Skydiving At 60! Jumping with the Golden Knights

Jul 22, 2017 | Art of Living

Jumping with the Golden Knights! Go Army



They’re called the Golden Knights, and they’ve been in existence for more than 50 years. An elite group of men and women in the US Army, who travel all over our country, in fact, all over the world demonstrating some of the most elaborate, intricate and amazing feats of skydiving and of course, representing the US ARMY and our country in a very positive way.  From time to time, the Golden Knights invite civilians to join in on the fun. And guess what…somehow or another I got invited and approved to join the Golden Knights, train and jump out of a perfectly good airplane 20000 ft. above the earth!

Golden Knights, Go Army, The Not Old Better Show, Paul Vogelzang, Skydiving

After about 2 seconds of thought, I accepted the invite as the opportunity of a lifetime.

The morning of the big jump, after a strongly-advised light breakfast, me and my small 3- member crew, and 2 other military members gathered at the Golden Knights brigade headquarters in North Carolina.  There, an instructor from the Golden Knights, SFC Brian Sealing, from South Carolina (pictures of team), briefed us on how we would be dressed in the regulation gold and black jumpsuit equipment, how the exit and landing will occur, and the risks associated with the skydive.  We spent time with other tandem team members learning about the parachute, called a performance canopy wing, the harness, proper fit of gear and goggles, and body positioning during landing and flight.

Golden Knights, Fort Bragg, Go Army, The Not Old Better Show, Paul Vogelzang, Skydiving

We were then led into a staging hangar where learned about our order of descent, and I was told I was last to jump.  Just before walking out to the plane, Golden Knights videographer, SFC James Hackett, from Florida, asked me how I was doing?

Then they took us out to the plane, a Fokker C-31A Friendship (the military version of the Fokker F-27). The aircraft is 77 feet long, 28 feet high at the tail, and has a wingspan of 95 feet. Power is courtesy of two 2 Rolls Royce Dart 7 Engines. It’ll do 300 miles per hour. When it’s not carrying the Golden Knights and people like me, the aircraft can be configured to carry 56 infantry troops, or 50 fully loaded. Today, the aircraft is configured with several rows of standard seating up front and then an open space for the last two thirds of the fuselage with canvas sling benches along the sides. Both doors are open from takeoff to landing.

Golden Knights, Go Army, The Not Old Better Show, Paul Vogelzang, Skydiving

Once in the plane with me along with one of the two military other tandems and videographers the plane drew near to the desired altitude of about 15000-20000 ft, almost 4 miles up above earth and terra firma. My excellent  instructor and tandem partner, SFC Adrian Hill, hooked his harness to me and tightened the straps.  And I mean it was TIGHT!  He was on my back, I was on his front, and we were pressed together like we were one body.   Still in our seats, we practiced several times how we would eventually exit the aircraft.  I’ll tell you, from then on I never felt safer.  Sitting there strapped to the front of Golden Knight Adrian Hill made me feel very secure, like I could do anything.  (use photo of team, here for post)

Golden Knights, Fort Bragg, Go Army, The Not Old Better Show, Paul Vogelzang, Skydiving

Then the time came.  Me, tied tightly to Adrian’s back duck walked to the door of the plane.  With the videographer, SFC James Hackett, already hanging outside the door, we tandem leaped forward and began a 120-140 mile-per-hour free-fall toward Earth.

It actually felt like I was flying, not falling.  It was amazing.  It felt like how Superman looks flying in the movies.  There was no roller-coaster feeling at all like I thought there might be.  Just a very strong wind in my face, and all I heard was a loud roar.  The videographer, SFC James Hackett—with camera mounted to his helmet—passed below, above, and to the side of the tandem in flight. He was all over the place taking pictures, and then landing ahead of for more pictures, as we landed down below.

Golden Knights, Fort Bragg, Go Army, The Not Old Better Show, Paul Vogelzang, Skydiving

But first, after the 45-60 seconds of free-fall, when our tandem of me and SFC Adrian Hill, had descended to approximately 7500 feet, I felt a strong tug upward and the videographer vanished.  I looked up and saw the strings of the parachute, which had just deployed.  And suddenly the loud roar of the wind gave way to a great silence.  It was the quietest quiet I ever heard.  We were just floating there at the end of the parachute.  Adrian, always the instructor asked, ‘So how are you doing, sir?’ I responded with only “Wow!”  That was the extent of my intelligent conversation, at that point.  But, Adrian was just excellent, and we just talked to each other in a normal tone of voice.  We didn’t have to shout to be heard.

Our tandem continued the descent, and I asked the Golden Knight how fast we were now going now.  He said we were going about 25 miles per hour forward speed and about 20 miles per hour downward.  So the parachute, called the canopy wing really slowed us down.  But again, it felt like we were just floating, not falling.  The earth was very slowly rising to me; I was not falling to it.  All the while, the sight was spectacular:  the North Carolina green in a complete, unobstructed, panoramic view below, and above of sky, sun, clouds, horizon all in one glance.

Then I learned what performance parachuting was all about.  Adrian said, “OK, now I’ll show you what this thing can do.”  Our tandem did a spin and dive maneuver to the right and another to the left.  Now that was definitely a roller-coaster feeling.  That’s for sure!  Then we returned to their peaceful, downward descent.

As the objects on Earth grew larger and larger, it was time to prepare for the landing on Golden Knights HQ field.  As instructed, I pulled my knees up and pointed my legs straight outward.  Our tandem approached the field, and Adrian’s feet made a gentle touchdown on the turf.  The 7-minute flight was over.  After unhooking from one another, SFC Adrian Hill, my excellent instructor and tandem partner and I rose from the ground for more pictures and an interview by the videographer who awaited us there.

It was an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience after our two-day visit.  I’ll tell you this, if I learned anything, it was that the Army really stresses education, training, and safety above all.  They really take care of people, both overseas, active duty, and often in harm’s way, on front lines, etc., and even here in the US, taking great care of me.  Their standards for training and safety are so high, they really do minimize danger far more than we do in the civilian world.

The Golden Knights is a group of incredibly talented men and women. They kept me cool by laughing and telling jokes the entire time.  But, yes, they are professional and serious when needed. After all, we were about to jump out of a perfectly good airplane thousands of feet above the ground with me strapped to their stomach. But all rules and precautions aside, these men and women are comforting and inspiring. It’s as if Adrian wanted to share something very special to him with me and because of that, I learned to do something that most will never do in their life. For Adrian to not even question a complete stranger, says a great deal about his character and how much he values sharing with others what he loves so much.

It shows when someone loves what they do for a living – in fact, it makes all the difference. At one point, somewhere about 7,000 feet in the air, Adrian pointed out the wide open horizon, green North Carolina countryside, blue sky and said “Welcome to my office.” What an incredible reality.

Golden Knights, Go Army, The Not Old Better Show, Paul Vogelzang, Skydiving

Thanks to all, especially the Ft Bragg based Golden Knights.  And I’d like to personally thank the U.S. Army’s Golden Knights for giving me the opportunity to have this adventure of a lifetime.