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Reporter’s aerial view of air show second to none

If you go

Gary’s South Shore Air Show continues from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free but parking at Marquette Park Beach is $20. Additional parking is available elsewhere.

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Updated: August 9, 2012 9:50AM



I don’t know about you, but I had a spectacular view during Gary’s South Shore Air Show on Friday and Saturday.

See, I saw my first air show two different ways.

Friday night, I was on the beach with everyone else, watching the flights while on assignment and chatting with the eager spectators. It was a fantastic view — and a fantastic show.

But Saturday, I had a killer seat for the action — inside a U.S. Army Golden Knights plane.

We were 12,000 feet in the air as members of the Army parachute team jumped from the plane to perform for onlookers at the beach.

To be honest, I had no idea what to expect. Before I received my invitation to fly, I hadn’t been to an air show before, and certainly had not heard of the Golden Knights.

They are a branch of the Army that travels the country to demonstrate their parachute skills at air shows across the country. When we arrived at the Gary Jet Center, Staff Sgt. Kevin Presgraves introduced us to the crew and showed us the plane, a C-31 Friendship Aircraft. There are only two like it in the Department of Defense fleet and were built in 1985.

Presgraves informed us of the risks of flying and the necessary procedures to follow, which mostly match those of flying in a commercial aircraft.

But the major difference in flying with the Golden Knights as opposed to a commercial flight is that the airplane doors are wide open, which makes the view incredible, but doesn’t allow for temperature control: inside the plane it was absolutely freezing — for every 1,000 feet in altitude, the temperature drops 3 degrees.

During takeoff, my absolute favorite part of any flight, we were able to watch as we rose across the horizon. The view of the city of Gary was magnificent. We were in the air more than an hour, and took a little more than 30 minutes to rise to full altitude waiting for other acts in the air show to clear out. On one side, as we circled, you had the city, and on the other, you saw Lake Michigan — a fantastic view of the cerulean water.

The lowest altitude at which the Knights can jump is 2,500 feet. The maximum speed the aircraft flew on Saturday was 240 mph.

After takeoff and through the flight, the plane’s fuselage is booming. In order to be heard, you need to speak just under a scream — and it’s not a guarantee that you’re understood. But the Knights are used to this. Many of them have clocked more than 1,000 jumps. They were absolute professionals.

When the Knights jump, they’re traveling at 180 mph, said Staff Sgt. Christopher “Ace” Acevedo. But he said the speed isn’t what you notice during your drop, it’s the pressure. Every part of your body feels pressure, he said.

“Your every move is exaggerated,” he said, explaining that every slight motion will change the direction of travel.

Before the jump, Acevedo and the other Knights walk up and down the plane’s aisle, getting on their knees to monitor conditions outside the plane, using hand signals to relay messages to the pilot.

Nerves didn’t seem to be a problem for any of them. They all looked incredibly comfortable moving about the aircraft, and especially calm just before their jumps.

“You do this a few hundred times, you get used to it,” explained Staff Sgt. Brian Karst.

Just before he jumped, Acevedo said his thoughts were consumed with what he was going to do in the air.

While in the air, he said, every move is exaggerated.

The Knights are well-prepared and spend much time training. They spend time at the base preparing and even do “dirt dives” while on the ground to prepare for their jumps.

But what’s most striking about the Knights is their camaraderie.

“A guy can have the skills, but if he’s not a good teammate (he’s not going to be a Golden Knight),” Presgraves said. “He needs to be a good teammate, first and foremost. We can teach the skills. You can’t teach teamwork.”

The Knights went to a huddle before takeoff, and before each jump, gave one another fist bumps and high fives.

It was exhilarating to watch the Knights jump. Just before, a siren would blast through the aircraft, and the Knights, sometimes solo, sometimes performing in a group, would position themselves at the aircraft’s open door.

Before the jump, they counted down to synchronize. Each of them jumped fearlessly, without hesitation. The second they left the plane, they left sight, disappearing into the sky and ready to put on their show.



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