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Flying with the Golden Knights
When Little Rock Air Force Base 314th Airlift Wing Public Affairs’ A1C Vanessa Dale met me at the front gate of the base, she asked if I would like to fly with the Golden Knights. Silly question!
The U.S. Army's Parachute Team, the Golden Knights, were in town to perform at the LRAFB Air Show/Open House October 18, 19, 2008. Out of Fort Bragg, NC, they are the best of the best.
We boarded their plane, a twin-engine turboprop Fokker F-27. The first few rows are passenger-configuration seating. The seating in the back 2/3s of the plane is canvas jump seats with your back to the fuselage. In the aft are jump doors on each side of the plane. They were each about four feet wide.
After we boarded the plane, we were briefed on the flight and given safety instructions. We had to sign a liability release in case something went wrong. They then took us back to the jump seats and buckled us in. To my right was a photographer from KATV. To his right was an open jump door. They buckled him in twice! We were also given straps with which to buckle in our photography equipment. Because of the cold air at the jump altitude of 12,500 feet, they gave us gloves to wear.
As we took off, the jumpers were getting on their jump suit and gear. They chatted with each other and walked around looking out the doors to see their target area. Yes, the doors were open all during the flight until the last jumper departed.
When we reached about 3,000 feet, they dropped streamers to determine wind conditions. We flew a tight circle so the jumpers could watch the streamers all the way to the ground.
When we reached 12,500 feet, SSgt Noah Watts jumped. On his jump he again checked wind speed, direction, and turbulance. When he reached the ground he radioed his findings to the crew on the plane, and then Watts narrated the show for the Golden Knights.
We flew a 3-1/2 minute oval over LRAFB as the jumpers made their designated exits. They exited both individually and in pairs until the final group of four jumped together. With smoke trailing their flight, the crowd could see their jump from the plane to the time their parachutes opened and to their landing.
Both prior to their chutes opening and after they opened, the Golden Knights performed a variety of moves to show their skill in flying through the air and achieving a precision landing. The ages of the jumpers ranged for the 20s to the 40s. To be a Golden Knight, one must be in top physical condition, able to manuver a parachute in different configurations, and present a positive image of the U.S. Army. And that they did.
For more information about the Golden Knights,
/ SBM Advertising • Kenneth Mills / 2008