August 22, 2013
Aviation Adventures come in both the planned and unplanned variety, as illustrated by my most recent flight. Every August since 2005 I have covered the Chicago Air & Water Show for MyFlightBlog and a few other media outlets but in all those years I had never flown into the event at Gary International Airport. So a fellow club member and friend, Louis (from Sky Conditions Clear), decided we would make a day of it by flying down in the Leading Edge Archer, then enjoy talking and flying with some of the acts for the Chicago Air & Water Show then finish the day logging more time in the Archer.
On a perfect VFR Thursday morning we preflighted the airplane then launched Eastbound from Chicago Executive. Once over the lakeshore we turned south and enjoyed a beautiful view of Chicago as the sun shined on the windows of the skyscrapers. I elected to pick-up flight following for the trip down the lakefront but despite the great weather I believe they only notified us of one other aircraft that was taking advantage of this beautiful VFR day. The flight down was uneventful but enjoyable. We taxied down to Gary Jet Center where we parked the Piper Archer right next to Team Aeroshell's four T-6 Texans.
Louis and I spent the first hour or so of the media day walking the flightline checking out the various aircraft including Sean Tucker's Oracle Challenger Bi-Plane, Art Nalls' L-39 and Sea Harrier, an A-4, and a variety of T-6 Texans.
Shortly there after we met Harvey Meek the Team Lead of Team Aerostars, a locally based aerobatic team that team that despite being in existence for 12 years were making their Chicago Air & Water Show debut. I had spoken with a fellow member of the team leading up to the show and knowing that Louis and I were pilots he ensured us he would get us up in their aircraft to learn about their team and the performance of their Yak-52s. Having never flown in a Yak-52, I was eager to check it out.
We conducted a brief flight briefing where we discussed the mission objectives which was to fly along the lakefront to Chicago so a Reuters photographer could take some shots of a Team Aerostars airplane with the city skyline as a backdrop. After that we would return to the airspace West of Gary for a brief aerobatic demonstration.
Sitting backseat in Harvey's aircraft he informed me he would let me take the controls shortly after the flight and lead the flight up the lakefront. True to his word, as we exited the Gary airspace Harvey gave me airplane. It was an easy plane to fly, and felt quite responsive. After achieving a successful photo run, including this shot featuring Harvey and I and the Chicago skyline, we headed back South to get inverted.
Back near Gary where there is more airspace for aerobatics Harvey helped me experience the aerobatic performance of the Yak-52 through a series of maneuvers including loops, barrel rolls and a Cuban Eight. After my flight Louis got to take a backseat for his flight with Team Aerostars. As fun as the flying was we equally enjoyed getting to meet the Team Aerostars pilots and their support staff. We learned that the all fly commercially by day, aerobatics on the weekends and several of them even live in fly-in communities, pure aviators at heart. By all accounts it was a successful day full of aviation adventure, little did we know how much more adventure we had ahead.
After the airplanes were all tied down or put to rest in the hangers and it was clear there were no more rides to be had or aircraft to ogle at, we fired up the Archer III. Louis would be the Pilot in Command for the return flight. Our plan was to visit a small uncontrolled airport nearby for a few landings then go VFR over the top of Midway then fly south and east of O'hare then come up the from the south to the north on the west side of the O'Hare airsapce on our way back to Chicago Executive.
After four near perfect landings (video does not lie) at Bult Field by Captain Bowers we began a final taxi back to the end of the runway to prepare to for the return flight to Chicago Executive. Nearing the end of the runway Louis asked if I felt a shake, which I had not. He said he was feeling a vibration in the rudder pedals and then a pull and quickly made the correct assessment that we had blown a tire. In an excellent example of airmanship Louis immediately stopped the aircraft, and shut it down right on the taxiway. After the blades settled I got out and confirmed we had a left main tire flat. Louis was busy trying to determine what happened while I started to wonder what in the world we were going to do to get the aircraft back, or get ourselves back to Chicago as it appeared there would be little support at this sleepy airport.
We made a few calls and learned that there in fact was a mechanic based at the field that is typically there usually three to four days a week. So walked nearly a mile (5,000 feet) down the runway to the Hangar were we were told we might find him. As we approached two gentleman in the limited baggage space of a Cessna 152, they hoped out of their existing project to hear our plight and quickly offered to help. Randy, the owner of Aircraft Professionals, took his tug out to examine the wounded bird. Shortly after he returned with the great news that he believe he would be able to change out the tire, right there on the taxiway.
He and his partner loaded up a truck and a golf cart and we drove back to the plane to get to work. This was my first experience with a flat so it was entertaining to see how it was handled. Randy, propped up the plane and he and his technician removed the wheel pant and wheel. After initial inspection he believed the tire was in great shape and that it was a tear in the tube but promised a more detailed check back at the hangar. We raced a golf cart and an aircraft tug back to the hangar where he confirmed the tire was in great shape and that likely a pebble had been inside the tire rubbing up against the tire tube and it finally broke through causing the flat. Louis was relieved that this was further proof that his landings and taxing skills were not the cause, I never had any such doubts.
Thirty minutes later the new tube was installed, the wheel fairing was replaced and we did an extended taxi to confirm the tire seemed good and balanced. We gave a big thanks to the guys at Aviation Professionals and promised to come visit there field again after such great hospitality. A few hours behind schedule, and with the airplane due for another rental we scrubbed the VFR over Midway and headed back past Gary up along the lakefront where we took in a lovely sunset over the city and watched the lights come on at Soldier Field in advance of a pre-season game.
Returning to Chicago Executive we both agreed that it was a spectacular way to spend the day. We both logged PIC time in the Archer, dual time in the Yak-52, got to perform aerobatics and learned how to handle an unexpected adventure like a flat tire on the taxiway. Aviation adventures are fun no matter what form they come in.
August 14, 2013
Jim Cornelison well known for his emotional renditions of the National Anthem at Blackhawks games will skydive into the Chicago Air & Water Show. Cornelison, will be be the guest of the All-Veteran Parachute Team and join them for a tandem skydive to kick off the 55th Annual Chicago Air & Water Show. After landing at show center at 10am he will sing the National Anthem.
Jim Cornelison is in his fifth season as the Chicago Blackhawks' full-time national anthem singer, having made regular appearances singing the anthem at the United Center since 1996. He has performed nationally and internationally with some of the biggest names in opera, such as Plácido Domingo and Zubin Mehta. Known as a heroic tenor for the dark color of his voice but ability to sing in a tenor range, he has sung with opera companies in Bordeaux, London, Brussels and San Francisco, among many other places.
The All-Veteran Parachute Team, formed two years ago, will be making their Chicago Air & Water Show debut this weekend. In addition to giving Cornelison a ride to the show the team will make multiple jumps at each show. Each jump will allow them to showcase their accuracy and precision skills landing on a target at North Avenue Beach (Show Center).
The team is comprised entirely of combat veterans, active and retired service members. Each of the members who will be jumping over Chicago are former U.S. Army Golden Knights and have been deployed in support of various conflicts over the past 25 years. According to member Dave Herwig, "Our goal is to expand the team to have at least one member from each of the five branches of service."
Herwig explains that, "The goal of the team is to give back to the American public for their continual support of our men and women who defend our freedoms each and every day. Every jump is dedicated to every veteran from all branches and all conflicts." The team recently teamed up with Nashville Recording artist Jamie Tate who will sing "I'll Give My All" during one of their jumps each day. Herwig says, "It will bring on goose bumps and raise the hair on your arms, it has been a real crowd pleaser hearing her sing while team leader, Mike Elliott, descends on the crowd with a huge American flag.
Learn more about each of the acts at the 2013 Chicago Air & Water Show in our Ultimate Guide to the Show.
August 9, 2013
Think you will miss out on the roar of jets this year at the Chicago Air & Water Show? Think again. Art Nalls plans to pilot the fastest aircraft in the 2013 Chicago Air & Water Show, the Sea Harrier FA2. Nalls shared with me what we can expect from his Harrier demonstration. "My demo is slightly different from the USMC Harrier demo. First, I'm a bit faster. I can easily reach over 600 knots in my first pass, which is over 700 mph. The Marines can't go quite that fast". Nalls continued, "Second, I'm licensed as an aerobatic pilot, while the Marines are not. I plan to do rolls, Cuban 8's, 4-point aileron rolls, as well as the Hover. In the hover, I will back up, go sideways, and pirouette the airplane in the hover. Providing the winds are within very tight limitations, I will also "Bow to the Crowd" which is to point the nose of the airplane toward the crowd, and point the nose down to approximately 45 degrees."
Built by Hawker-Siddley, hist Sea Harrier was the second one ever built and is the oldest surviving one. Those at Show Center will be able to see the V/STOL, Vertical and or Short Take-off and Landing capabilities of this unique aircraft. Nalls is the only person in the world to privately own an airworthy Sea Harrier. A U.S Naval Academy graduate, Nalls logged over 900 hours in the AV-8A variant of the Harrier including over 400 shipboard landings. Nalls is also a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base. He has flight time in approximately 75 different aircraft including the B-52, C-141, C-130, A-7, A-37, T-38, F-4, F-5, F-15, and F-16, and F-18. When the opportunity to own a Sea Harrier came available he jumped at it and has been showing off the aircraft since.
In addition to showing off the performance of the Sea Harrier, Nalls will be bringing a Czechoslovakian Advanced Jet Trainer, the L-39 Albatross to demonstrate as well. He or a fellow pilot, Joe Anderson, will be showing off this aircraft during the show. The L-39 quickly became one of my favorite aircraft when I had the chance to spend an hour with Gauntlet Warbirds (Aurora, IL) in their L-39 performing aerobatics. Greg Morris of Gauntlet Warbirds explained, "After entering production in 1972 the L-39 had great success as a jet trainer and light attack aircraft throughout the world, at one point being used by nearly forty air forces. It is still flown by numerous militaries including Russia, Ukraine, Thailand, the Czech Republic, and Egypt." The aircraft has a maximum speed of 490 knots (.8 mach).
Although sequestration will prevent active military aircraft from performing at the 2013 Chicago Air & Water Show you can still expect to hear a few jets roaring overhead Chicago.
Photo by Ulf Wallen
August 2, 2013
Each year about this time I start to receive many requests from friends and family and through MyFlightBlog.com for tips on where to watch the Chicago Air & Water Show. I thought I would share some of my suggestions for the best places to watch the Chicago Air & Water Show. I have my thoughts on many of the popular viewing spots on the map to the right.
The 55th Chicago Air & Water Show will be uniquely different than any show in recent history. Each year airshow fans migrate to the lakeshore to see a variety of civilian and military acts culminating in a headline demonstration by either the U.S. Navy Blue Angels or the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds. Unfortunately, as a result of sequestration cuts the military acts including the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, U.S. Army Golden Knights, U.S. Navy Leapfrogs, and several fighter and bomber demonstration teams have been scratched for the 2013 Chicago Air & Water Show.
With limited jet aircraft and a proliferation of WWII era aircraft the recommended viewing area for the 2013 Chicago Air and Water Show has been reduced.
The best way to view the show is from a place where you will have an unobstructed view of the entire show. The only real way to do that is from a boat on Lake Michigan. If you are one of the lucky few that own a boat or know a friend that does that is surely one of the best ways to get a clear view of the action. If you don't own and can't mooch a ride you can always pay to take a cruise. Check out this comparison of Chicago Air & Water Show cruises.
The Airshow center is North Avenue Beach. This is where the Harrier usually shows off the V/STOL maneuvers. Additionally, the flight teams will use this as the center point of their show. If they have a loop or a crossing pattern this is where it will take place. As a result, this is a very popular place to watch the show so expect there to be large crowds and you will need to arrive early to get a spot on the beach. If you want to enjoy the excitement of viewing the show from show center but want to ensure you have a place to sit check out the special offers from Castaways.
Altitude, Altitude, Altitude
We are talking about an airshow (well, also a water show but who are we fooling?) so altitude makes a difference. A rooftop deck or balcony located near the center of the show action and above neighboring buildings provides a great way to watch the show. The challenge here is that typically you need to share that space with a lot of other interested parties.
Although I have never tried it, I have heard some suggest visiting the John Hancock Chicago's Observatory. I can imagine those spots will be crowded too but must provide an interesting view of the show. I highly recommend the Hancock over the Willis tower this year with the exclusion of many of the jet teams which needed more airspace to maneuver and often circled past the Willis tower.
A Blanket On the Lakefront
Most people view the show from a blanket on a beach or a spot along the lakefront. I used to suggest heading north to Diversey or Montrose Harbor where you could have had a great view while also avoiding much of the crowd. This year I recommend getting as close to show center as possible.
This year you will need to be closer to the lake then you have in the past. I recommend being East of Clark St. and no further North then Diversey. To the south I would recommend staying north of Congress Parkway. The more manuevable civilian aircraft won't need as much airspace to operate as the military demonstrations of years past have needed.
Gary International Airport
Most of theperformance teams are based out of Gary International Airport for the Chicago Air & Water Show. For those in Indiana and well south of the city this has become a popular place to see the planes. Although you won't see a true airshow performance you will see the planes leaving and arriving, and flying in formation.
Listening to the Air & Water Show
Chicago's WBBM 780 has live coverage of the Air & Water Show. If you are not a die-hard aviation enthusiast or have a certified plane spotter with you I always suggest bringing along a radio so you can hear from the broadcast team what it is you are looking at flying by. If you are at show center there are speakers from which you can listen to Airshow MC Herb Hunter but that can often be a challenge over the roar of the planes so a personal radio is highly recommended.
The flight teams have their media day on Thursday and a few may come as far North as Chicago briefly. However on Friday there is nearly a full practice show. Most of the teams will run through their full performance and only a few single plane acts are missing on Friday. The practice usually runs between 10am and 3pm and is a great way to see the show without the crowds.
If you have a favorite place to view the Air & Water Show and are not afraid to share it and I will add the best suggestions to the guide. For more information check out our 2013 Chicago Air & Water Show Ultimate Guide.
August 1, 2013
The sad reality is that I think there is little to debate, interest in airshows is in fact declining. There is a lengthy list of reasons that may contribute to that including a decline in the pilot population, weak economy and the grounding of military demonstration teams as a result of sequestration to name a few.
A source I often look to when trying to establish a trend is Google Trends. Sadly, as you can see from the charts below there is an indisputable decline in interest for airshows, if search traffic is used as an indicator.
AirVenture, America's largest annual gathering of aviation enthusiasts, widely considered the largest airshow in the county, has seen modest declines if you rely on their data which shows a 12% decline from 2009 (578,000 attendees) to 2012 (508,000). However, the picture is more bleak when you look at the Google Trend which shows a peak in July 2006 declining to nearly half the search volume of 2006 in 2012. With Airventure 2013 closing in a just a couple of days it is unlikely that enough searches will come in during the final days to improve the 2013 trend. As Airventure is more about experimental aircraft and general aviation it should be of note that the decrease in interest in the show this year is likely not drastically effected by sequestration.
The Chicago Air & Water Show which is just around the corner will surely suffer serious interest and attendance declines without the Thunderbirds headlining this year. The Google Trend shows that current interest is below where it was just five years ago. I think this show which historically relied heavily on military demonstrations will be adversely effected by sequestration. It will be very interesting to come back to this report in a few weeks to see what the 2013 search volume was like for the Chicago Air and Water Show.
I think this data clearly shows that interest in airshows is declining. The questions is what if anything can be done about it?
July 21, 2013
The 2013 Chicago Air & Water Show will feature several new acts in 2013 including the Geico Skytypers. The team will fly an 18-minute low altitude precision performance showcasing the performance of their six SNJ-2's, best known for training the greatest generation of pilots. The SNJ-2 is often identified as the T-6 Texan and is an aircraft Chicago Air & Water Show fans should be familiar with as it is flown by Team Aeroshell and also by several other performers over the year.
The Geico Skytypers will be flying the largest formation of these aircraft in the shows history. The Thunderbirds who were scratched from this year's show are known for their Delta Six formation. The Skytypers will start their performance showing off their precision flying with there own Delta Six formation before then splitting off into a diamond formation of four aircraft with two opposing solos. They will then join up again to finish their performance as a six team delta formation.
The Skytypers take skywriting to whole new level. Skywriting is traditionally done by a single aerobatic aircraft that writes a single work in script in the sky before it often dissipates quickly. The Skytypers have taken the 1940s trainers and tricked them out with glass cockpits and a computer system for printing messages in the sky that can be read from over 15 miles. Steve "Sting" Kapur, a team pilot and marketing officer, explained that a computer synced with each aircraft helps them to write messages as long as 6 miles long in the sky. Expect to see messages from the team leading up to the show and throughout the show promoting the show and their sponsors.
The team is looking forward to making their first appearance at the Chicago Air & Water Show. Kapur said "I have been a spectator at the show several times and it will be a thrill for me to perform for Chicago and I am really looking forward to it."
July 19, 2013
In March the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds cancelled their planned appearance at the 2013 Chicago Air & Water Show as a result of sequestration cuts. Just days ago it was announced that the Thunderbirds would resume training thanks to the Restored Flying Hour Program authorized by Congress. Unfortunately, the Thunderbirds will still be scrubbed for the 2013 Chicago Air & Water Show as they will be focusing on training for a limited 2014 performance schedule.
According to Lt. Col. Brett Ashworth "The Thunderbirds will not resume aerial demonstrations previously scheduled for 2013 ... They're back to flying, but only training flights." It is yet to be seen if the Restored Flying Hour Program will allow solo and two aircraft teams to return to performing demonstrations.
That leaves most people wondering what to expect at the 2013 Air & Water Show. For one it will be a quieter show with fewer or no jet aircraft at the show. The city just released their list of headliners which is comprised of many perennial favorites including Sean Tucker and Team Oracle and Team Aeroshell as well as a few other returning civilian acts including The Firebirds Delta Team and Chuck Aaron in the Red Bull Helicopter.
New to the show in 2013 will be Team Aerostars flying the Yak 52 TW, a Soviet designed aircraft that was a WII aerobatic trainer. Also new is the six aircraft Geico Skytypers who will be flying an 18-minute low altitude precision performance as well as typing messages in the sky (More on the Skytypers early next week).
We will be reworking our Chicago Air & Water Show Viewing Guide as our recommendations for best places to view the show will change drastically based on fewer military acts that used more airspace for their performances. Until then our recommendation is that this year it will be more important to get closer to show center at North Avenue beach to enjoy the acts.
Check out our Guide to the Chicago Air & Water Show for information on each of the acts and updates leading up to the show.
September 11, 2012
Ever wonder what it would be like to live in one of those aviation communities where taxiways and runways took precedence over roads and all your neighbors thought about aviation as much as you did? Once a year I get to experience one of the largest aviation communities in the country, Chicago, IL. The arrival of the Chicago Air & Water Show magically transforms my city into a land where everyone has airplanes on the top of their mind (whether they like it or not). Whether at the water cooler at work or mingling with neighbors people are suddenly speaking my language: aviation.
It is for this reason that the Chicago Air & Water Show has become one of my favorite weeks of the year. Like most pilots, I can't hide my love for aviation so friends, family, coworkers and neighbors know of my passion for aviation. When a friend of mine learned his brother, a pilot in the U.S. Navy, would be bringing his plane to town he thought to reach out to me to see if I would be interested in coming out to airport to greet him. Of course I was interested, however, the thought of sitting in rush hour traffic on a Friday night driving from the northside of Chicago, through the city to Gary and back was not too appealing. So I decided to make a flight experience out of it and instead take a beautiful flight along the Chicago lakefront to Gary. Al Waterloo, fellow club member and host of Simple Flight Radio (Check it out) joined me for the adventure.
Pilots love sharing their love of aviation with others and showing off their latest plane. The crowd a pilot draws to see their plane often varies based on the cool factor of the plane they are currently flying. As a result, John Keith, a member of the Virginia Beach based Raging Bulls (VFA-37), a squadron of F/A-18C Hornets, was greeted by a large family contingent when he arrived in Gary on Friday night and I was happy to be invited to be a part of the welcoming committee.
John took the time to point out some of the unique features of his plane and to talk about some of his experiences landing the F-18 on the USS Harry Truman Aircraft Carrier. After learning about his airplane the entire family, John, Al and I walked the tarmac at Gary International Airport which resembled a military base that night. Alongside his Hornet were a few of the larger F/A-18 Super Hornet, T-38 Talons, A-10 Warthogs a F-4 Phantom in addition to civilian planes like T-6 Texans and T-34 Mentors. As a pilot I loved looking at all these planes but also enjoyed the fact that everyone else seemed in awe of these machines as well.
It was great getting the VIP tour of the tarmac as I know on the Saturday and Sunday of the show people lineup along a fence-line to see these airplanes in action from a distance. As we were walking back to the FBO, John picked up his flight bag which was filled with all his maps and old school paperwork used to navigate a plane that was built before the age of glass panels. He pointed out that the Archer I was flying had more advanced navigational functionality than his F-18. True enough but I would trade rides in a heartbeat.
After thanking the Keith family for letting me be a part of their family for the night we climbed back in the Archer III for our return flight to Palwaukee. On the flight back the city was aglow, the moon was hidden below the horizon, making the effect of the city lights that much more impressive and a perfect end to a night of celebrating aviation.
It saddens me when the annual airshow ends and the light switch is flipped and my fantasy land of aviation enthusiasts evaporates. Though, I love that for a week aviation was brought to the forefront and surely some of those in the crowds at the Chicago Air and Water Show now have a new passion for aviation like this girl jumping up and down as the Blue Angels Fat Albert C-130 flew over during the show.
August 13, 2012
The 2012 Chicago Air & Water Show will roar back to life over the next few days leading up to the 54th Chicago Air & Water Show this weekend. The headline act, the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, will arrive Wednesday night to begin preparing for the show. Most of the civilian and military acts will be based at Gary International Airport through the weekend and make the short flight up the lakefront for their Chicago Air & Water Show practice schedule and for the main event.
Expect record crowds this weekend as the forecast currently shows unseasonably cool but comfortable weather for the airshow weekend. The good news is the nearly two million people that attend the show annually will have two beautiful days to choose from as both days currently look rain free.
For many one of the best places to check out the show is the fenceline at Gary International. However, if you plan to view the show from the lakefront then check out Chicago Air & Water Show Viewing Guide with a few recommendations for the best place to view the show. Expect to hear planes flying overhead on Thursday for media day and Friday for a full practice show. The show will start at 10am both Saturday and Sunday and run until 3pm.
If you are an airshow regular you will recognize many of the acts on this years lineup. The civilian acts include perennial favorites like Lima Lima Flight Team, Sean D. Tucker & Team Oracle, AeroShell Aerobatic Team & the Firebirds to name a few.
Red Bull has often sponsored an act or two including Chuck Aaron in his aerobatic helicopter. Joining him this year and making their Chicago Air & Water Show debut will be the Red Bull Air Force performance skydiving team. They will jump from high over the lakeshore and speed to North Avenue Beach in their Wingsuits and surely be a thrilling addition to this year's show.
U.S. Navy Blue Angels, U.S. Army Golden Knights and U.S. Navy Leap Frogs will headline the show and represent our armed forces. Expect demonstrations by pilots of F-16s, T-38s, an F-4 Phantom and KC-135 Stratotanker to name a few. I became huge fans of the U.S. Army Golden Knights last year when I got to spend a few days with them. During the show I road along in their Fokker C-31A Troopship as the jumped from 10,500 feet above the lakefront. Then a few weeks later I was able to join them for a tandem skydive. See what is it like to skydive with the U.S. Army Golden Knights.
As the show approaches I will be meeting with many of the teams and flying with a few and look forward to sharing updates and news about the 2012 Chicago Air & Water Show. Feel free to e-mail me send me a tweet if you have a question about the show. You can stay up to date with my airshow updates on the MyFlightBlog Chicago Air & Water Show Ultimate Guide.
August 28, 2011
My body is quickly accelerating to nearly 120MPH as I fall away from the de Havilland Twin Otter that I occupied at 13,500 feet just a few moments before. On most days a pilot would be extremely concerned by this predicament, but this is no ordinary day. Although the wind is ripping past my ears at speeds that render them useless and nearly every nerve ending in my body is sending alerts to my brain as I fall towards earth from 2.5 miles above, I have a sense of calmness. That reassurance comes from being strapped to the chest of soldier in the U.S. Army, I could not be in better hands.
That harness that connects me to Staff Sergeant Matt Acord can withstand more than 10,000 pounds of weight and it is doing its intended job while I enjoy one of the most exhilarating experiences anyone could hope to have. Matt spends so much time in the skies you could call it his office, his jumps are counted in the thousands, and as I spend a day at the office with him I am quickly realizing he may have one of the best jobs in the world.
Dancing around me in the sky is Matt's teamate Assistant Tandem Team Leader Staff Sergeant Joseph "Abe" Abeln who is serving as a videographer, capturing photos and video of my experience. I am thankful to have him there because my brain is processing so many feelings and emotions that video will help me solidify this memory as one of the most amazing experiences of my life.
The U.S. Army Golden Knights were formed in 1959, as was common at the time, to compete with the Russians for supremacy in the Cold War. Skydiving as a sport was relatively new and the Russians dominated it. However, the Golden Knights immediately found success and they continued to rack up the gold medals at international tournaments, it was decided the Golden Knights would be an appropriate name for the team. The team is a representation of the finest soldiers and demonstrates the professionalism and skills of members of the U.S. Army.
Although today their job seems like all fun and games, in talking to members of the team it is readily apparent these guys have a very serious job and have plied their trade in some of the most challenging places including fighting drug trade in Nicaragua, terrorism in the mountains of Afghanistan and throughout Iraq in our various conflicts there. These men and women serve their country honorably and with great sacrifice but one constant in their career in the military was their passion for the sport of skydiving and through their proven talent were awarded a spot on this elite team.
One purpose of a demonstration team like this is to assist in recruiting. Growing up I had little exposure to the military and sadly garnered most of my knowledge of the Army from the movie Stripes. I could see how meeting the Golden Knights could help to inspire others to look more seriously at a career in the military. Each member had his or her own story of why and how he or she joined the military but it was evident that they all firmly believed it was one of the best decisions they ever made. Being a part of the Golden Knights is special to them all. They worked hard to elevate themselves to earn a spot on this elite team. Here they can help expose others to the Army by showing of their skills diving into football games, high school sporting events or at airshows around the world. They love every minute of it, one of the Knights commented that "When everyday you help someone experience one of the best days of their life, you can't help but have a great day yourself."
Staff Sergeant Matt Acord is doing just that for me. We are having fun screaming through the skies over rural Illinois. I look around and see farm fields as far as my eye can see, then trace the Fox River and locate our destination, the airstrip at Skydive Chicago in Ottawa, IL. Despite being tethered to another person I have an absolute sense of freedom sliding through the skies. I know this thrill ride only has a few seconds remaining as the ground is getting closer and closer. I see "Abe" float away and I realize he is clearing himself so Matt can pull our chute. We have fallen from 13,500 feet to 5,500 in about 45 seconds. I expected time to fly by but instead felt like I was able to fully enjoy our freefall. I am yanked into up as the chute slows our descent, all of a sudden it is quiet and I am treated to a lovely slow glide towards our destination.
During the descent Matt showed off the capability of the parachute by turning us in tight spirals as we floated down. As we neared the ground I lifted my legs up high and we slide into the ground on our butts to a smooth stop on the ground. It took us about five to six minutes to go from 13,500 back to the solid ground but in that six minutes I received a new appreciation the sport of skydiving. One of the team had told me before that even though I am a pilot I had never really flown since I had always flown from the inside of an airplane, and that today I would experience flying for the first time. I now understand what he means, as I was not a pilot controlling a plane, but the actual object that was free to glide and soar so high above the ground.
I had promised the team that if they returned me safely to ground I would give them a case of Affy Tapple Caramel Apples from my office. Not sure if that was the driving force in our successful jump or not but I made good on my end of the bargain after they treated me so well. I have much admiration for men and women of our armed forces. I enjoyed spending a day with them, seeing them do what they do best, hearing their stories and joining many fellow civilians in thanking them for their dedication to our country.
You can learn more about the U.S. Army Golden Knights on their website, Facebook and on twitter. The video shot by Staff Sergeant Joseph Abeln is below as are many of his aerial photos mixed in a with a few I took from the ground.