Members of the U.S. Army Parachute Team recently competed in the 2018 U.S. National Indoor Skydiving Championships located at Paraclete XP Skyventure in Raeford, North Carolina. The two-day competition hosted 210 athletes comprising 46 teams and attracted international skydivers from Canada, Qatar, Brazil, France, Germany, Sweden, Belgium, Denmark, and South Africa.
Paraclete XP Skyventure is one of the largest vertical wind tunnels in the world and is the biggest commercial freefall simulator in the United States. Measuring 16 feet in diameter, the Paraclete tunnel is big enough to fit up to eight skydivers and the reigning World Champion Golden Knight’s 8-way Formation Skydiving Team regularly trains there when they’re not jumping out of airplanes. Though wind tunnels are useful training tools for freefall parachute teams, in recent years, indoor skydiving competitions have become exciting events in their own right. Spectators from Ft. Bragg and its surrounding areas were able to closely witness some of the top ranked skydiving teams in the world compete head-to-head.
The competition at Paraclete consisted of three events 4-way, 8-way, and 4-way Vertical Formation Skydiving (VFS). Both 4-way and 8-way require skydivers to fly in a belly-to-earth attitude whereas 4-way VFS requires its competitors to fly in a head-up or head-down attitude. Each event’s competition consists of ten flights in which jumpers perform five or six predetermined formations. 4-way and 4-way VFS have 35 seconds to perform the sequence of formations as many times as possible, 8-way has 50 seconds. One point is awarded for each completed formation. Incorrectly built or incomplete formations result in a one-point deduction. The team in each event which scores the most points over ten flights, wins.
The 4-way event hosted 33 teams divided into three classes: AAA, AA, and Rookie. Three 4-way teams represented the Army’s Golden Knights: Golden Knights Gold, Golden Knights Black, and Golden Knights. The Golden Knights 8-way team split into two separate 4-way teams, Gold and Black. Newer to the scene is the recently formed Golden Knights 4-way team made up of SFC Ryan Ray, SFC Jon Clevenger, SSG Nicholas Birkner, SGT Ethan Tamez and team videographer, SFC Justin Little. Their team formed in the Winter of 2017 to replace the Golden Knights Female 4-way team when they decided to disband after winning the 2016 World Championships to pursue other interests. Beginning with little to no prior 4-way experience, the new Golden Knights 4-way team has since made approximately 900 jumps and trained 35 hours in the wind tunnel. Their hard work is paying off. With the competition at Paraclete serving as their first indoor test, they scored a respectable 21.9 average for ten rounds and earned a fifth-place finish.
Golden Knights Gold is comprised of SFC Sean Sweeney, SFC Matt Davidson, MSG Jen Davidson (former Golden Knights Female 4-way team member), and SFC Drew Starr. GK Gold team members have several years of 4-way experience each with exception of SFC Starr, who is relatively new to the discipline of 4-way and is new to Gold team’s lineup. With 4-way being their secondary focus to 8-way, Golden Knights Gold performed exceptionally well, winning Bronze with a 27.2 average.
Reigning World Champions since 2012, the Golden Knights (GK8) were favored to win the 8-way event. GK8 added two new members to its lineup in 2017, MSG Jen Davidson and former team videographer SFC David Flynn. Fresh off their 2017 victories at the World Cup and U.S. Nationals, GK8 continued to gain momentum, winning Gold by a 55-point margin over Qatar’s national 8-way team.
Victory at the 2017 U.S. Nationals earned the Golden Knights a spot on the 2018 U.S. National Team and a trip to Australia where they will compete in the 2018 World Championships of Formation Skydiving in October. Additional team members include, SFC Sean Sweeney, SFC Drew Starr, SFC Matt Davidson, SFC Justin Blewitt, SFC Josh Coleman, SFC Larry Miller and team videographer SSG Joe Bradshaw. Sharing in the honor with GK8 to represent the United States in Australia are Paraclete XP National Indoor Skydiving Championships 4-way Gold medalists, Arizona Airspeed.
The Golden Knight’s VFS team decided to take a different approach to the competition at Paraclete this year. Upon receiving news their main competitors would not be in attendance, the Knight’s VFS team posted on social media. Staying true to their role as the U.S. Army’s goodwill ambassadors, the team advertised their desire and availability to help newer teams interested in registering for the VFS competition. Of the eight teams registered for the event, Golden Knight VFS team members coached and flew with three of them, resulting in Gold (SFC Christopher Acevedo and SGT Dan Osorio), Silver (Intermediate category: SSG John Long), and Bronze medal finishes (SFC Reese Pendleton and SFC Jesse Stahler). By comparison, the 2017 XP competition brought only three teams to North Carolina. The Golden Knights VFS team turns its sights next to training together for the Indoor Nationals for VFS and Artistic Events held in Virginia Beach in early May.