For 33-year-old Sgt. 1st Class Andy Leake, jumping out of a plane is just another day at the office.
What scares the two-year member of the U.S. Army’s elite Golden Knights parachute jump team is public speaking. Team members take turns narrating their jump show to crowds.
To him it’s no big deal to free fall 10,000 feet and pull a rip cord only 2,000 feet above his target.
A “routine” day involves what he described as feeling like a 120 mph, vertical motorcycle ride — except without the motorcycle.
Weather permitting, the Golden Knights will be jumping over Manassas today and Sunday as part of the Fifth Annual Festival of Freedom, an air show and celebration of military history sponsored by the Manassas area’s Freedom Museum. The team performs at various shows around the country up to two-thirds of the year.
They flew into the Stafford Regional Airport Friday from their home base at Fort Bragg, N.C., and practice jumped a few thousand feet over Manassas only hours later.
After the plane — a Fokker F-27 — arrives over Manassas during the demonstration, team members will kneel at the edge of the rear doors and drop three streamers with light weights on the end. The movement of the streamers show the team where the wind is blowing and how strong it is. Then they tell the pilot where to fly to give them the best jumping position.
The narrator goes first, igniting cans of red smoke attached to his leg once airborne. From the air, he is a speck against the horizon, trailing a spreading cloud of red as he cruises and then glides toward the ground. There he tells the crowd what his teammates are doing.
In the meantime, the plane climbs to its desired altitude, which varies depending on the weather conditions and cloud cover. The team typically jumps from 12,500 feet, but leapt somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 Friday due to a low ceiling.
When it’s time to go, the parachutists assemble on either side of the plane and take turns stepping off. As they go, a brief “swoosh” sound fills the rear of the fuselage. As quickly as they step into the abyss, they’re gone, tumbling toward the ground.
It’s a thrill some say is great fun to watch — and magnificent to be a part of.
“You’re like a bird and your skin is just flapping away in your face,” said Staff Sgt. Harold Meyers, 39.
And stick their heads out they did. During the flight to Manassas, and while circling the airfield below, the parachutists walked up to the open doors, kneeled or stood at the edge and stuck their heads out. The wind pulled their skin back to the edge of the black helmets each wore. All this happened while the plane banked in several directions as the pilot circled the airstrip.