My new favorite people? With apologies to my Air Force dad, it’s the United States Army Golden Knights parachute team. The 2018 Vectren Dayton Air Show allowed me to tag along in their C-31A Fokker — one of only two in the U.S. — to watch this elite team leap from the skies.
We were instructed to wear long pants, gloves, hat, jacket because of the frigid temps at high altitude. Sgt. 1st Class Teigh Statler, of Illinois, thought my sweatshirt wasn’t thick enough and sent the demand through the plane that someone pony up one of their thick jackets as a loan for the flight. Sgt. Jason Bauder, of Colorado, was kind enough to loan me a coat, even though, thanks to the weather, we were forced to stay at low altitude.
The prior day, we took an Army Air Corp B-26 Marauder pilot out to meet them. Bill Deam, of Sidney, had been forced to bail out somewhere over the border of Belgium and France after bombing Saarlautern, Germany, Dec. 2, 1944. If a bail out was necessary, they were told to count to 10, then pull the cord. He estimates he waited maybe three seconds and he pulled. He lost his valuable flight boots on the trip down (just think, he could’ve traded them for a luger, but ultimately lost them in the unanticipated jump). He used a silk parachute back then, but today I think they use nylon. And smoke grenades! Bill was Army Air Corp, and Jim Hall, also of Sidney, was Air Force (renamed in 1947) and a Vietnam veteran.
The Golden Knights swarmed around Bill and listened to his stories. The Army Air Corps veteran had to climb to 10,000 feet to bail out on his fateful day, but the Golden Knights had to leap at 2,000 feet, Friday, because weather forced a low ceiling jump on the first air show day. They pulled the cord moments after casually egressing the Fokker.
One jump was literally life or death over enemy-held territory for Bill, but for the Golden Knights, they enjoy the challenge of being part of the world renown demo team and make several jumps a day. Sgt. 1st Class Keith Pierce, of Massachusetts, admitted that he has every faith in his team members and their equipment and takes pride in being the best of the best. The team members are active duty, and most have seen combat. As ambassadors of the Army, these men represent the most formidable parachute team in the world and have secured numerous records and championships year after year.
Back in 2015, I was scheduled to ride along for the Dayton Air Show demo. We have to be sequestered with the team for about an hour or so before they saddle up. It had started to rain, Friday, so we were on standby, waiting. I must have had a forlorn look about me (why, I have no idea since I was the only women surrounded by Army men), because pilot Ken Breeden invited me up to sit in the cockpit while we waited to see if we’d get clearance for takeoff. We didn’t, but I had the most delightful time talking to him as the rain ruined any chance of flight that day. Turns out, he remembered me from three years ago. Out of all the people they meet in the course of a year, he remembered this one person.
The team’s demonstration usually consists of maneuvers that test the maneuverability of the human body as it falls at blazing speeds in excess of 120 mph. Weather concerns? Psh. One maneuver is the baton toss, where two jumpers leave the aircraft separately, then fly together to pass off a 14-inch mahogany batton. The cutaway design is to show what could occur should a jumper’s parachute malfunction. A diamond formation will showcase the lateral movement a jumper can achieve while in free fall and utilizes four jumpers coming together to within inches and forming a diamond in the sky. On top of this skill set, some jumpers are trained as free-fall photographers and use both video and still cameras.
These men are tagged as being goodwill ambassadors in their media kit. But you know what? They earned that and genuinely live the message. These are guys who stopped their prep work to meet and listen attentively to Army Air Corp and Vietnam Air Force veterans. They pay attention to someone who might not be dressed warmly enough and fix the situation. They take the time to ask, “Hey, you havin’ fun up here?” They pull you into the cockpit to chat while in a rain delay. It might sound like I have a bit of a crush on these guys and you know what? I’m OK with that. They’re super men and if any of you Golden Knights find yourselves near Sidney or Cincinnati, Ohio, you call me and I’ll buy you a beer. I know a room full of people at the local American Legion who would love to hear your stories and see the skies painted from a most unique perspective that the rest of us can never imagine.
Oh and here’s a fun tip: if you ever sneak aboard the Fokker, check out the onboard toilet. It has a Navy Leap Frog sticker on it. Go Army!
For more information about our United States Army Golden Knights, visit www.armygk.com
The writer, a Sidney native, is a copywriter for WXIX-TV Fox 19 in Cincinnati.