Gold Team in the Wild Wild West

SSG Chris Clark (left) and SGT Rich Sloan fly a side-by-side down-plane (photo by SSG Dan Cook)

Most of the Golden Knights’ performances are east of the Mississippi, since the Team is based at Fort Bragg, NC. A few times a year, however, the Fokker C-31 jump aircraft will embark on a cross-country trip, carrying the demonstrators to the Rockies and beyond.

It was just such a trip for Gold Team this past weekend in Rifle, Colorado. The jumpers completed five jumps at the Rifle Air Fair for an enthusiastic crowd in front of a breathtaking backdrop of mountains and the Colorado River.

SSG Chris Clark, SFC JD Berentis, SGT Rich Sloan fly a tri-by-side down-plane (photo by SSG Dan Cook)

There are always a fair amount of variables during a parachute jump: winds, temperature, clouds, and obstacles just to name a few! The wild west threw another one at the Team Saturday and Sunday: altitude! For every thousand feet above sea level, the air gets thinner. This decrease in density affects the parachute’s performance, which is especially important when the jumper is coming in for a landing. At sea level, the parachute stays fully inflated, responds quickly, and is at its optimal functionality. The base altitude in Rifle, CO is 5,345 ft MSL (mean sea level, or in other words above sea level) so on final landing approach at 100 ft AGL (above ground level) the parachute behaves as if it was more than a mile high. This is a unique challenge for the jumpers, since the parachute lacks the stopping and steering power that the jumper is used to. This keeps the GKs on their toes, but it’s nowhere near enough to keep the Airborne Soldiers on the ground for long!

Despite the rain, low clouds, tricky altitude conditions, and flash flood warnings in the nearby city of Denver, the demonstrators did not disappoint the crowds at the show and brought back some of the most rugged and beautiful photos yet this year.



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