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Jerry Davich: Golden Knights take leaps of faith

A member U.S. Army Parachute Team Golden Knights jumps out plane over Chicago Thursday July 5 2012.  The Golden

A member of the U.S. Army Parachute Team Golden Knights jumps out of the plane over Chicago Thursday July 5, 2012. The Golden Knights took off from the Gary Jet Center in Gary, Ind. and parachuted from 3,000 feet into U.S. Cellular Field before the start of the White Sox game in Chicago. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media

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Added parking for air show

The Gary Community School Corp. Board of School Trustees has approved the use of Wirt/Emerson, Marquette and Banneker schools for parking at the Gary Air Show this weekend.

Attendees will be able to enjoy close parking to the event during the following times:

1 to 9 p.m. Friday, at Marquette Elementary School, 6401 Hemlock Ave.

8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at Marquette, Wirt/Emerson Visual and Performing Arts High Ability Academy, 210 N. Grand Blvd.; and Banneker Achievement Center, 301 Parke St. 

8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at Marquette, Wirt/Emerson and Banneker.

Drivers will receive a ticket confirming their payment of $20 to park each day.

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Updated: August 7, 2012 6:14AM



U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Brian Karst had to yell over the deafening engine noise and wind gusts at 3,000 feet while our Fokker F-27 military plane repeatedly circled over Chicago.

In a few minutes, he would be blissfully jumping from this perfectly fine aircraft with several other members of the U.S. Army Golden Knights Parachute Team. We sat at the back of the plane, the end with two gaping openings where doors should be.

“Absolutely, every time!” he replied to my first question, asking if he still gets nervous before every jump down to Earth. “But it’s also the best rush of my life!”

On Thursday, I flew alongside the famed and fearless Golden Knights as they prepared to parachute onto U.S. Cellular Field, before the Chicago White Sox played the Texas Rangers. The extreme heat on the ground, 103 degrees, lessened a bit in the higher altitude but the biggest factor to the jumpers was the wind, not the humidity.

From the front of the plane, the flight’s crew chief kept giving hand signals to the team, telling them the ever-changing wind speed and direction. At that moment, the “light and variable” wind was 3 to 5 mph over their baseball field target.

Karst, 31, excused himself for a second to unbuckle his seat belt and walk casually to the large opening on the side of the plane. The Vancouver, Wash., native took a curious peek at White Sox park — the jumper’s hot target — and also the city’s iconic skyline.

“This is the best way to see it,” said Karst, who’s in his first year as a Golden Knight.

From our vantage point, it looked as if the city, and the world, was turned on its edge as the plane’s pilot, Allen Aber, circled around the “wind drift indicators” that were tossed out a few seconds earlier. The indicators are weighted pieces of crepe paper that are dropped over the target zone where the demonstration jump team will soon land.

At 11:52 a.m., soon after takeoff, the Gold Demo Team jumpers put on their helmets in unison. As with all Golden Knights procedures, team members use the same rituals, techniques and superstitions before launching themselves from the aircraft to become human kites.

Once the plane got to 1,000 feet, most of the jumpers casually strolled about the plane as nonchalantly as walking in a bus, even as they stood near the openings on each side of the plane. Some yawned while waiting for their jump time. Others stared blankly into the air, applied Chapstick to their lips or rechecked their already double-checked equipment.

Karst has been in the U.S. Army for a decade, but he started skydiving just two years ago, on his own time while stationed in Hawaii. Once he found out he could join the Golden Knights, the “official ambassadors of the Army,” he went for it.

Ready, set, go!

This 2-minute freefall jump would be his 531st overall, yet each one is comprised of hours of precision preparation followed by a few fleeting minutes of breathless exhilaration.

Just minutes before the jump, the team’s leader, U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class JD Berentis, lay on his stomach in the open doorway, his cheeks rippling in the wind. He checked the target site, wind direction and every other variable.

“The winds can be a dice roll,” he told his team before the flight took off from the Gary Jet Center.

Spacious, sprawling air shows over a lake’s shoreline are much easier to hit than a crowded baseball field in the middle of the nation’s third-largest city. But the heavily trained unit, which is on the road 250 days out of the year, prides itself on such awe-inspiring, gravity-defying maneuvers.

“The jump is the fun part, it’s the payoff for all the hard work beforehand,” said Karst, whose team is scheduled to make five more jumps this weekend during Gary’s South Shore Air Show.

At 12:41 p.m., a loud buzzer cut through the noise and a red light switched to green, alerting the team’s narrator to jump first, followed soon by the rest of the team on the next go around. He stood near the opening facing the cockpit, crossed his arms and jumped sideways out of the plane: “Ready, set, go.”

A nanosecond later, he disappeared.

“In 4 minutes, we’re going,” Karst told me before standing up.

The rest of the team lined up near the two openings, visibly perking up and raising their energy level. But not before exchanging special, customized handshakes and gestures containing inside jokes, another Golden Knights ritual before every jump.

“Sunday, Sunday, Sunday!” Karst and another jumper yelled with a smile.

A minute later, each one briefly stood near the opening in rapid-fire succession. One second, two second, three second … ready, set, go. Each one jumped sideways, immediately turning into floating black specks in the cloudy blue sky over Chicago.

Then, during their free fall, their leader Berentis crossed his arms, signaling them to open their parachutes in unison. Two minutes later, they landed inside U.S. Cellular Field to the wild applause of the fans, and also to the relief of Karst’s parents back home in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

“They worry every time I jump, so I always call to tell them I’m OK,” said Karst, who will talk with me again Friday on my “Casual Fridays” radio show.

Friday’s show will be a remote broadcast live from the 13th Air Show over Marquette Park in the Miller section of Gary. I’ll also chat with a U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds pilot and other Air Show personalities. Plus, I’ll paint a picture of the scene there and tell listeners what it’s like to fly first-hand with the Thunderbirds, Golden Knights, Lima Lima and other Air Show stars.

Tune in between noon and 1 p.m. Friday on WLPR, 89.1-FM, streaming at www.thelakeshorefm.com.



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