Most Golden Knights are known for their red smoke trailing demonstrations of amazing freefall maneuvers and precision accuracy with large docile parachutes that allow them to perform tip toe landings on a target which is no bigger than 12 inches squared. Imagine however, a parachute so small and so fast, its lines cutting through the air at nearly 100 mph actually sounds like a jet engines high pitched whining. Imagine a required landing area that is 10 feet wide, but in length, it is the equivalent of 2 football fields placed end zone to end zone. Now imagine going this distance after passing only 5 feet off the ground. This is the skydiving discipline known as Canopy Piloting. In Canopy Piloting, a discipline of skydiving that is relatively new to the sport compared to all of the other disciplines, competitors fly extremely small parachutes mere inches off the ground and negotiate through various courses with different goals.
50 competitors descended on the 2010 US National Canopy Piloting Championships which were held at Skydive Spaceland in Rosharon Texas which is just south of Houston from the 1st to the 4th of September. The purpose of the competition is to select National Champions in each of the 3 individual events, an overall champion and also to select the next team to represent the United States at the world level where the team will bear the coveted title, Team USA.
SFC Greg Windmiller a member of the US Army’s Golden Knights has been a competitor in Canopy Piloting for the past 4 years and has earned numerous medals as well as many State, National and International records. This event was no different for the Knight with nearly 11,000 jumps and over 20 years of active duty service. There are 3 separate events which make up the discipline, distance, accuracy and speed.
In the distance event the competitors must have at least one part of their body fly below the tops of the entry gates which are 5 feet high and 32 feet apart. From here, this is their starting line. They are judged on how far they go from this point to their first point of contact with the ground. Distances have exceeded over 600ft. at other locations where the air density is thinner and the elevation of the landing area is over 5,000 feet above sea level. Windmiller broke the US National record last year and set the Texas state record at sea level at this same location with 156 meters which is 514 feet. This year Windmiller won the Bronze medal in the distance event after battling changing and difficult wind conditions. The strong head winds didn’t allow anyone, including Windmiller himself to come close to his State record which still remains intact.
In the Accuracy event competitors collect points by dragging a foot through the water while traveling at speeds up to 60 mph and then collect points on land as well by attempting to stand up in scoring zones. Without a doubt, this is the most spectator friendly event, as the crashes are phenomenal to watch. “I was having my best meet ever as I had great scores in the first 2 rounds, then in the third round, I had too much power and couldn’t get the parachute stopped in time which caused me to go out the back of the course resulting in a score of zero for that round” said Windmiller.
In the Speed event the competitors must pass below the top edge of the 5ft tall course markers and remain below that height throughout the entire course. The course is 32 feet wide and 230 feet long with a 75 degree carve in it preventing a straight line run through the course. Electronic sensors and a timing system is utilized like the ones used in downhill skiing which measure times to the thousandth of a second. This event is without a doubt Windmillers’ strongest as he holds not only the Texas state and the National record but also the World record in Speed. Windmiller put an interesting spin on the event, which he insists helped him. Just as Olympic swimmers wear scaled suits, speed skaters wear special suits, and bicycleists shave their legs to get the advantage Windmiller himself wore a suit just for the event which is made of a non drag creating material.
“Parasitic drag is anything on your body or attached that causes you to be slowed down by wind resistance, it is the mortal enemy of Canopy Pilots. You don’t see Olympic shooters dressed in real tree camo with their dad’s guns. Everything is high tech now days and every advantage helps. Sure no one wants to be the first to wear something new and something that looks strange out of fear of ridicule and if you wear something that is out of the norm, then you had better win or else you are going to get it from all the competitors. There were a lot of snickers, remarks and comments from the other competitors when I put it on, but after the first round of speed, no one was laughing anymore! After the third round of speed the comments were, where can I get one and how much are those? From the beginning the Golden Knights have not only been ambassadors to the sport but also pioneers in research and development with the goal of making the sport not only safer for everyone but also pushing the boundaries of what some consider normal.”
Windmiller not only won the gold medal in the speed event but also broke his existing state record and posted the fastest times that have ever been recorded in competition at sea level. His fastest time was 2.128 seconds through the 230 feet long course which was only .035 seconds slower than his World record.
The overall champion for the competition was a member of a the Performance Designs Factory team, a professional canopy piloting team sponsored by a canopy manufacturer and former National and World Champion by the name of Jonathan Tagle. Windmiller had no expectations of even coming close to the overall medal chase due to his zero in the accuracy event however his other competition runs were so strong that in the end he stood next to Tagle in the second spot winning the Silver medal.
“Being in the top ten is very prestigious, but being able to share the Podium with two of the greatest canopy pilots in skydiving history is an honor. Ian Bobo, who took the 3rd position and the bronze medal, is a critically acclaimed and one of the most well known canopy pilots in the sport.”
Not only did Windmiller walk away from this event with 3 medals and another record for the Golden Knights, but he also earned a spot on the US National Canopy piloting team for the 4th year in a row. “I honestly feel blessed to be on the US Team, medals or no medals records or no records. Not only am I blessed with this but I am truly blessed that after having served 20 years in the military I can still do my part to represent the Army in a positive light and show my appreciation to all of my brothers and sisters serving here and overseas.” Windmiller recently returned from a deployment in Iraq in support of OIF.