HANOVER COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — One of only three Department of Defense–sanctioned aerial demonstration teams, the United States Army Parachute Team — better known by its nickname, the Golden Knights — is a demonstration and competition team made up of around 95 U.S. Army men and women, and on Thursday morning, I got to skydive with them.

The team was born in 1959, after 19 Airborne Soldiers from various military units formed the Strategic Army Command Parachute Team, with the intent of competing in skydiving, a relatively new sport at the time. Two years later, it officially became known as The United States Army Parachute Team.

The Golden Knights consist of several separate divisions, including four parachute units, an aviation unit and a headquarters.

One of the parachute units, the tandem team, is known for taking celebrities, elected officials and high-profile VIPs on jumps. Today, one of those VIPs happened to include me, 8News Digital Content Producer, Kassidy Hammond.

The United States Army Parachute Team held a Tandem Camp from May 17-19 at Hanover County Municipal Airport in Ashland for 15 lucky civilians to take part in what the Golden Knights are experts at – jumping out of planes.

Our day began at 8 a.m. with a member of the Golden Knights providing instructional training, advising safety precautions and helping to familiarize us jumpers with the equipment they would be using — a harness and parachute that would protect our lives during our 12,500-foot drop back down to Earth.

Quoted guest jumping with the Golden Knights (Photo Courtesy Kassidy Hammond)

We were also advised on proper form for the jump. For example, the “happy banana” is a full-body arched position with the head tilted up towards the sky and feet reaching up in the same direction, with the naval pointing straight down towards the Earth — a view of which one of the jumpers said he was most looking forward to.

“Oh, God. Seeing all of the Central Virginia beauty from the sky on a beautiful day like today,” the guest said as he was suiting up for the jump.

We were all given a snazzy yellow jumpsuit to wear — coinciding with that happy banana pose — which was then covered in a harness stretching from our thighs to our shoulders. The harness is said to have a holding capacity of 15,000 lbs, just in case an emergency arose and everyone in the plane had to make it out on one parachute. Thankfully, my jump today went off without a hitch, no doubt due to the hard work and years the Golden Knights put into their craft.

Sergeant First Class Ryan Reis, The United States Army Parachute Team (Photo Courtesy: Kassidy Hammond)

Sergeant First Class Ryan Reis said some of his favorite things about being a part of the Golden Knights are that he gets to travel the world, talk to people about the Army and that he was able to take up skydiving, which he has been doing for more than ten years now.

“I have been skydiving on my own for about 12 years now. I’ve been on the team for six years. And this is my third year doing tandems for the Golden Knights,” Reis said when we were chatting about the Knights.

Once seated on the plane, everyone was safely buckled. Then, the wait was on, as the plane rose to the hook-up altitude of around 7,000 to 8,000 feet. This was the point when the Golden Knights re-checked all harnesses and snapped into a tandem position — with us, their less-experienced guests attached to the front.

Reis told me that the Golden Knights do anywhere from 400 to 600 jumps on average per year, so their aerial routine is pretty solid, to say the least.

The next few minutes were a whirlwind of adrenaline. The plane side door was shuttered open — not unlike a garage door. I heard last-minute reminders of “happy banana” and “we fall on three” throughout the cabin, alongside confident shouts of, “remember to have fun,” by the instructors.

The first tandem duo to jump, my instructor, Staff Sergeant Dustin Gebhardt, and I were then told to line our feet up “at the black line,” the mark separating the safety of solid ground from free release into the atmosphere.

The countdown was made, and my instructor took the lead, quickly pitching us over the edge of no return.

The 35- to 40-second free-fall period was breathtaking, literally. With 125-mph winds, it was a little tricky to catch my breath at first. After the parachute was pulled, we were quickly pulled from falling rapidly, to gliding at a comfortable cruising speed.

Dawn Legere, a jumper with the Golden Knights (Photo Courtesy: Kassidy Hammond)

Dawn Legere, a jumper with the Knights Thursday, told me she liked the freefall because of the surprise, but enjoyed every part of the daring jump.

“Every fall was amazing because you sort of feel weightless. You’re just kind of hanging up there, looking around and everything,” Legere explained.

During the drop, Gebhardt handed me the reins, and let me take control of maneuvering the parachute. While slightly terrifying, I was then able to enjoy – for around a minute – gliding the parachute to the left, right and in circles to my preference, before gently landing in a field to the cheer of onlookers.

“In the parachute, it was cool because you’re just sort of floating, and you can look around and take in everything. And then you get a couple of spins, which cool because it adds in the rollercoaster element,” Legere told me after our jump.

The Golden Knights have held more than 16,000 shows across 50 states and 48 countries, and perform at more than 100 events per year, including the Washington Nationals Baseball Stadium, the Miami Beach – Hyundai Air and Sea Show, as well as the Joint Base Andrews Air and Space Expo. For a complete list of all 2022 appearances, click here.