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U.S. Army Parachute Team - Golden Knights

"Trains to Planes"

U. S. Army Golden Knights Parachute Team

Depot Inn & Suites Kirksville, Missouri, Regional Air Festival

September 11 and 12, 2009


Report and Photos (except where noted) by


(Click any photo for a double-sized copy; Click BACK to return to this page.)

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Side Photos from:  Golden Knights, Center photo by Carl Morrison.

Golden Knights' Aviation

(Click Photo for a double-sized copy)

Original Image at:

Manufactured by: Fokker
Crew: 3
Wingspan: 95 feet
Length: 77 feet
Height: 28 feet
Wing Area: 754 square feet
Engines: 2 Rolls Royce Dart 7 Engines
Speed: 300 M
Range: 1,500 miles
Maximum payload: 12,000 lbs
Maximum takeoff weight: 45,000 lbs
Ceiling: 25,000 feet
Payload: 56 Infantry troops
50 fully loaded paratroopers or 24 litter

My Photos of the Fokker, at the Depot Inn & Suites Kirksville Air Festival

Before the Jump

Helicopter rides were available for $35.
I entered the plane for my observation ride up those stairs.

Staff-Sergeant Howie Sanborn (left),
My plane-side Instructor for the Jump.

After the Jump, as the sun was setting, at Kirksville Airport, Missouri

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"Trains to Planes" would be a completely new assignment for me, mainly because of the Depot Inn & Suites' involvement in the Kirksville Regional Air Festival as a Title Sponsor.  As the involvement of the Silver Rails Resort expands in La Plata, MO, so do my reporting duties.  I don't think I could ever have predicted that I would be photographing and reporting on an Air Festival, but it is very exciting for this old  guy.

When I began getting my credentials together for this event, I found out that I would be permitted, as a member of the Press, to ride in the plane that takes the paratroopers up for their jumps! (Plane's photo above)  This actually created a logistics problem - I couldn't shoot the jump from the ground and be in the jump plane.  Therefore, I invited Award Winning, Photo-Buddy, Bob Williams, to attend the Festival.

Bob has helped me with photography in La Plata before.   He takes the Southwest Chief from Naperville, IL, to La Plata, from his home in Huntley, IL, near Chicago.  Look for photos in this report credited to him - he really is a great photographer.  His usual subject matter is Wildlife, including birds, so how do you think he did photographing flying human beings?  Bob is in the photo at the right.  Click his photo for a double-sized copy, click BACK in your browser to return to this page.

When in La Plata, we always stay at the Depot Inn & Suites, just a few miles south of the Kirksville Regional Airport.  We get a room with two very comfortable queen beds.  The Golden Knights stayed at the Depot Inn & Suites as well, so we had many opportunities Fri., Sat., and Sun. to chat with them.

The following story was written by the fellow who sat next to me on the airplane that took the parachutists up to jump on Friday:

U.S. Army Golden Knights Parachute Team to perform during air show

By C.E. Huffman
Thursday, September 10, 2009 at 11:12 a.m.

KIRKSVILLE, MO. -- This weekend you may want to keep your eye to the sky in the direction of the Kirksville Regional Airport.  The Laplata Depot Inn will present the U.S. Army Golden Knights Parachute Team as part of this year's air festival.

Staff-Sergeant Howie Sanborn says this will be a demonstration that you don't want to miss.

“It’s just a small demonstration of the skills that the military has.  It just shows one aspect of the training we receive and how precise we are trained.  Everything we do in the military is precision and safety first.  So we're going to go out there and jump out of a plane from two and a half miles up, which seems like the most unsafe thing you can do, but because of the training we get and the equipment we use it's you know...our safety record is amazing," says Sanborn.

Staff-Sergeant Sanborn went on to say there is one special demonstration the whole team is excited about performing.

"The biggest thing that we do...and we pride ourselves on, we're going to shoot accuracy.  When you guys go out to the show you'll be able to come up and see our target.  You'll be about one-hundred feet from it.  Our target is ten-by-ten.  We're going to come in and we're going to fly our parachutes from 2,000 feet when we open, down to a target that is 10-feet by 10 feet and the dead center of that target is the size of a medium pizza and that's what we're going to land on."

Staff-Sergeant Sanborn added that every person on the team is a member of the U.S. Army and most have served the country in combat.  Staff-Sergeant Sanborn told KTVO why being a member of this team is a unique opportunity for the soldiers.

"Almost everybody on the team has been deployed to either Iraq or Afghanistan.  We have some people that have deployed to other places.  So, when we're over there and get the support, it's nice to have this job now and kind of give back for all the support we received,” said Sanborn.

You will be able to meet Staff-Sergeant Sanborn and his other team mates while they sign autographs for free after each demonstration. Click on the community tab of our website, then the Kirksville Air Fest link in the green bar for more information.

From:  KTVO TV:

Photos by, and Bob Williams

As I alluded to earlier on this page, I had the privilege of riding in the Fokker jump plane that takes the Golden Knights up for their jumps.  I had spoken to Staff-Sergeant Sanborn earlier and he warned me that it got very cold (50 degrees) as they reach their 12,500 ft. jump height and that I should dress warmly.  He said 50 degrees doesn't sound very cold, but it is 30 degrees colder than ground temperature and that is considerable if you are not dressed for it.

My plane-side instructions included the normal safety information, except that the two rear doors were off the plane and open during the flight so there was not much question where one would exit in case of emergency, but one unusual thing about the emergency exit procedure was the reminder to steer clear of the propellers!  I was issued an air sickness bag in an envelope and Sanborn mentioned that the envelope itself was not the air sickness bag, but rather the plastic bag inside!  I was then escorted to my seat next to C. E. Huffman, a KTVO TV cameraman, writer, and announcer.  C. E. was seated next to the open door, so that was fine with me to be next to him, farther inside the plane.  Across from me were two local radio personalities:  ShaRae Sears and Dan Comstock (who looked like Kenny Rogers to me when I first boarded).

We were soon up, up, and away into the wild blue yonder.  We made a circular climb over the airport, going as far south on the circle to a point over the BNSF line through La Plata where I spotted a stack train on terra firma on one circle.  Evidently the crew was assigned to check with us civilians to answer any of our questions we had during ascent, and to make sure we were feeling well.  It was loud, but with ear plugs, it was no problem.  Since the jumpers dive from 12,500 ft. at 120 mph until they open their chutes at about 3,000 meet, they wear tight leather helmets and earplugs, so talking was more a yelling match into each other's ears.  Brandie Phillips was assigned to sit next to me and I was able to ask her a few questions.  I asked if this was still fun (she has made over 800 jumps), and she responded that it was her job and she enjoyed it.  She had never jumped before she joined the service.  She wore an altimeter and she mentioned the 12,500 ft. jump height.

The team leader, Tom, kept watch out the open door as they first dropped weighted streamers to see the drift of the wind.  At a higher altitude, one of the team jumps, dives, and parachutes to the target, carrying the colors.  That person, on the ground, then takes off their parachute, puts on their baret, takes the microphone, and becomes the announcer for the show as the other 5 jumpers and a cameraman do their acrobatics.

The following photos outside the plane were taken by my good friend Bob Williams, those inside the plane were taken by me.  As you can imagine, one cannot be in two places at the same time.  The team jumped once Friday evening, and twice Saturday afternoon.  Land-based photos below, are the best photos of all three of those jumps.

Photos from the Friday, 6:30 pm observation ride and Friday, and Saturday jumps by  US Army Golden Knights Parachute Team–Sponsored by Title Sponsor, Depot Inn & Suites, La Plata, MO

C. E. Huffman (left) Morning Anchor KTVO-TV Cable Chan. 6 in Kirksville.  Yours truly on the right, dressed for 50 degrees with G.I. earplugs.
ShaRae Sears, (left) News Reporter 1450 KIRX AM, 93.7 KTUF and 94.5 KRXL, Kirksville.

Dan Comstock, (Dan Day) [right] of "Knight and Day in the Morning" on KRXL Radio.
Being buckled in by one of the jumpers.  Cameras were looped through the seat belts.
The parachutes, jump suits, helmets, and flares for their feet were all laid out in precise order.

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Smoke canisters for their boots.


Right, taxiing and takeoff - no turning back now.

ShaRae, with microphone, asking questions for her report.
Nearing jump elevation, with helmets on.

Final check of partner's gear.

Right, flares ready.
Reciprocal parachute check.

Right, making altitude.

Rachel Haddon was the first to jump, and when she landed, she ably took over the announcing duties, describing the jumpers' maneuvers who followed.
I believe Rachel has the weighted streamers that she later released to gauge the wind before the jumps.

Tom Dunning, Team Leader, originally from Lakewood, CA, nearing the jump elevation.
Rachel is ready!

Over C.E.'s camera, I spotted a stack train on the BNSF line below.


Brandie assured me throughout the flight and even consented to this photo!  She's making her parents very proud, I'm sure.  She was the first jumper and the announcer on the second jump.
Tom and Rachel checking on important details before her jump.

ShaRae still interviewing as we ascended.

Rachel looks serious as she prepared to jump out of an airplane at 12,500 feet, and fall at 120 mph.
I'd probably look more like this if I had to jump out at 12, 500 feet!  That's over 2 1/3 miles straight up!
There's ShaRae finding another cute gentleman to interview.

Right, Ben Borger was the photographer on the jumps.

Brandie said, "We're almost there," showing me the elevation.

Right, I took a photo to later share with ShaRae and Trevor.
The light streaming into the plane made me think that this may be how the light might look to the jumpers.
I also thought that this would probably be the only time I'd be at this altitude in the open air, and not on a mountain top.

Ben had both a still and video camera on his helmet.  He had a mouth piece from the still camera that he touched with his tongue for each exposure.  The video just runs for the jump.  He says he knows what looks good and what doesn't so he shoots the good and it is usually at the upper part of the jump.  I experienced lens fog when we descended in the plane, and he said he did too, but shooting only at upper level didn't bother him.  I asked how many shots he took, and he didn't know, but said he knows what looks good and what looks bad and only shoots the good shots.

It was time for Brandie to leave my side.  I think she looks awfully calm for someone who is about to perform a death-defying sky dive in a minute.  She's a real professional!
Ben looking like a two-camera tripod!
Ready, Set, Go.

In an instant they were gone, and they were below and behind us, out of sight.

The front of the plane had about 12 regular airline seats where they probably ride between shows.  Their next show would be in Soldier Field, Chicago, so they stayed an extra day at the Depot Inn & Suites instead of flying back to Fort Bragg, NC, then back to Chicago.
The only folks returning to land ...
A self-portrait.

Then we started acting up, as we realized what we had just done.

Right, The next frame, C. E.'s photo at right, showing how fast my lens fogged.

Safely back on the ground!
Saying Good-bye to ShaRae Sears
Saying Good-bye to C. E. Huffman
Thank you, Golden Knights!

Meanwhile, Back on the Ground

Since I had gone up in the jump plane, Bob Williams stayed on the ground to photograph the jump.  Most of the following photos are by Bob, with his By Line.  Other unmarked photos are mine.  Remember to double-click any photo to see a double-sized copy.

Dry run before boarding for the jump.
Takeoff of prop-jet carrying the Golden Knights, Black Team.
The 10-foot target they all aim for, with ground crew member checking wind.

"Both doors open," just as the briefing had said.
Bob caught the weighted streamers and the moon in the same shot!

Here comes Rachel with the colors (above) and collects her chute (right).
Rachel, always with a smile.

With the Announcer's help you begin to see the sky divers.

Five performers plus the photographer.

Once they deploy their chutes, they must each get to a different elevation so they do not all land at once.


Trevor circles and comes in for a landing on the target.  He was the first down and the Announcer on their 3rd jump.

Some make a bulls eye landing (right).

The photographer arrives early to take photos of the team's landing.

The second jump, Brandie was the first down, and the announcer.
The first day one jumper had a 30 ft wire with flares as they descended.
Bringing in the Colors

Some come down as a tandem.
Precision landing is their goal.
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For Team Members, click the photo to read their name on their uniform.

Presentation to the Kirksville Mayor.
Introduction of team members:  Howie Sanborn
Brandie Phillips
Brandon Valle

Rachel Haddon
Tom Dunning
Ben Borger, Photographer

Check the Links Page at the end of this report for bios. of each of the jumpers.

Ground Crewman, Christopher Acevedo
How did I do Boss?

Time to pack up the chutes.

Honoring the Flag


(High Resolution Original Images of any photo above, are available free to anyone in the photo, a small fee to others, contact:

Comment or Corrections welcomed.

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