COLUMBIA — A black and gold parachute with "Army" printed on it opened against a gray, overcast sky.
After a free fall at speeds of up to 90 mph, the jumper attached to the parachute, clad in an all-black flight suit, floated gently to the ground.
Cloudy skies and limited visibility lowered the U.S. Army Golden Knights Parachute Team’s performance about 8,000 feet Saturday, but that didn't stop the team from performing at the 26th annual Salute to Veterans Airshow at Columbia Regional Airport.
The event began at 9:30 a.m. and the rain soon followed. A light drizzle eventually turned into rain that delayed all further air activity until 12:30 p.m. Some air performances were canceled because of poor visibility and low-hanging clouds, Assistant AirBoss Capt. Ted Jacobs said. Ground events were canceled or moved inside under the protection of the airport’s hangars.
Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Melton of the Golden Knights said the team can perform anywhere from 2,000 to 13,000 feet. On Saturday, the team jumped from 4,700 feet, down from an altitude of 12,500 feet on Friday.
“With the ceiling at 6,000 feet, it pushed down our show a bit,” Melton said. “We performed low-show maneuvers.”
Safety is the biggest concern regarding air show demonstrations, said Jacobs, who helped organize the event.
The show also had to work around commercial air traffic flying into and out of the regional airport during the afternoon.
Alyssa Vaughan and her family stayed through the two-hour rain delay to see the Golden Knights. After the performance, her three sons were able to get a picture with members of the team. They also received programs autographed by the parachutists.
“It was worth it, but we’re freezing,” Vaughan said.
The Vaughans, who live west of Kansas City, drove three hours to see the air show Saturday. The family has been to many air shows in Wisconsin and Kansas, but it was their first time at Columbia’s.
Some attendees who were willing to stick out the storm took refuge under the hangars during the delay.
Amy and Kevin Larson brought their three children Hadley, 10, Melia, 8, and Kylen, 6, to the show. Amy Larson said the family tries to come out every year to support all of those who have been in the military. She said her family was most looking forward to seeing the jumpers.
“I used to skydive, and the kids love to watch the skydivers,” she said. “I had a good friend that skydived and I decided that I’d go try it out, and I’ve jumped 19 times. So when I’m watching (the Golden Knights), I get really excited.”
The Royal Canadian Air Force’s Snowbirds demonstration team was set to perform after the delay as the last act of the day. Like the Golden Knights, the Snowbirds planned for a low-flying performance, Snowbirds spokesman Capt. Thomas Edelson said.
“We need certain minimums to do the full aerobatic high show,” he said. “As the conditions get worse…the show gets less and less dynamic.”
Edelson said there is no margin of error when flying the planes, which are completely controlled by the pilot. Pilots sustain forces ranging from “plus six to negative two Gs,” he said, and the weather adds an additional degree of difficulty.
“Seeing it from the ground is one thing; obviously it looks really spectacular,” Edelson said. “People say it’s aerobatic ballet, but it’s not. It’s a wrestling match that really beats you up.”
Edelson said he hopes the weather will not affect Sunday’s show and that the Snowbirds will be able to perform their complete act.
Jacobs said he expects a full show Sunday, beginning at 9:15 a.m. with the Kansas City Dawn Patrol “Flying Circus” of World War I airplanes.
Supervising editor is Joe Guszkowski.