The Golden Knights have been dazzling crowds and representing the US Army for over fifty-seven years. The Gold and Black demonstration teams traverse the United States each season, performing at airshows, festivals, fairs, baseball games, and other special events. These jumps are designed to connect the public with soldiers they may not see otherwise and to enhance the Army’s recruitment efforts.
During the 2016 season, AirshowStuff had the unique opportunity to go up in the Golden Knights’ jump plane for two of their parachute jumps, one at the Appalachian Fair in Tennessee and the other at the Cleveland National Airshow in Ohio. The experience is unlike any other ride you may take with an airshow performer. Why? The first reason has to do with temperature. When they tell you before your flight to bring a jacket with you, they’re not kidding.
The C-31A Troopships and DHC-6-400 Twin Otters that carry the Knights (and media representatives) both have large open doors to let the jumpers out. With no insulation or heat in the cabin, the temperature drops significantly as the aircraft climbs up jump altitude at 12,500 feet above the ground. Often times, the temperature is a chilly 40-50 degrees, even in the middle of summer! Combine that with a wicked wind blasting in the open doors, and you’re going to be shivering.
The preparation for the demonstration begins long before the aircraft leaves the ground, though. Before the flight, the jumpers line up near the rear of the aircraft and are briefed on the mission. Any special tasks or potential issues are discussed. The team will also practice how they will line up after the jump to be introduced to the crowd.
About 45-50 minutes before time on target, the aircraft takes off with the crew stomping to pump themselves up. Once the aircraft is in the air, it begins to climb an altitude of 2,000 feet to execute the wind drift indicator drop. These wind drift indicators allow for a visualization of the winds in the lowest thousand feet above the ground, critical for a pinpoint drop zone landing. Once the indicators have been dropped and logged, the aircraft climbs to its target altitude. This all occurs 20-30 minutes before time on target, so the aircraft often circles the target zone several times before the hot target run is called.
If an altitude of 12,500 feet is allowed by the weather, two different shows can be performed. The “mass show” entails the narrator exiting the aircraft and unfurling the American flag from his parachute. Following his jump and some pre-show narration, the rest of the team exits and joins up in one large freefall formation. The full show consists of four separate jump runs and maneuvers; the baton pass, cutaway, diamond track, and diamond formation. If a lower altitude is necessary or another issue raises concerns, the show can be altered further.
When it’s time to jump, the jump master will give a HOT TARGET call and hand signal. This call will then be passed back from the front of the plane to the rear by all members, to ensure the message has been received. Now, it’s time to press record on the GoPros, wait for the green light, and then jump! With a loud rush of noise, the jumpers are gone and the plane is suddenly very empty. As the jumpers touch down below, the aircraft rapidly descends to land. Another show complete for the hardworking Golden Knights!
Check out the video below for a special formation jump by two members of the Golden Knights Black Team into the Appalachian Fair in Gray, TN. Thank you to both the Black and Gold demonstration teams as well as the Cleveland National Airshow!