The Golden Knights parachutists performing this weekend at the Bethpage Air Show attributed the precision aerial moves and pinpoint landings to their specially designed parachutes -- and lots of practice.
"If we're not doing a tiptoe landing, we messed up," Spc. Jason Wenger, 28, said after yesterday's crowd-pleasing show at Jones Beach.
What's it like jumping out of a plane at 12,500 feet?
"It's very, very peaceful initially, going out the door," said Sgt. 1st Class Teigh Statler, 32, the leader of the U.S. Army team. "You're up above everything; you can see the curvature of the Earth. It's just very, very quiet. . . . It feels more like you're floating."
All that changes about 1,000 feet above the ground. "You can hear the crowd responding . . . that's one of the best things about doing this," he said.
Statler, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, joined the aerial demonstration team -- based at Fort Bragg in North Carolina -- as a video editor, before qualifying to jump.
Men and women serving in the Army can apply to become one of the 80 Golden Knights if they've jumped at least 100 times as a civilian or taken Army parachuting courses. Strength training, needed to handle a regimen of up to 10 jumps a day, is a must.
So is developing a calm focus. "If you go out tense and jittery, you're going to have a bad jump," Statler said.
Staff Sgt. Chris Clark, another member, called precision parachuting "one of the safest extreme sports," noting that each jumper has a main and a backup chute. The team's parachutes are small -- about 260 to 290 square feet -- but highly maneuverable, he said.
Yesterday, two jumpers drifted nearly two miles apart before coming together at high speed. The finale was a three-man wedge, demonstrating what Clark called "a really nice bomb-burst formation."