Parachutists to fall from the sky to welcome fall

September 25, 1994|By Shirley Leung | Shirley Leung,Sun Staff Writer

Steve Baker can't think of a better way to mark the first days of autumn.

He's going to plunge 12,500 feet from a plane toward Fort Meade's Burba Field.

Not that it's anything new to him. This will be jump No. 1,170.

"The scariest part is doing it in front of so many people," said the 30-year-old Fort Worth, Texas, native who is a member of the Army's Golden Knights parachute team.

Twice today, 10 jumpers are to leap from a C-31A Friendship into the sky to ring in the new season. The demonstrations at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. are free and open to the public. The first show will last 15 minutes, the second an hour.

After each show, the parachutists will present awards to military vTC and civilian employees for outstanding service at Fort Meade and other posts near Washington.

The jumpers will board the cargo plane, which is equipped tcarry as many as 50 paratroopers, at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

By the time the plane reaches 12,500 feet, the temperature wilhave dropped about 40 degrees from what it was on the ground.

At that point, the jumpers are separated from the ground by fouminutes and a gold and black parachute.

"It's fun," said demonstration team leader Ken Brown, 31, a native of Helena, Mont., who has made 2,900 jumps. "It's like floating on a cushion of air. One of the neatest things about this sport is that you learn every time. You never peak out."

He said he does have some anxiety when falling at a speed of 120 mph.

"Stadiums probably give the guys the most adrenalin and the S-C-A-R-E," said Mr. Brown, who has used his reserve parachute four times in his career.

Since 1959, the Golden Knights have been falling from the sky for aerial shows and competitions. Based at Fort Bragg, N.C., the group consists of 84 jumpers, including this year's world champion free-fall parachute team.

Two demonstration teams travel up to 280 days a year entertaining crowds around the world. The rest of the group is divided into three competing teams that jump for judges.

Becoming a Golden Knight is competitive. An applicant must have a flawless civilian and military record and be physically fit, and must have made at least 150 free-fall jumps. The average age on the team is 26, said Staff Sgt. Mike Brantley, a team spokesman.

Stiff competition did not deter Vicki Lee, one of nine women on the team.

Three years ago, she was a commercial real estate agent in Fort Worth. Flipping through the phone book one day, she saw an ad for sky diving and started taking lessons. One of her instructors was a former Golden Knight.

"I loved it so much I decided I wanted to get paid to do it," said Ms. Lee, 32. "So I quit my job, joined the Army and started sky diving."

She enlisted in the Army in December 1991 and became a Golden Knight a year later.

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