Golden Knights free fall into Dayton

DAYTON — The greatest free fall team in the world flew and dropped into Dayton air space for the 2022 CenterPoint Energy air show in the form of your United States Army Golden Knights.

For over 60 years the ambassadors of the Army have dominated the international skydiving circuit. Along with the Air Force Thunderbirds and the Navy Blue Angels, the Golden Knights are part of the three DoD [Department of Defense] aerial demo teams. The nickname is derived from the gold medals won in competition, and the Knights to show they are world champions conquering the skies. The ambassador soldiers can act as a recruitment tool as they hold the airshow crowd in thrall, and allow the public to interact with members of the military when they might not normally be able to. They can also provide valuable knowledge and skill sets to soldiers headed for deployment.

Teamwork is absolutely essential to maintain such superb levels of success. The Golden Knights have performed in 48 countries and done more than 21,000 shows in all 50 states. The all-volunteer team will execute different maneuvers which will test the maneuverability of their bodies, some while falling at speeds that can exceed 120 mph. One aspect of their show is the baton pass, where two jumpers will exit the beautiful C147A Dash 8 separately (you couldn’t pay me to do it, I love that plane), and fly towards each other to exchange a mahogany baton. They demonstrate a cutaway maneuver which will show what can happen if a parachute malfunctions. I’ve watched a video, it’s terrifying. And with the diamond formation, they prove that four jumpers can indeed move their bodies so close together that they end up mere inches apart, forming a diamond shape in the sky.

So what’s it like behind the scenes? As media, first you have to bring a coat, hat, gloves. You can’t wear open toed shoes and must wear long pants. At the plane we get the opportunity to watch them walk through their airborne routine, hear their preflight briefing, and observe the quick run through of the team members who will be presented to the air show crowd. Next, the guests trundle aboard the Dash 8 to fill out paperwork.

Have you been scuba diving in the past 24 hours? Nope; you’re not getting me into a swimming suit anytime soon. Do you have sinus problems? Not today! Do you have a major heart problem? Well probably now, thanks to work related stress, but I didn’t notice any medical personnel nearby so shhh. Any ladies aboard who might be pregnant, the solider giving the brief asks while turning to me. Uncomfortable with the side-eye I blurt, “No, I don’t get out much…” He found that funnier than I.

He ran through a few more things then asked if anyone had any questions. I raised my hand- Catholic education manners die hard- and pointed to the media briefcase and inquired of the telltale yellow/green box, “…are those crayons?” He snorted and with a wide grin admitted yes. Together we answered in tandem, “They’re for the Marines!” With apologies to uncle Frank Nuss who is one, we laughed and laughed.

At this point we donned our coats, buckled in, had our cameras strapped safely to the plane, and our camera bags stowed upfront. A soldier asked how I was doing and I fretted that I should’ve tied my long hair back. He glanced about, saw a rubber ring on the ground and gallantly handed it to me. Improvise, adapt, overcome. Later in the day I walked through an Army Chinook and asked the maintenance officer what this rubber ring was. He had no idea, but was confident it wasn’t used on his bird. I suspect it was used to gather the strings on the parachutes?

As you know, the higher up you go, the colder the temperatures. I might’ve looked more stupid than normal carting around a coat in the summer Ohio heat, however I was indeed shivering by the time the last of the soldiers leapt.

In flight there was a lot of hurry up and wait as we circled the airport and the men monitored the wind and height. Often they’d plop down on all fours and stick their heads out the door to study it all.

When they’re ready to walk out the open door, if you blink you’ll miss it. With a deep and mighty “Whhooooosh” they’re gone. On the ground to watch them it can be frightening/thrilling depending on your perspective. To see them free falling at excess speeds of 120 mph, to see them glide perilously close together, to see them coming in hot but then at the last moment sail gently, elegantly, to a perfect landing- it’s all irrefutably impressive feats of physicality and skill. From the ground to see them fall or sitting next to them in air to observe as they gleefully jump away, it’s easy to see whey these guys are so remarkable.

The camaraderie within the team is undeniable and it’s obvious they enjoy their work. Cincinnati native SFC Danny Hellmann, graduate of Western Hills High School, is a member of the 2022 team. After joining the Army, he’s never looked back; through the Army he’s been able to travel extensively, and it’s given him unique opportunities that he’d otherwise might not ever experience. Because of this, he hopes to retire with the Army. Can’t get much better an ambassador than that.

For more information on the Army Golden Knights, visit www.armygk.com

Calling herself a “nerd,” the writer is a graduate of Lehman Catholic High School and has been employed for 27 years at FOX19 in Cincinnati. An aviation enthusiast thanks to her dad, Bill Nuss, who is an Air Force veteran. For the record, she’s also a Navy, Army and Marine aviation enthusiast thanks to family veterans!