Euphoric. Exhilarating. Exciting.
Those were some of the adjectives used to describe what jumping out of a plane from 12,500 feet in the air with a parachute strapped to your back was like as the members of the Golden Knights Parachute Team suited up for a evening show Tuesday at the Appalachian Fair.
While it’s nearly impossible to describe what it’s like when hurling toward the ground at 120 mph, sitting by the open doors of a massive plane as it circles the Knights’ target — which is no bigger than a medium pizza — gives you a good idea of what to expect.
It’s about as close as one can get before strapping on a parachute and jumping on their own.
For the Golden Knights, the United States Army Parachute Team, it’s just another day at the office. And most of the Knights would agree that jumping out of a plane on a daily basis is the best job the Army offers.
But it’s no walk in the park.
“Some people tell us we’re on vacation. We travel about 180-270 days a year. Is it fun? Yes. We are skydiving for the American public. It is a blast, definitely. It is the best job in the Army, hands down, but it is work. There is a job to do,” Staff Sgt. Howie Sanborn said after a short briefing on what it is the Golden Knights do.
The Knights originated at Fort Bragg, N.C., in 1959 after a group of Airborne soldiers began competing in international skydiving competitions. While the team still competes in various competitions, the Knights have several demonstration divisions that travel around the country, performing parachute demonstrations at special events as a way to provide a connection with the public.
To become a legendary Golden Knight, a soldier has to really want to be a part of the prestigious group. A love of skydiving doesn’t hurt either.
That was the case for Sgt. Jennifer Schaben, who’s been part of the Knights for three years. Before joining the team, she had about 300 civilian jumps — the requirement is 150 — which served her well as she began the application and training process.
“I love skydiving, and the Army’s such a huge part of my life, it was great to be able to take those two things that we so big to me and put them together,” she said.
Taking both of those loves and mixing it with the desire to show people what the Army is capable of was enough to make Schaben want to sign up.
After reaching the civilian jump requirement, a potential Knight has to undergo an intense two-month long assessment program before being selected to join the ranks.
“You have to be a really good teammate, so they’re not just assessing your skills. They’re assessing for your personality and how well you will be able to interact with the public as well,” she said.
That kind of interaction with the public is something the Knights love.
“We get packages and letters while we’re overseas, but this is a chance for us to go out and thank them for their support while we were deployed, the support of our brothers and sisters who are still over there and their continued support when we deploy again,” Sanborn said.
But the real fun always comes back to the jump.
Once the team hits the desired altitude and performs several “dry passes” to make sure the plane going to be in the right spot when they jump, the narrator of the show is the first to dive out of the plane.
Once he reaches ground, the rest of the team jumps as a group and disappears out sight within seconds before setting off their smoke canisters, which fill the sky with colored smoke as they fall.
“It can definitely be sensory overload, but there’s nothing like it. It’s the best roller coaster ride you could ever go on,” Schaben said with a smile.
The Golden Knights have two more jumps scheduled today at the Appalachian Fair.
For scheduling information, visit www.appalachianfair.com or call 477-3211.