BEVERLY — John Kallend has a witty retort for those who ask him why he regularly jumps out of perfectly good airplanes.
"If they were perfectly good airplanes, we wouldn't use them for skydiving," says Kallend, a professor of mechanical and materials engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology.
Kallend, 70, of Beverly was one of 61 skydivers who set a world record on Oct. 17 when his group successfully came together in a diamond-shape pattern over Southern California, he said.
Kallend was also the oldest member of the team, which included skydivers from a dozen different countries, including Russia, Canada, France and South Africa. The youngest skydiver in the record-setting jump was 26.
"It's the nearest someone can get to being a super hero," said Kallend, whose team topped the previous record set in June of 42 skydivers in formation.
Kallend has been teaching at the university in Bronzeville for 38 years. In 1997, a freshman student asked him why the school didn't have a skydiving club. Kallend explained the rules for such clubs and promised the student that if he completed all the necessary requirements, Kallend would serve as the faculty advisor.
The student returned having taken all the mandated steps, and Kallend — then 52 — agreed to take on the advisory position. On Oct. 27, 1997, he completed his first skydive with the club.
"Once I did it, I realized I really loved it," said Kallend, who made his 3,000th jump on the day the record was set above Perris, California.
But Kallend has also been known to travel throughout the country for skydiving events. He's jumped in Florida and California and helped to set state records in Texas and North Carolina.
For the latest jump, Kallend wore a wingsuit, which he compares to a flying squirrel. The suit allows divers to better control their descent and create various formations, he said.
"Instead of falling straight down, the formation is actually moving forward at 100 miles per hour," Kallend said.
He also participates in a group called Skydivers over 60, which set a world record in 2012 with 60 skydivers over age 60 participating. The group hopes to top their age-based record next year with a 72-diver jump.
He believes skydiving is an activity that is fun for all ages. And as for the safety risks involved, Kallend said jumping from an airplane is actually safer than some other activities considered more commonplace, including driving a motorcycle, scuba diving and hang gliding.
"Modern parachutes are incredibly reliable," he said.
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