Cold parachutists offer cool show at AirFest

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Mike DuPre'
Saturday, May 24, 2008
— Conversation was tough 2 1/2 miles over Janesville on Friday evening.

The droning roar of two turboprops on the Fokker F-27 and the earplugs passed out by the Army’s Golden Knights Parachute Team made hearing difficult.

One of the Knights curled his fingers into a O and mouthed the word “zero.”

“Celsius?” I yelled back.

He nodded yes.

So the air was at freezing temperature, 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

Wind whipped by the two wide open doors at 120 mph. The Knights mingled in the narrow fuselage, jumping and shaking their limbs to stay warm. They slapped palms and bumped fists.

Their show announcer already had bailed out and after landing, would describe the skydiving and precision parachuting show to spectators attending the VIP preview of Southern Wisconsin AirFest 2008 at Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport.

A klaxon yelped twice, indicating the Fokker was at jump altitude over the airport—well, actually, about a quarter mile northeast of the airport to allow for wind speed and direction.

“We’ll each jump from 22 miles up into a spot 18 inches wide,” one of the Knights had told me earlier.

A few seconds after the alert sounded, two lines of five Knights each ran out the doors. The back of the airplane was suddenly empty except for me and four members of the air show media.

The folks on the ground watched the Knights freefall for about a minute. Five of them formed an inner ring, or doughnut, then the other five linked with them to form a snowflake pattern.

The 10 then rotated into another formation before floating down under their canopies for about two minutes.

The Knights were just one of the acts to give the preview crowd a glimpse of what’s on tap today and Sunday at AirFest.

The Air Force F-15 Eagle and Navy A/F-18 Hornet demonstration jets screamed along the flight line, their afterburners glowing cherry-red like hot coals.

Susan Dacy streamed smoke from her Stearman biplane as she performed low-level aerobatics, and Mike Goulian flipped and twisted his small, a custom-built plane in maneuvers that seemed to defy physics.

The Aerostars displayed disciplined precision flying formation aerobatics just inches apart in propeller-driven World War II-era Soviet training planes.

A favorite of the many kids in the audience was Paul Stender, a Big Bend native, who piloted a roaring, flaming jet-powered pickup truck to 300 mph down the runway.

But the preview crowd did not see the Canadian Forces Snowbirds, a team that team flies formation aerobatics with nine jet trainers.

The Snowbirds practiced Friday over Janesville, but folks will have to go to AirFest to see their full show.


What: Southern Wisconsin AirFest 2008.

When: Today and Sunday. Gates open at 9 a.m.; opening ceremonies at 12:30 p.m.

Where: Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport on Highway 51 south of Highway 11 between Janesville and Beloit.

Who: Military and civilian aerobatic aviators. Also static ground displays of civilian and military aircraft.

Cost: $12 per adult, $6 per child ages 6-12 through on-line advance ticket sales. $15 per adult, $10 per child at the gate, free for kids 5 and younger.

Last updated: 9:05 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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