Skydiving team taking flight over Cannon Air Force Base

Freedom Newspapers: Eric Kluth
U.S. Army Sgt. Hector Ceja, left, and Sgt. First Class Paul Sachs, right, prepare for their jump along with other members of the U.S. Army Golden Knights aerial demonstration black team Friday in the skies.

Marlena Hartz : Freedom Newspapers

The take-off wasn’t as graceful as you might imagine. The C-27 plane buzzed like a gargantuan lawn mower. Its body hiccuped and rocked back and forth. The smell of exhaust fumes invaded its cabin.

The crew inside, however, didn’t seem to mind or notice, but what else would you expect a highly-trained U.S. parachute team? They don’t call themselves the Golden Knights for nothing.

The day before their performance in the Airshow at the Cannon Air Force Base, Golden Knight specialist Joshua Coleman and eight other parachuters strutted aboard their plane to begin rehearsals.

The C-27 looks too awkward to fly. Its massive cabin is the size of five motor homes; its exterior a bolted mass of metal. Sheer force propels it off the ground.

However, once the plane is in the air, it becomes a thing of grace. It whirs in an arc through the blue sky, above a checkered landscape: amber plots of land, dots of houses.
The crew, meanwhile, resembles bus passengers. One chews a piece of gum, another chats about a football game, while another passes around mints. If the roar of the propellers weren’t so deafening, you might forget you are in a plane soaring above the earth at 9,500 ft.

You might forget that eight men and one woman will become air acrobats before they parachute to the ground.

The Golden Knights are a soup of army volunteers, the crew members explain. Some are cooks; others are mechanics, technicians, and scouts. To become a knight, a member of the army only has to try out, Coleman said. Not everyone is knight material, however. It takes guts to jump out of plane.

“I’ve probably done 500 jumps this year,” Coleman says, nonchalantly.

The U.S. parachute team reportedly performs more than 27,000 jumps each year before an estimated 12 million people.

“My dad was in the military,” Coleman said. “He got me and my brother into skydiving so we wouldn’t join the army— so we would go to college instead.”

That plan failed miserably. So do the plans of Coleman and company: On this day, Mother Nature is dominant.

You can tell the plane has reached jump height because the air is icy cold — the temperature drops about for degrees every 1,000 ft., Coleman said. Two Golden Knights crouch near the door. They wear goggles and jumpsuits and scan the horizon. The wind whips against their faces as they throw 20 ft. of crepe paper out of the plane’s door. It measures the direction of the wind. Other gadgets assess jump conditions.

The energy inside the plane plummets as word from the duo at the door spreads: The ground wind is moving too fast. The crew cannot safely perform their act.
The wind must be moving less than 20 mph to jump, Coleman explains. It is too difficult to land in a designated area if the wind speed is greater than that, the parachuter said.

The flight, however, isn’t entirely in vain.

“We’re a tool of recruitment. We raise awareness to the American public,” Golden Knight Sgt. 1st Class Dan Moesch said.

“You don’t normally get to see this (type of flight), except for what you see on T.V,” Moesch said.

The Golden Knights, of course, will get other chances to best Mother Nature. The team will float across eastern New Mexico skies today, too. If you want to catch the act and some awesome aerial maneuvers, check out Cannon Air Force Base’s Air Expo 2005. The knights will perform at 12:15 p.m.