) in the shortest possible time, while staying on heading. Accuracy is controlling the parachute during landing so that the skydiver’s heel touches a target placed in the landing area. Currently, a dead center is achieved by landing on a two centimeter yellow dot within a 38 centimeters in diameter (about 15″) black disc.
In 1976, Cheryl won her first national championship and set an accuracy world record. She joined the Army in 1977 and became the first female member of their elite parachute team, the Golden Knights. During her six years with the team she won many national and international championships and did numerous special skydiving demonstrations.
Parachuting into the grounds of the Statue of Liberty while trailing the American flag was one of her more memorable jumps. 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 from the U.S. Army Reserve as a Master Sergeant and served on the Board of Directors of the U.S. Army Women’s Foundation.
Besides her success in skydiving, Cheryl has excelled as a pilot. She earned her instrument, multi-engine, and instructor ratings while still in Arizona and gained flying experience working for Thacker. During her free time in the Army she gave flying lessons. She also earned her Bachelor of Science in Aviation Administration (Magna Cum Laude) and Master of Aeronautical Science degrees 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. Cheryl is currently an Airbus 319/320/321 Captain for US Airways. She has been a captain on the Embraer 190 and a first officer on the Boeing 757/767 and has over 20,000 flying hours.