The United States Army Parachute Team’s Eight-Way Formation Skydiving Team concluded the 2016 training season at its highest point in history. The team finished the year with a victory at the World Parachuting Championships at Skydive Chicago, Illinois with the highest competition score in the Eight-Way event’s history. After a short period of celebration, the team turned their sights to training and competition success in 2017.
At the conclusion of the 2016 season, Sgts. 1st Class Kurt Isenbarger and Jessie Stahler left active positions on the Eight-Way FST, opening two slots for new members to train and compete for the Army.
As with any competitive sporting organization, the team’s leadership began an intensive training plan to bring their new members up to speed as quickly as possible. Sgt. 1st Class David Flynn, the team’s air-to-air videographer in 2016, and Master Sgt. Jennifer Davidson, World Champion in the female category were more than up to the task.
The team’s training began in March after members completed Army school requirements and recouped from injuries sustained the prior year.
From March to August focus was placed on training eight person formations in the Paraclete XP Indoor Skydiving vertical wind tunnel in Raeford, North Carolina and during airborne operations at the Golden Knights training facility at Laurinburg-Maxton, North Carolina. Members of the team quickly found their rhythm with help from the six Eight-Way veterans, and former player turned coach, Sgt. 1st Class Kurt Isenbarger.
In August 2017 the Eight-Way FST attended the Fédération Aérionautique Internationale World Cup of Formation Skydiving in Saarlouis, Germany. While inclement weather forced an early end to the meet, the Golden Knights took first place on the podium after completing just three of the scheduled ten competition rounds.
Upon their return from Germany, the Eight-Way FST shifted their focus to the United States Parachute Association National Skydiving Championships in Perris Valley, California, where they would compete in the Four, Eight, 10, and 16-Way Formation Skydiving Events. While the Eight-Way FST does not train the Four, 10, and 16-Way events full time, their experience as seasoned competitors kept them in the fight and allowed them to achieve third place in the Four-Way Open Category.
After an early stumble in the initial rounds of the Eight-Way Open event, the team climbed back from a two point deficit to take the top spot from the Belgian guest team, Fly-In Machine 44. This team consisted of the current Four-Way World Champions and the number two Four-Way team in Belgium.
Once the Golden Knights regained the lead, they set their sights forward and never looked back, securing the Eight-Way Gold Medals with a lead of 17 points over the ten round competition. Their score of 202 points over ten rounds now stands as the National Eight-Way Formation Skydiving Record. The team earned the right to represent the United States at the World Meet in Australia 2018.
At the conclusion of the Eight-Way event the Golden Knights moved on to participate in 16-Way Formation Skydiving. Teaming up with high level competitors from Raeford, North Carolina and Skydive Chicago the Golden Knights beat out Arizona Airspeed by 12 points to secure gold and the top spot on the podium. This composite team has competed together since 2011, and their combined experience resulted in winning or tying each of the six competition rounds.
Finally, the USPA National Championship completed with the 10-Way Speed event. The team, comprised of Golden Knights, would be judged in the fastest time to complete a formation over the course of six scoring rounds.
After an early mistake in round one, the Golden Knights found themselves tied at last place. Over the next five rounds the competitors turned up the intensity to recover from the low position on the standings to take a set of silver medals, with a deficit of 20 seconds over the six scored rounds.
Members of the 2017 Eight-Way Freefall Formation Team are Sgts. 1st Class Sean Sweeney, Andrew Starr, Justin Blewitt, Matt Davidson, David Flynn, Larry Miller, Joshua Coleman, Master Sgt. Jennifer Davidson, Sgt. Joe Bradshaw and Sgt. 1st Class Kurt Isenbarger.
Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Starr said, “The Golden Knight’s placement in all four events earned them the title of Combined Overall Formation Skydiving Champions at the 2017 USPA Nationals, a feat they have won in six of their last seven appearances at the event.”
Serving under the United States Army Marketing and Research Group and the United States Army Media Engagement Brigade, the Golden Knights are stationed at Fort Bragg, the “Home of the Airborne and Special Operations.”
The team has a threefold mission; “Support the Army’s marketing and recruiting mission by performing live parachute demonstrations in front of millions of Americans and telling the Army story around the world; conduct tandem jumps for centers of influence as part of the Army’s strategic outreach program; compete and win in national and international parachuting competitions exhibiting the ‘Warrior Ethos;’ provide technical expertise in support of military free fall programs; and further parachuting research and development to enhance the Army's overall combat readiness.”