McConnell Air Force Base hosted the Wings Over McConnell Open House this last weekend featuring aircraft and equipment from all branches of the military to include the Air Force Thunderbirds and of course the Gold Demonstration Team. The 22nd Air Refueling Wing on McConnell is the largest refueling operation in the world housing more KC 135 Stratotankers than any other location so it was a great honor to be invited to a location with such a high pace mission. Coming from sub-freezing temperatures the week before the much warmer Kansas climate was a welcome change to the team. Every day during the air show the skies were blue allowing the team to perform without restriction also giving everyone watching the best view possible. On Friday the team jumped in to a military family concert located in the center of the airshow which gave the audience an awesome preview of the show to come over the next couple days. On Saturday and Sunday the shows were identical starting off with a mass formation to open the air show with all the jumpers landing in a show line spread right next to the crowd then giving high fives and handshakes all the way back to show center. The morning show also featured a tandem jump for a couple lucky people with one of them being Amanda Chastain the Air Force Spouse of the Year. Amanda was nominated for Spouse of the Year due to her volunteer work within the military and civilian communities. The afternoon was a full show where the team demonstrated the highly practiced maneuvers that only the Golden Knights perform.
Even though the team was sharing the spotlight with the Thunderbirds there was no shortage of Airmen and Press wanting to take a ride on the Golden Knights distinctively painted C-31. Even though these Airmen were no strangers to being around aircraft none of them have been on one with the doors open. The team enjoys having guest onboard not only to have someone new to talk to during the climb to altitude but also to show them just how fun skydiving can be. The riders also get the best view on the plane as they are sat right next to the open doors in the rear of the plane. Most people try to keep calm during the ride but the look on their faces change to awe and wonder as they see the jumpers move freely about the plane showing no fear as they lean outside to check the target area.
After 13 years without holding an air show, the 122nd Fort Wayne Air National Guard Base decided to bring it back and to go big in the process by inviting the Golden Knights Gold Demonstration Team. An estimated 50,000 people were said to be in attendance for the new and improved air show with acts like Otto the Helicopter, Indy Boys – Jet Powered School Bus, Mohr Barnstorming, Oliver’s SkyDancer and the F-22 Raptor Demo Team just to name a few. With 16 performers and 20 static displays this air show had something for everyone with no expense spared to accommodate an overwhelming crowd on a small base. The Gold Team was brought in to be one of the main headliners for the show and they did just that. On Friday the team was scheduled to perform just a few hours after landing so immediately after the in brief the clock was ticking. Since the demonstration teams are always in the public view it is critical to not only be ready to in a timely manner but to look good while doing it and since the team was the main event the heat was on. The team took off with eight press riders all wanting to talk to the jumpers during the flight but half way up the Ground Coordinator SGT George Perez called up to the plane with winds over 20 miles an hour. With this new knowledge the team leader J.D. Berentis made the call to switch to smaller parachutes so the team could still put on a performance. The planned jump still went according to plan giving the media on the ground and the ones still on the plane a great show. Within a couple of hours of jumping the Gold Team made the local radio and news as well as impressing the locals outside the gates.
The rest of the weekend was a success as well but not without some familiar weather challenges. On Saturday the team had two jumps to perform with the first one being a mass formation. The plane was once again filled with press riders wanting to get a glimpse of the jumpers leaping from 12,500 feet and without fail the team did just that. Shortly after the jump the clouds rolled in and spoiled the second jump for the day and once the rain started the show director made the decision to end the show early so the patrons could get home and not miss anything. On Sunday the team was scheduled for two jumps but the clouds were closed after just a few thousand feet. The mass formation the team planned on turned in to an equally impressive low CRW show. Three pairs of CRW landed across the show line allowing everyone to see the Golden Knight skills at work. The second show in the afternoon was also cut short because the rain was about to start so to not disappoint the people of Fort Wayne a low altitude stack out was put out just minutes before the jump. As the black and gold canopies soared above the crowd the people cheered with everything they had and watched the Knights hit the target one by one ending the airshow with a bang.
This is the second time the Gold Demonstration Team has visited Bellevue for a show and both times the team has encountered adverse weather. Upon arriving the team was briefed on what their schedule was for the Defenders of Freedom Open House Air Show held on Offutt Air Force Base and along with the schedule came a warning of possible changes to the planned schedule due to the weather forecast. As always the Gold Team stands ready to adjust to any situation that might arise and did so effortlessly. On Friday the team was set to perform a jump for the media day before the air show but had to adjust their mass formation because of some lingering clouds half way up to altitude. Even though it is difficult for the people on the ground to see the formation in free fall it is still important for the jump to go as planned so the Gold Team Leader J.D. Berentis made a last minute adjustment to the planned formation and the team pulled it off successfully.
After the jump the team members had a chance to visit with some of the children from the Make A Wish Foundation and Soldiers from the Wounded Warrior Project. Both organizations had a great turnout and everyone present had a front row seat to watch the Golden Knights land. As the team members entered the chalet, children lined up to meet the jumpers they just saw land and it is always a treat for the team to be greeted so many enthusiastic kids. The team also wondered around to all the tables in the area to make sure the children that could not get in line were not missing out on meeting the team. The soldiers from the Wounded Warrior Project also gave a heartfelt welcome to the team and some were quoted in saying that “The jump was the coolest thing they had seen in years” and “You all are crazy for jumping that hi”.
Saturday the team along with the other acts were put on standby because of the low ceiling and the predicted bad weather that was supposed to roll in later on. Before any on the performers took off the decision was made to cancel the show for that day and put it off till Sunday. On Sunday Gold Team again was faced with a cloudy sky and few holes to jump through. The whole airshow was pushed back on their timelines forcing everyone to modify their performances but the show must go on since the crowd was already over 100,000 people. The team took off with hopes of finding a gap in the clouds large enough to put out some jumpers but no such luck so the team landed with the plane and made their way over to the recruiting booth right next to show center. Even though the team did not make the first jump the people were happy to see the jumpers and wanted to get their autographs. The second jump was modified as well due to the low clouds and shortened timeline so as a trusty standby to any planned jump world famous Golden Knight Stack Out became the highlight of the day and successfully closed out the air show. To the delight of the crowd the team returned to the Recruiting Booth to sign more autographs and take photos with the audience.