In the more than 50 years the Golden Knights have been demonstrating their parachuting prowess for the American public, there is one question that never gets old: “What do you guys do if you can’t jump?”
Both the Black and Gold demonstration teams tackled that question with gusto today and their actions spoke louder than any words could have. In a very rare coincidence, both teams (who are in two completely separate geographic locations) had to cancel airborne operations for the entire day due to bad weather.
Black Team, in Cleveland, Ohio, canceled because of extremely high winds (gusts of 45mph), rain, and low clouds. Gold Team, in Martinsburg, West Virginia, had to cancel due to high winds (25mph).
Many people may wonder why high winds prevent safe jump operations. The parachutes used by the Golden Knights are flexible wing gliders. The air flows into the openings in the front of the parachute (inflating the wing), as well as over the top and under the bottom of the parachute. If a high gust of wind was to pass over the top skin of the canopy, the parachute could collapse. At a high altitude, a collapsed parachute would easily re-inflate within a few hundred feet with no damage to the jumper…but if the jumper is only 50 feet off the ground on final approach, a collapsed parachute could mean falling several stories to the pavement below.
The Golden Knights have a wind limit of 20 miles per hour on the ground. If the landing area is tight and there are a lot of obstacles, the Team Leader may make a safety call and stop the jump at an even lower wind limit. Each Team Leader knows the individual abilities and strengths of each team member, and uses his knowledge and expertise to make sure his Team is never placed in harm’s way. Both SFC Will Fleming and SFC JD Berentis took their respective Teams out of harm’s way today and opted to do a little extra work on the ground to make sure the crowd got their money’s worth.
Black Team split up into three groups as soon as the weather call was made. One group, headed up by TL SFC Will Fleming, went to a luncheon with the Recruiting Battalion Commander and some local school administrators. Another group went to the Army Recruiting tent and hung out with the crowd there, talking to potential young recruits and signing autographs. The third group headed to the air show announcer’s booth, where they had some mic time with air show announcer and honorary Golden Knight Mr. Rob Reider. They talked a little bit about why the team couldn’t jump and got the crowd pumped up for tomorrow’s performance.
Gold Team at least got the plane off the ground and threw wind drift indicators, but it was obvious from the streamer data and ground wind readings of 25 miles per hour that cancellation was inevitable. The jumpers landed with the plane and made a bee-line for the recruiting booth, where even the climbing wall had to be taken down due to wind safety rules. The crowd loved having the team there, even though they didn’t jump.
The forecast in both locations looks promising for tomorrow, so hopefully the crowds will get what they came to the show for: a stellar Army Strong performance by the Army Golden Knights!