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Cold Front Hits Gold Team

The Duluth Airshow is a celebration of aviation that brings together aviators and aviation enthusiasts from all over the world and is also the largest event of the year in Minnesota.  This event was also the first time in 30 years that the Canadian Snow Birds performed there.  The Gold Demonstration Team arrived on Wednesday prior to the Airshow to make some appearances and let the Minnesotans about the great demonstration the team would make later on in the week.  Among those was a visit to Superior High School to talk some select science classes on the physics of skydiving and to let them know that their Assistant Principal Bill Punyko would be making a tandem skydive with the Golden Knight’s very own SFC Aaron Figel into the football game that afternoon.  The team was excited and ready to go until the plane took off and reality started to set in as the temperature dropped to below freezing.  The team knows all too well about the temperature shift from the ground up to altitude but this time the ground temp was in the upper 40s so that made the temp at altitude was about 10 degrees.  The team performed a spectacular show for the high school and Mr. Punyko got the ride of his life and a story to share with his students.

On Friday the Knights jumped for the Media Day with the temperatures still in the freezing realm so the team had a chance to prepare for a cold weekend.  Along with the cold the team was also thrown another curve ball with high winds and low clouds for the Saturday show so the team had to fall back on their smaller parachutes to still give the audience and awe inspiring show.  Sunday the weather was much better as the clouds went away and the winds eased up so the team was able to put on two more wonderful shows and give the airshow audience a warm sense of enjoyment on a very cold day.  At the end of the performance the team traveled through the crowd receiving high fives and handshakes all the way over to the recruiting tent where a small gathering of people were already waiting to meet them.

The team had one more stop to make and that was down in the capitol Saint Paul where the team had the honor to jump right into the capitol lawn and with them a very special guest.  Lt. Governor Yvonne Prettner Solon made her first skydive, in tandem with SFC Aaron Figel and videographer SFC Jon Ewald, to draw attention to the Community Covenant, a 5-year-old initiative to show support for military families.  She said “2,000 Minnesotan military personnel are overseas, including 600 Minnesota National Guard members.  Military personnel have earned the promise of full education and full employment,” pledging that the Dayton administration will fulfill that promise.”  Governor Mark Dayton, Secretary of State Mark Ritchie and military representatives joined Prettner Solon in signing a commitment to support the covenant.

After all that the team still had one more jump to do and that was for the lucky students of Eastview High School.  The team was invited to help honor the military just before the Tuesday night soccer game and help recognize some of the Eastview alumni that have served or are still serving.  The students in attendance were also lucky enough to see their principal Dr. Randal Peterson receive a tandem ride with SFC Figel and SFC Ewald just before watching the rest of the team bring in the game ball to kick off the night.  This trip was one of the most unique for the Gold Team as it brought them closer to public than ever before as well as fulfilling lifelong dreams for a few special people.

Stars, Stripes, and Sun

Well, a little sun that is. Over the weekend Black Demonstration Team arrived in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and as is typical in southern Florida this time of year, a mix of sun, clouds, wind, and rain arrived as well. Friday evenings jump into Huizenga Park proved as difficult an operation as Black Team has conducted all year, with winds nearing the upper limits of the team’s capabilities. But with Team 6 Aviators at the controls of the C-31 Friendship Aircraft, high anticipation from the jumpers of a combined Black and Gold Team, and a brief lull in the winds, the crowd welcomed the Golden Knights first jumper into the landing area with cheers and applause. It just so happened that jumper was SGT David Echeverry, who is actually from Ft Lauderdale. “It is a privilege to have my family and friends here for this jump. What an honor to be able to represent The United States Army in the city where I grew up”, said SGT Echeverry.

Saturday’s night jump proved to be just as difficult. As the clouds rolled in with the dark of night, Black Team exited the aircraft from just above 7 thousand feet with night pyrotechnics ignited. Gusting winds challenged 8 jumpers to rely on all their skill to land each black and gold canopy on a small stretch of beach barely 100” by 100” wide. With all the precision you’ve come to expect from the Golden Knights, each jumper landed right on target.

Following each jump over the weekend, the team was greeted by Ft Lauderdale’s Mayor Seiler. Following Friday’s jump, the Mayor presented the team with a “Key to the City”, inviting the Golden Knights back to Ft Lauderdale anytime. The team then presented the Mayor and the CEO of the Miami Dolphins, Mike Dee, with 2 footballs which were flown in by the jumpers. Owner Mike Dee then asked SFC Brian Sealing, in a surprise invitation, to “bring the team back down to jump into the Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots game on December 2nd.” SFC Sealing gladly accepted the invitation by simply replying “Deal!”

Golden Knights Win Gold!

The Golden Knights Female 4-Way strike Gold!  This past week, the team traveled to Prostejov, Czech Republic for the 2012 World Parachuting Cup in Formation Skydiving.  GKF4 arrived the Friday prior to the opening ceremonies in order to conduct training jumps.  These jumps were important for a variety of reasons.  Not only would the jetlag from the long trip be hard to overcome, the aircraft used for the competition was a Turbolet.  The team almost exclusively trains from a UV-18 Twin Otter so the door and the exit from the Turbolet needed worked on.  The door of the Turbolet is slightly more narrow and taller than a Twin Otter.  The placement of the bar, which is used by the team as a hand hold, is also different.  By the time Monday, the official practice day, was over, GKF4 had made 10 jumps at Dropzone Prostejov. 

GKF4 competed in the Women’s 4-way Formation Skydiving category.  As you may know, they are also the US Team for the 2012 Mondial in Dubai this December.  Although the list of teams who will be competing there is not official yet, two other female teams they will face competed in Prostejov; Norway’s Polaris and France’s Aerodyne Deep Blue Defenders.  At the World Cup, Polaris joined GKF4 in the Women’s category while the Deep Blue Defenders competed in the Open class.  France and GKF4 did not directly compete, but the competition was still one of the highlights of the meet.  GKF4 has gone up against France on two previous occasions; the 2011 World Cup and the 2012 Paraclete XP Outdoor Skydiving Championships (the Shamrock Showdown).  At both of these competitions, France has beaten GKF4.  In fact, GKF4 had not outright won a round against them yet.  This changed in Prostejov. 

Day One of the competition brought the first four rounds.  Three of these rounds were technical in nature and not the fastest to get through.  The other round was much quicker, containing mostly Random formations.  Inside Center of GKF4, Laura Dickmeyer said, “That first day of competition was probably the most in tune we have been as a team.  We went up and let it loose.  We gave it our all and it worked.  All the hard work up to that point was paying off.”  At the end of the day, the Team had won three of the four rounds, tied the other, and was up 3 and 11 points on France and Norway, respectively. 

Day Two brought, what the commentators called, faster rounds.  The good energy of the previous day continued, although with a little more pressure.  Small mistakes on two of the rounds cost GKF4 a little ground.  There was also a fast slot-switcher that the French really amped it up for.  As the sun set on Day Two, GKF4 had won two rounds, while France won the other two.  Final standings of the day put GKF4 one single point ahead of France and 22 points ahead of Norway. 

The last two rounds of 4-way were held for the last day of competition, Thursday.  Round 9 for GKF4 started off a little rough with a mistimed exit.  They recovered but not without sacrificing a few points at a crucial time.  This, combined with a good jump for France, put GKF4 one point down going into the final round.  Norway also had a good round with a 17.  Due to a rule dispute in the Open class, GKF4 boarded the plane with Norway and completed Round 10 almost a full hour before France was even on a call.  With the final round done, the Team could relax a little, collect their thoughts and grab a quick lunch.  To add to the drama of the final round, all video had to be turned in to the judges before any of it was to be scored.  As a crowd gathered to watch the live judging, teams intermingled to get the best view.  Of the 4-way, Norway was scored first.  They received a final score of 16 due to one bust.  GKF4 was next.  They scored a 19.  This meant France would have to score a 17 or less for GKF4 to beat them.  A handful of Open class teams were judged.  France was next.  A less than stellar exit started the dive slow and a bust on a cataccord was costly.  The final score was 16.  GKF4 not only won Gold in their category, but proved they are true contenders for the upcoming Mondial in Dubai.

This is only the beginning of this story as GKF4, France and Norway make their ways back home, most definitely to train.  Next stop for GKF4 is the US National Skydiving Championships in Eloy, AZ at the end of October.  Until then, they will be training harder than before, pushing each other further, going faster, and all the while knowing their competition is doing the same.  Blue Skies!

Don’t forget to keep track of GKF4’s progress at www.facebook.com/USArmyGKF4

 

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