SPECIAL UNIT PROFILE
US Army Parachute Team 'Golden Knights' Aviation Detachment
Top skydiving demonstration and competition team uses DHC6 Twin Otters and Fokker F27Ms.
Both UV18As date from 1979 and served with the Alaska National Guard until 1997. The Golden Knights took delivery of them in Dec 1997 and placed them in service in March the following year. The UV18A is powered by 2 Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-27s (715 shp, flat rated to 620 shp).
Golden Knights Aviation Safety Officer CW4 Mike Knecht (L) and Aviation Detachment Commander Maj Bob Degand after the May 17 Gold Demonstration Team drop at this year's Andrews AFB Joint Services Open House.
In Mar 2008 the US Army ordered 3 new-build DHC6 Twin Otter 400s for the Golden Knights from Viking Air of Sidney BC, Canada, in a contract valued at $14.3 million. Viking holds type certificates for all out-of-production DHC models and confirmed in Apr 2007 that it was putting the Twin Otter back into production.
The Knights are due to receive their first new Twin Otter in the fall of 2010 and the remaining 2 the following year. Meanwhile, the team is considering updating the avionics systems aboard the UV18As-a mix of Bendix/King and Rockwell Collins-with TCAS I and TAWS later this year.
Jumpers come from almost every military occupational specialty (MOS) of the US Army, says Degand. Once they have achieved 150 free fall jumps, they can try out for the Golden Knights. And each year they do. Starting in October, a 6-week assessment program yields 6-8 recruits who are then trained with the skills needed for demonstrations. Most practice jumps are done at MEB (Laurinburg-Maxton NC), a public airport 29 nm SW of POB.
The Aviation Detachment supports all the teams in practice activities here during the week, and throughout the US at competitions and public demonstrations. All Golden Knights pilots attend a 3-month fixed-wing/multiengine course at FlightSafety Intl (FSI) Dothan AL. Degand notes that this is a standard course that all Army fixed-wing pilots attend.
However, since the team's aircraft are almost unique in the Army inventory, new team pilots require additional on-the-job training. Every year the entire Aviation Detachment-pilots and mechanics as well as jumpers-trains at Yuma Proving Ground AZ for 7-8 weeks.
Flight Ops Officer CW4(P) Art Johanson reviews preflight weather using WSI Pilotbrief.
The skydiving schedule is intensive, with 6-9 jumps per day-and the weather is predictably clear. Pilots need to learn the Golden Knights mission thoroughly before they seek an opportunity to jump, says Degand. While jumpers can switch teams if they wish, they usually stay with their assigned team. For pilots, of course, this doesn't apply.
Around 1/3 of Golden Knights team members have completed combat tours, says Degand. Pilots average 7000 hrs TT-"an experience level that supports a safe and proficient detachment." All pilots go for recurrent training every 2 years-which for most is usually midway through a tour.
They attend FSI Toronto ON for UV18A recurrent but do not attend simulator training for the C31A.
Aviation Detachment chief pilot is Standardizations Officer CW5 David Clay. He is also one of 4 instructor pilots-the others being a DS2 contract pilot and 2 DACs-who ensure that each member can support all the teams.
Clay joined the Army in Jan 1982 and came to the Golden Knights in Feb 2005. He has over 8500 hrs TT (1500 hrs rotary-wing, 7000 hrs fixed-wing). Like everyone on the team, he loves his job-especially "to see how excited the jumpers are at doing their jobs."
He laughs and adds, "I've never seen anyone who loves their job as much as the members of the Golden Knights." Army regulations call for a standard 3-year tour, he notes, but a Golden Knights posting is different. Due to the time required to become fully conversant with the C31A and UV18A, Clay notes that pilots usually stay with the team for 4 years.
Chief Pilot CW5 David Clay (L) and DAC Instructor Pilot & Instrument Examiner Vernon "Mac" Rowell at POB with a UV18A Twin Otter.
Aviation Safety Officer CW4 Mike Knecht joined the Army in 1981 and has been with the Golden Knights for 4 years. A former Green Beret, Knecht served with the 82nd Airborne Division and 10th Special Forces before attending Warrant Officer Candidate School.
In 1991 he attended flight school. Knecht has around 5000 hrs TT (850 hrs rotary-wing, 4150 hrs fixed-wing), holds an ATP and is rated as a commercial/instrument helicopter pilot. In a typical month he flies 30-35 hrs.
He also has 2 masters degrees and is working on a PhD in aviation business administration. In his spare time (his words), Knecht teaches as an adjunct professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Fort Bragg/Pope AFB.
He notes that most pilots who join the team already have adequate flying experience but need to acquire many of the specialized techniques "You definitely have to get your stick-and-rudder skills back into shape," he advises. "It's very critical to get the run-in correct."
"This has been an awesome assignment," says Knecht, adding that he has always pursued adventurous activities. "I've never been a guy who sits on a porch." Instructor Pilot GS13 Al Aber is a DAC. Having joined the Army in 1969 he spent his last 3 active years with the Golden Knights, then retired in Aug 1993 and signed up as a civilian.
He has flown for the Army now for 39 years. Aber is not only the pilot with the longest history with the Golden Knights-he is the team's highest-time pilot, with 15,500 hrs TT (4000 hrs rotary-wing, 11,500 hrs fixed-wing).
Aber is one of the team's 4 instructor pilots. He explains that although, technically speaking, 9 team pilots are qualified as instructor pilots, only 4 are needed. Aber's job includes checking out not-yet-qualified pilots-with a 30-hr checkout on the C31 and a 15-hr checkout on the UV18-and carrying out check rides and currency rides. An average year sees him flying 300-400 hrs a year.
Aber travels regularly with the team. He notes that being a civilian has at least one advantage-he doesn't have to move every 3 years. "This is a really good job," he says. Operations Flight
Officer CW4(P) Art Johanson serves as a liaison between team operations and aircraft and support. He joined the Army in 1987 and is in his 4th year with the Golden Knights.
Johanson has over 4800 hrs TT (2400 fixed-wing, 2400 rotary-wing). He holds an ATP rating and is rated as a commercial/instrument helicopter pilot. These days he flies 350-450 hrs per year on both types.