HANOVER COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) – One of only three Department of Defense-sanctioned aerial display teams, the U.S. Army Parachute Team – better known by its nickname, the Golden Knights – is a team demonstration and competition consisting of about 95 U.S. Army men and women, and on Thursday morning I was able to parachute with them.
The team originated in 1959, after 19 airborne soldiers from various military units formed the Army Strategic Command Parachute Team, with the intention of competing in parachuting, a relatively new sport at the time. Two years later, it officially became known as the United States Army Parachute Team.
The Golden Knights consist of several separate divisions, including four parachute units, one aviation unit, and a headquarters.
One of the parachute units, the tandem team, is known for taking celebrities, elected officials, and high-profile figures on jumps. Today, one of those VIPs included me, 8News Digital Content Producer, Kassidy Hammond.
The U.S. Army Parachute Team hosted a tandem camp May 17-19 at Hanover County Municipal Airport in Ashland for 15 lucky civilians to participate in what the Golden Knights are expert-jumping d planes.
Our day started at 8am with a member of the Golden Knights providing educational training, advising on safety precautions and helping to familiarize us with the equipment they would be using – a harness and parachute that would protect our lives during our 12,500 foot drop. down to earth.
We were also advised on the correct form for jumping. For example, the “happy banana” is a full-body arched position with the head tilted skyward and the feet extended in the same direction, the navy pointing toward the Earth – a view that one of the jumpers says he was most looking forward to it.
“Oh my. Seeing all the beauty of Central Virginia from the sky on a beautiful day like today,” the guest said as he dressed for the jump.
We were all given a sleek yellow jumpsuit to wear – coinciding with that happy banana pose – which was then covered in a harness extending from our thighs to our shoulders. The harness is said to have a carrying capacity of 15,000 pounds, just in case an emergency arises and everyone on the plane has to get by with just one parachute. Luckily, my jump today went off without a hitch, no doubt thanks to the hard work and years the Golden Knights put into their craft.
Sergeant First Class Ryan Reis said some of his favorite things about being part of the Golden Knights are that he can travel the world, talk to people in the military and he got to skydive, which which he has been doing for over ten years now.
“I’ve been skydiving alone for about 12 years now. I’ve been on the team for six years. And this is my third year doing tandems for the Golden Knights,” Reis said when we were talking about the Knights.
Once seated on the plane, everyone was safely cordoned off. Then the hold began, as the aircraft climbed to the connection altitude of approximately 7,000 to 8,000 feet. That’s when the Golden Knights double-checked all the harnesses and got into tandem position – with us, their less experienced guests strapped in up front.
Reis told me the Golden Knights average between 400 and 600 jumpers a year, so their aerial routine is pretty solid, to say the least.
The minutes that followed were a whirlwind of adrenaline. The plane’s side door was open with shutters – much like a garage door. I heard last-minute reminders of “good banana” and “we’re hitting three” throughout the cabin, as well as confident shouts of “remember to have fun” from the instructors.
The first tandem duo to jump, my instructor, Staff Sergeant Dustin Gebhardtand I was then told to line up our feet “on the black line”, the mark separating the safety of solid ground from free release into the atmosphere.
The countdown was done and my instructor took the lead, quickly sending us to the brink of no return.
The 35-40 second freefall period was literally breathtaking. With 125 mph winds, it was a bit difficult to catch my breath at first. Once the parachute was fired, we were quickly pulled from a rapid drop to a glide at a comfortable cruising speed.
Dawn Legere, a jumper with the Knights on Thursday, told me she liked the freefall because of the surprise, but enjoyed every part of the daring jump.
“Every fall was amazing because you kind of feel weightless. You’re just hanging up, looking around and everything,” Legere explained.
During the drop, Gebhardt handed me the reins and let me take control of the parachute maneuver. Although a bit terrifying, I was then able to enjoy – for about a minute – gliding the parachute left, right and in circles as I pleased, before landing softly in a field to the cheers of the onlookers.
“In the parachute, it was cool because you’re just floating around, and you can look around and see everything. And then you get some spins, which is cool because it adds a rollercoaster element,” Legere told me after our jump.
The Golden Knights have held more than 16,000 shows in 50 states and 48 countries and performed at more than 100 events annually, including the Washington Nationals ballpark, the Miami Beach – Hyundai Air and Sea Show, as well as Joint Base Andrews. Air and Space Fair. For a complete list of all appearances in 2022, Click here.