The U.S. Army Golden Knights provided a spectacular show last Thursday during the 57th annual Heritage Days celebration in Bellevue.

With some visibility difficulties at 13,000 feet, the team high above Cole Park had to circle around a few times and drop their parachutists at a lower elevation than usual, jumping from around 3,000 feet.

The first parachutist, the U.S. Army Golden Knights’ “wing dummy,” tests conditions and reports back to the team. He then narrates the show from the ground for the crowd.

The wing dummy landed successfully, and was followed shortly by a round of seven jumpers, who zig-zagged the skies above Bellevue, trailing pink smoke behind them as they fell at rates of 60 miles per hour.

Inside the plane, the Knights communicate largely with hand signals. It’s cold enough for winter coats, though the crowd below was sweating from the summer heat.

Before takeoff, the team goes through a dry run, running through the details of the show verbally. They hook on their equipment and attach smoke canisters to their feet, which they release as they fall with a string that looks like a shoelace. Each Knight puts on the backpack containing his parachute (often repacked by kids) and his reserve parachute.

The Golden Knights are, rightly, part of the Army’s marketing team. In other words, their broad mission is to encourage young boys and girls to “Go Army.” These sergeants’ specialties range from quartermasters to military intelligence, and most start skydiving as civilians.

SSG (and Iowa native) Marcus Denniston explained the Golden Knights have practiced the same maneuvers since 1959. The teams are trying to convince the military to allow them to include different sizes of parachutes, wingsuits and other maneuvers in their shows.

Parachutists are used as a last resort in modern warfare, because nobody’s first choice is a tactic that leaves soldiers stranded without support. Airborne units have been used, though rarely, in both Iraq and Afghanistan. They were also used extensively during the D-Day landings at Normandy during World War II in 1944.

According to the Heritage Days Committee members, the Golden Knights were an exciting addition to the annual July 4 celebration in Bellevue, which draws thousands of people to town each year for Independence Day weekend.

According to the U.S. Army website, the Golden Knights, is a demonstration and competition parachute team of the United States Army. It consists of demonstration and competition Parachutist teams, drawn from all branches of the Army. Members must demonstrate excellence in parachuting.

The two Golden Knight demonstration teams travel the United States (and occasionally overseas), performing for public audiences at venues ranging from relatively small civic events to nationally and internationally televised events (such as Monday Night Football games, NASCAR races, and large international airshows). The two, 12-member teams travel around 240 days per year, and use the team's two Fokker C-31A Troopship jump aircraft as their primary means of transportation, and sometimes the UV-18C Twin Otter Series 400 made by Viking.

The two demonstration teams are dubbed the Gold Team and Black Team, in reference to the official Army colors. Team members come from a variety of backgrounds in one of the 150 jobs available in the US Army. Each team has a team leader, who typically has the most time and experience performing demonstration jumps and typically holds the rank of an Army sergeant first class.

The 24 demonstrator positions on the team are typically held for at least three consecutive years. At the end of their tenure, soldiers then either rotate back to Army line units or they may request to stay with the team for an additional period in one of several specialty positions. These positions are usually reserved for tandem parachute instructors, videographers, team leaders, and competition parachutists.

The demonstration teams perform several types of shows; each is performed to exacting standards of practice, but can also be tailored to the specific venue. These shows range from jumpers exiting the aircraft and landing in a major-league stadium, to more involved 20- or 30-minute aerial displays. The Mass Exit show consists of multiple jumpers exiting the aircraft and forming a geometric shape, often with smoke canisters employed for additional crowd effect. The 30-minute Full Show consists of several aircraft passes or "jump runs", with each pass consisting of one or more jumpers exiting and then performing somewhat unusual parachuting maneuvers. Once safely on the ground, the jumpers traditionally perform a ground line-up, in which each jumper is introduced and then the team usually presents a team memento to a distinguished selectee from the show audience.

Each maneuver the Knights perform is executed with the enjoyment and safety of the audience being the paramount concern. The Golden Knights enjoy an unparalleled safety record in the professional parachuting arena, a testament to their professionalism and skill.

The parachute team is garrisoned at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, and has several dedicated facilities in the area. These facilities include an aviation support facility, a team headquarters facility, and a dedicated team drop zone. The team itself is composed of about 95 men and women and divided into several smaller task-oriented sub units, also called teams or sections.

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***Golden Knights are Army Soldiers first, but they also have a unique history and creed that sets them apart.

In 1959, nineteen Airborne Soldiers from various military units formed the Strategic Army Command Parachute Team (STRAC). Brigadier General Joseph Stilwell Jr. gathered the Soldiers with the intent of competing in the relatively new sport of skydiving, which at that time was dominated by the Soviet Union. That year, the U.S. Army team began representing the United States on the international competition circuit, and performed their first demonstration in Danville, Virginia. Two years later, the Department of Defense announced that the STRAC team would become the United States Army Parachute Team.

By 1962, the team earned the nickname the "Golden Knights". "Golden" signified the gold medals the team had won while "Knights" alluded to the team’s ambition to conquer the skies.