People often ask why do the Golden Knights call Winter Training, “Winter Training”. Are you training in the cold? No, not really. Are you training in the snow? No thank you. So why, “Winter Training”. We actually train in areas known for sunny skies and warm weather while the rest of the country is enduring frigid temperatures, sheets of ice and more snow than most cities know what to do with. Last year the Golden Knights moved from Yuma, AZ to Homestead, Fl to conduct our annual Winter Training.
During this two month training session, the Demonstration teams train up their new personnel and get ready for the show season. The Tandem Team also has three new personnel this year. SSG Matt Acord comes to the team from the 8 Way competition team as a free fall photographer and will soon regain his Tandem Rating. SSG Acord won a Gold Medal in 8 way formation Skydiving at last years US National Skydiving Championships. SSG Aaron Figel comes to the Tandem Team from the Gold Demonstration Team. SSG Figel is a Tandem Instructor as well as a free fall photographer. Last year he earned the Golden Knights “Photographer of the Year” award. Also this year the Team picked up SPC Timothy O’Neal from the 82nd Airborne Division. SPC O’Neal won a physical fitness award at the Warriors Leaders Course and was offered a Tandem Parachute jump with the Team for his great work. After the jump he was asked if he would like to come to the Tandem Team as a Video Editor with the opportunity to learn how to skydive and eventually go through Golden Knights Assessment and Selection.
So what has the Tandem Team and their new personnel been up to during this years Winter Training? The weather, although warm, has not been very cooperative for Tandem Skydiving. While the Demonstration teams can train at altitudes as low as 2000 feet, the Tandem Team needs at least 7500 feet to conduct a Tandem jump. This year we have had just nine days of acceptable weather, but in those nine days the Team has completed 108 tandem jumps. SSG Jared Zell who is working hard to increase his tandem experience has conducted 30 of the108 tandems. The Team has started early with 0700 take offs as the sun just started to rise, to finishing late in the afternoon just as the sun was setting, trying to make the most of great weather days.
Our free fall photographers are working on new flying techniques and new equipment to give our passengers the best Tandem Experience possible. SSG Joe Abeln has been working with a new flash bar camera system that is much lighter than the older ones used to capture the demonstration teams at night. The new system captures great photos when low light conditions are present. Our photographers leave the plane at the exact same time as the Tandem pair to capture all of the excitement of the passengers first jump. They will leave the plane flying in a back to earth position capturing all of the smiles and screams of the exit. Then they will fly 3 to 5 feet in front of the passenger taking digital still photos and High Definition video.
Sergeant Major of the Army Kenneth Preston was the first passenger of winter training. Since that jump the Team has been taking members of the Coast Guard, Army and Air Force stationed here at Homestead Air Reserve Base. Also jumping with the Team was Kathy Holt a radio DJ from Key Largo. She talked about here experience with the US Army for over 5 minutes on her morning show.
The Tandem Team is looking forward to warm weather and Sunny skies next week as many more will make their first.