The Majestic elegance of flying over the gleaming Wasatch Mountains at Hill, AFB is passing by as the team C31 Friendship is bound to its next destination, of Fort Bragg, NC the Golden Knights home.
I am quite sure, that within the troupe of 450,000 screaming air show enthusiast that stood out on the show line on that beautiful, hot, Saturday afternoon not one, never ever even gave it a thought about how this all happens. The enormous flock patiently stood there with umbrellas, hats, visors, sunglasses and hands over their eyes gazing into the pristine blue skies as the Golden Knight narrator, who had just jumped in the American Colors began the show with Good afternoon ladies and gentleman, or as SSG Shelby Bixler shouted,” Good Afternoon Utah!!!.” And the roar from the crowd soared clear over the mountain.
No one considers all of the extensive planning, preparation, coordination and extreme effort that goes into just one parachuting event.
Operations begin their task at the International Council of Airshows (ICAS) booking with Sponsors for Air shows and events all over the United States. The work continues with Department of the Army, Office of Chief of Public Affairs, Advertising Marketing and Research approval, waivers and finalizes advance man and team schedules till the day of departure.
Budget is the primary factor, continually adjusting everything from fuel cost, fees, payments, Defense Travel schedules to hundreds of never ending adjustments in orders and vouchers weekly.
The Supply section constantly are exchanging and ordering team uniforms, cameras, rigs, and any and everything imaginable to reinforce the team’s mission requirements and assure everything runs smooth as clock work.
Media Relations preempt the show season six months prior to enhance the Army branding in all media products through specific Army guidelines ensuring everything directly engages the target audiences for the up and coming show season. This year the Media Relations cell designed a exquisite 12 page booklet portraying the past fifty-five year remarkable team history, which included a centerfold with the photographs of the entire team, which by all means is aweing the public on show lines across the US. All team productions have to have a spectacular edge to remind the audience of the abundant opportunities available in a career with today’s all volunteer Army.
MR has fully engaged all social media aspects, designed and printed hundreds of thousands of brochures, calendars, coloring books, DVD’s, photographs, media kits and press packages that are distributed to media, schools, colleges, air show fans, Centers of Influence, VA centers and the general American public. These items generate leads, goodwill and millions of dollars of free publicity through impressions and add value generated across the country.
Aviation Sections, Kay and Associates employees, led by Mike Dieck are the team’s awesome maintenance support Team. Some of whom are former Golden Knights do a superior job assuring that the entire fleet of the US Army Parachute Team, Golden Knight aircraft are in superb running condition.
The Pilots and crew chiefs are the most highly trained in the Army and have to attend specialized, intensive training to man the Team’s two C-31 Fokker’s, which are the only aircraft of this type in the entire Army Inventory. They also meticulously maintain three brand new Viking twin Otters, which were recently added to the fleet.
This year is a bit unique due to the 1st time ever, lost show season for the Knights’, T-Birds and Blue Angels due to sequestration. And it is absolutely an incredible feeling to be back on the road again
SFC Teigh Statler and SFC Corey Hood choreographically pulled ground control assuring, ground box, target, winds, timing, music, narration and broadcast was relayed to the Pilots overhead. SFC Statler calls, “Hot Target and the show begins.”
The Golden Knight chariot circles high above the earth as excited media sit on the edge of their seats to capture that perfect shot. X-96 Radio Host, World Air Show Reporter, Standard Examiner Reporter, News Writer and photographer, Sign Post Reporter and videographer, Fox News, Salt Lake Magazine Photographer, 75 ABW Public Affairs and numerous other media outlets experienced the first hand birds eye view of a life with the Knights.
SSG Bixler exited the plane pulling a lanyard and the red smoke begins to billow behind her. She pulls down a line and releases the American Flag. Meanwhile on the ground 9,000 feet below her, the crowds are pointing in to the sky screaming and hollering as she spindles down. On a ladder about 10 feet high there is an individual who is signing to the crowd as the tension grows.
Dear friends and fellow pilot acts, Rob Holland, Bill Stein and Matt Chapman pull the smoke lines of their planes and begin to rhythmically fall inline and encircle round and round SSG Bixler as her descending red smoke canopy continually spirals towards the ground.
SFC Hood has waved a go ahead to play the National Anthem at the exact second SSG Bixler deployed the American Flag. Team ground, the Thunderbirds, who were posted at their planes behind us and over 400,500 people rose with great pride for our great Nation to their feet with hands on their hearts.
PFC Jason Wenger and SGT Travis Downing conducted the baton pass maneuver, which spins round producing a barber pole or candy caine image of red in the sky.
SFC Derrick Coleman followed jumping a much smaller, extremely fast canopy to introduce the cut-away, showing the audience the precision and safety of the pilots, who have to cut loose the canopy they are flying due to a malfunction, detouring an extremely treacherous situation. Coleman then returned to free fall again and deployed a second parachute and glided down to show center.
SGT David Echeverry and SSG Ken Severin conducted the diamond track maneuver, which looks like a big X in the sky to show the dynamic skill, control and versatility of our canopy pilots in the sky.
High over head, team leader SFC Presgraves, led the diamond formation, which was the greatest capture of the day. Looking up you saw this spectaclar wedge formation followed by streaks of brilliant red smoke trailing in the sea of blue over the beautiful green mountaintops. The team members all elegantly landed one by one onto the steamy, hot runway and were individually introduced to the crowd, followed by a Golden Knight traditional baton presentation. Mr. Kevin Ireland, an very influential local man in the community that gave it all to support this event and was selected by the Air show to be the weekend recipient.
SFC Presgraves and members of the Black Team presented the baton that was flown in free fall over the great Wasatch today and thanked him for his great service and dedication to the Military and the community.
The team concluded the show with the famous wave off, while SSG Bixler closed with the famous words of 1SG Spider Wrenn, “May all your Days be prosperous and your Knights Golden.”
Although the performance was over more work was just to begin. Team members headed over to the Army Recruiting booth, to sign autographs, talk and high five with the kids and meet the American Public of Ogden, Utah.
Preparation for the return trip had just begun. The chutes to be packed, the remaining smoke, ground equipment, supply gear were specifically loaded onto the plane and tied down and the plane refueled for the stint home.
First thing in the morning, the sleek black caravan of vehicles were systematically located all in a row in front of the hotel to load up the seventeen matching roller bags, totes, computers and equipment to depart for the airbase where our gleaming black and gold battle taxi stood guard.
Piloting our Troopship to Hill and back to Ft. Bragg is Major Steven Coston, CW3 David Burns along with our Crew Chief SGT Jason Desando. Dailey they thoroughly and skillfully checked all wings, tires, engines and proceeded with all preflight safety measures, sealed the doors, cranked the engines and took to the alluring sky blue sky.
While traversing across the country team mates do a variety of things from playing cards in the back of the plane, munching on snacks, gaming, reading and always sometime during the flight grabbing a nap in a hammock, on an air mattress on the floor, bunked on a cargo seat, or bundled in a blanket with a pillow in a chair.
On our eight hour return trip home, I mostly wrote on this, edited photos and chose to emphasize on this breath taking photos that mesmerized the crowds, when they flew high overhead with a of a precise billowing, red smoke filled, Diamond Formation led by team leader SFC Presgraves and his wingmen directly over the Wasatch mountains that was dynamically shot by SSG Reese Pendleton.
The ride home seemed quite long, but really today seems like just a blink of the eye. It has been a long year, since I could take to the sky. And I am so grateful to be back on the road again with the awesome Golden Knight family I have come to rely.