Champions Of The Skies: The US Army Golden Knights
Riding along with this elite United States Army Parachute Team.
The Grand Junction Air Show was truly spectacular. The display of American flying and military skills, machinery, and history at the Grand Junction Regional Airport in front of the beautiful Bookcliff Mountains were unforgettable. There were a few clouds and some weather in the area on Saturday but Sunday was perfect. Sunday morning I had the opportunity to ride along with the Golden Knights.
Who are these brave US Army daredevils? The Golden Knights are one of only three Department of Defense-sanctioned aerial demonstration teams. The others being the US Navy Blue Angels and the US Air Force Thunderbirds.
It started back in 1959 when nineteen Airborne Soldiers from various military units formed the first Strategic Army Command Parachute Team. Brigadier General Joseph Stilwell Jr. pulled several together to form a team to compete in the new sport of skydiving. That year, the US Army team began representing the United States on the international skydiving circuit. The unit performed its first public demonstration in Danville, Virginia later that year. Then two years later, the Department of Defense made the announcement that the Strategic Army Command Parachute Team would become the United States Army Parachute Team.
Sometime around 1962, the team earned their nickname the "Golden Knights." The "Golden" came from all the gold medals the team had won from their competition on the skydiving circuit. The "Knights" part was added to the team’s name as their ambition to "conquer the skies."
Since then, the Golden Knights have conducted more than 16,000 shows in all 50 states and 48 countries around the world. The team has earned the US Army 2,148 gold, 1,117 silver, and 693 bronze medals in national and international skydiving competition. The team has also broken 348 world records!
On Sunday morning I got to hitch a ride with the team. All the preparations are made on the tarmac. Parachutes are packed, the American flag hooked up and folded, and then the team actually does a walk-through of their stunt before boarding the plane. Moments later, the twin-engine prop plane lifted off and made the long circular assent to over 10,000 FT. Good thing I brought a stocking cap and hoodie. It's cold up that high!
After reaching the desired hight one team member crawls over to peek out the door to make final flight adjustments which are signaled back to the flight director. Then suddenly the green "go" light is on and in a matter of seconds, the team is out the door! An amazing sight for sure and something I won't ever forget.