By Dona Fair, 12th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs / Published May 17, 2014
A U.S. Air Force Academy Wings of Blue team member performs a landing in the 1980's. (Courtesy photo)
The U.S. Air Force Academy's Wings of Blue team board a plane in the 1990's. (Courtesy photo)
Cadet 1st Class Ilea Eskildsen, a member of the U.S. Air Force Academy's Wings of Blue Parachute Demonstration Team, parachutes down to Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., with the American Flag, March 24, 2007, during the "The Show of Force 2007, From Heritage to Horizons Air Show." The two-day air show attracted thousands of spectators, featured Air Force static displays, and included civilian and military arial demonstrations. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson)
The U.S. Air Force Academy's Wings of Blue team poses for a group photo in 1964. (Courtesy photo)
JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas (AFNS) --
This weekend the U.S. Air Force Academy parachute team, Wings of Blue, will celebrate a milestone -- 50 years of "standing in the door."
Many things have changed during the past 50 years for the team, but the one constant has been "standing in the door" -that moment when a cadet is standing in the open door of the plane and must take that gut check to decide whether to stay or jump.
Since the spring of 1962, when a band of bootleg jumpers stood in the doorway and made their first parachute jumps as cadets, the team has been on a path to greatness.
Using condemned survival, evasion, resistance and escape rigs and local aviation pilots; cadets Joel Stuart Aronoff, John Joseph Davis Jr., Jay Wilford Kelley, Stuart Boardman McCurdy and Lance Peter Sijan made a number of demonstration and competition jumps in the Colorado area at their own risk and expense. One of their jumps --included the Academy's first collegiate-national appearance in Wisconsin, where they won a gold medal.
Roughly two years later, a challenge from the commandant of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point to compete in May 1964 resulted in club status for the team. In September of that same year, the fledgling parachute club made its first jumps on Academy property. After the non-sanctioned jump in 1962 prompted a rocky start, the Wings of Blue were now on their way to new heights.
Under the careful guidance and nurturing of Cadet Pete Johnson, the club became known throughout the skydiving community. It is because of his efforts, along with several officers and enlisted members, that the club eventually became what is now.
From its humble beginnings, the Wings of Blue has become an aspiring venue through which many leaders and officers have grown from and commanded. The team has produced at least 10 general officers, including two 4-star generals, as well as Medal of Honor recipient Capt. Lance Sijan.
"It's been the honor of a lifetime to command such a historic and high performing organization as the Wings of Blue," said Lt. Col. Sean M. McLay, the 1st Flying Training Squadron commander. "The leadership, character and confidence required by our instructors to give their students the confidence to 'stand in the door' and willingly exit a perfectly good aircraft at 11,000 feet is very similar to that required by a flight-lead to lead his formation in harm's way in a combat zone."
Each year, the Wings of Blue conduct more than 22,000 training jumps, awarding more than 700 jump wings to the students who pass through the Airmanship 490 program at the Academy. Today's students are proud to be able to ensure that the program continues on for another 50 years.
"The 98th Flying Training Squadron has been my family for the past three years" said Cadet First Class Lindsay Johnson, Wings of Blue, Blue Team commander. "I have grown a lot as a leader, follower, friend and overall person on the Wings of Blue. Nothing compares to teaching your peers how to jump out of a perfectly good airplane. I am really looking forward to meeting all of the members of the Wings of Blue from these past 50 years and I am blessed to have the privilege to be surrounded by so many incredible people. I'm looking forward to sharing the memories with everyone."
The team has received national recognition as both U.S. National and Collegiate National parachuting champions, as well as the 12th Flying Training Wing "Top Operations" squadron. They continue to expand their renown both nationally and internationally through venues such as football games, open houses and air shows.
"It is a tremendous honor and privilege to host the 50th anniversary," said Col. Joseph M. Rizzuto, the 306th Flying Training Group commander. "One of the amazing aspects of being at the Academy is being able to meet and interact with the legends in the (Air Force) who made history. I love the fact that our cadets today get to spend time with and learn from the original members of the Wings of Blue. Such events are inspiring for everyone, from cadet to colonel."
As the team prepares to celebrate this great milestone, they will soon be looking to skies around the world, to show today's youth that they can succeed beyond their perceived limitations and "stand in the door" and soar to heights of greatness.