We have received many comments and questions about our night pyrotechnic jumps in the past few days. As the Soldier in charge of the pyrotechnic equipment for the Black Demonstration Team, who performed the night jump over El Paso, TX on Friday night, I would like to take a few moments to describe in detail the process we go through to perform a night jump, and to take away some of the “mystery” that currently surrounds our night operations. Here are the answers!
Question: How do you carry the pyro flares when you jump?
Answer: The pyro flares, which are about six inches long and 3/4 inch in diameter, are connected to a metal bracket worn on the jumper’s boot heel. The pyro sticks are bundled in groups of seven and burn for about 30 seconds, so one bundle will give the jumper three and a half minutes of white sparks.
Question: How do you pull of the whole “hovering and reverse trajectory thing?”
Answer: “Hovering and reverse trajectory” is a really fancy way of saying that we opened our parachutes, slowing from 120 mph to about 12 mph in a matter of seconds, then started steering our parachutes around in preparation to land. Because the change in speed is so sudden and dramatic, it can appear to spectators on the ground that the jumpers are hovering. Nope, they are simply gliding gently to the ground under their black and gold canopies. One fan asked if we had “jet packs,” and the answer is NO…we wish! Our parachutes have a forward speed of 22 miles per hour, and with the pyro sparks burning under the canopy, it appears that we are going pretty fast.
Question: How do you form a triangle in the air?
Answer: Once the parachutes are open, the jumpers fly to a spot upwind of the target so they can spiral down for their landing approach. From afar, if the jumpers are in the right spots, it appears that they are forming a triangle, however, it’s just an optical illusion.
Question: (specifically about the El Paso jump Friday) Why were there three flares when the parachutes opened, then a fourth became visible after they were hovering?
Answer: During freefall, not all of the jumpers in the formation ignite their pyro sticks. One of the jumpers, SFC Arlyn Slade, waited until he was under canopy to ignite his flares because he was performing canopy relative work with his CRW partner, SSG Todd Beckel. As soon as their canopies were together, SFC Slade ignited his pyro, creating the fourth flare.
Question: How exactly do you ignite the pyro sticks?
Answer: Each of the sticks is fitted with a wire, which has a tiny blasting cap on one end, and bare wires on the other. The bare wires are connected to a custom-made electronic box about the size of a pop can. The box sends a pulse of electricity every 28 seconds to light off one of the sticks, and since each stick burns for 30 seconds, it creates a continuous flow of sparks. Once the jumper is near the ground, he or she can switch the box off, so that no more electrical signals are sent, and no more sticks will ignite. If the jumper landed with the pyro burning, it is possible that his or her canopy could be burned by the sparks.
Question: Does the Fokker (our jump aircraft) have navigation lights for night jumps?
Answer: Our aircraft has the same navigation lights as any other aircraft in accordance with FAA regulations. Our jumps are performed from 12,500 feet above the ground…that’s nearly two and a half miles straight up…so unless you knew EXACTLY where to look, the aircraft lights would be very difficult to see from the ground, especially in an urban environment with lots of ambient ground lights.
Black Team will be performing night jumps at the Fort Worth Alliance Air show October 29th and at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio November 5th. If you’d like to see a night pyro jump for yourself, come check it out! We will be posting pictures and video of those night jumps here on our website.
Well, I hope this answers at least some of your questions. We enjoy telling the American public about what we do and how we do it, so we welcome your questions and queries.