Celebrating 45 years of freefalling – SkyHawks style

Article / May 19, 2016 / Project number: 16-1004

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Trenton, Ontario – The question most often asked of SkyHawks members is, “Why do you jump out of perfectly good airplanes?” The long version of the answer is as unique as each team member but the short version is common to all, “Because we love it!

The SkyHawks is the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) military parachute demonstration team.

Established in 1971, members of the SkyHawks have now been captivating audiences with their daring aerial formations using their signature Canadian flag canopies for 45 years. Since its inception, the team has performed at more than 5,000 venues in Canada and the United States and interacted with over 75 million spectators.

This is, in a lot of ways, the best job in the Army,” said Captain Jake Porter, Team Captain of the SkyHawks and a member of the Royal 22e Régiment.

I get the rare opportunity to lead a phenomenal group of soldiers, and travel and jump with them from coast to coast across our great nation and into the United States. Along the way I have the opportunity to interact with the public, which as an Infantry Officer, is something unique.

The majority of our training, including when I parachuted with 3R22eR, is done away from the public for a variety of reasons. The SkyHawks is the perfect avenue for the CAF to show our population what their Canadian Armed Forces are capable of.

The team is made up of 16 highly skilled and professional CAF members with a wide range of military experience. Members can be either Regular or Reserve force and from any of the three branches – Army, Navy or Air Force.

For the past 20 years, the SkyHawks have been based out of Trenton, Ontario and are part of the Canadian Army Advanced Warfare Centre.

The SkyHawks is a true piece of homegrown Canadian culture,” said Captain Andrew Spencer, Administration Officer for the SkyHawks and a member of the Governor General’s Foot Guards.

The team was officially founded in 1971 and has come so far over 45 years. I’m proud to say that the SkyHawks brings the Canadian spirit everywhere we go, and having had the privilege of being part of the team for the past three years, I’ve seen how much the diversity of its membership contributes to its success.

While the parachuting is certainly a crowd pleaser, the professionalism, courage and passion that the SkyHawks themselves bring to the team is what makes it truly great.

Having parachuting skills is very important for the CAF to be able to quickly deploy military elements in response to local or national emergencies.

Some situations that may require parachutists include Search and Rescue operations, sending humanitarian aid to remote areas or allowing rapid insertion across the spectrum of operations.

It is important for the Canadian Armed Forces to continue to foster parachuting skills in our members,” said Lieutenant-Colonel François Caron, Commanding Officer of the Canadian Army Advanced Warfare Centre.

It is just one more way to show that we are ready to meet any challenge, domestic or international, that may come our way. It is also an opportunity to give back to Canadians who have supported the CAF through the years.

The SkyHawks has a group of cadre members who are part of the team for two years and a group of augmentees who change year to year. The cadre members train in February before each season to ensure they have all the skills required to perform the formations and to teach the new members.

Once the augmentees are chosen, the entire team travels to Perris Valley, California, for training throughout March and April at Skydive Perris, one of the largest skydiving centers in the world.

During the season, from the end of April until late September, the SkyHawks perform at over 30 venues, which include air shows, sporting events and festivals.

Any full- or part-time member of the CAF can apply to become a member of the SkyHawks team if they can pass the Parachutist physical fitness test and meet the following criteria:

  • Qualified Development Period 1 or Second Lieutenant in any trade or classification;
  • Qualified Military Freefall Parachutist or hold an “A” certificate issued by the Canadian Sport Parachuting Association with a minimum of 50 freefall jumps; and
  • Recommended by their unit Commanding Officer.

Applications must be received by the end of November in order to be considered for the following year’s team.

I wanted to come to the SkyHawks to be part of a great tradition of representing Canada,” said Master Corporal Lenny Couture, a first-time demonstrator with the SkyHawks.

The training we received was extensive and intense. We started from learning how to best fly our parachutes individually and four weeks later were performing complex Canopy Relative Work formations. I am proud to have the opportunity to demonstrate the abilities of the Canadian Armed Forces to the public across North America.

I hope to show the public that we are a team – the basis of the Canadian Armed Forces – and especially with what we are doing, teamwork and trust is vital.

The SkyHawks are more than just a parachute team. They can be, in effect, the face of the CAF in many communities across Canada and in the United States and have the opportunity to share their military stories and jumping experiences with people who come to see them perform.

Team members agree that the best part of every show is getting to talk to people afterward, especially the kids.

As a father of two, I am very happy to be able to promote the values of the SkyHawks – teamwork, dedication, physical fitness and courage – to children across North America,” said Warrant Officer Steve Ouimet, the team’s Second in Command.

After every demonstration, I have the pleasure of going into the crowd to interact and share my experiences in both parachuting and the Infantry with civilians. I strongly encourage everyone to come and talk with any SkyHawk if they have the opportunity to see us this year. And for the kids – if they want to help us pack our parachutes, we will be happy to show them how!

Through working together during a season, the SkyHawks become a family. It doesn’t matter if a member is on the team for one year or for several, they will always be a SkyHawk to current and former SkyHawks. That is why it is so important for team members to mark milestones like their 45th anniversary.

For this key event, the current SkyHawks will be hosting a reunion. Details are still being worked out but if you have been a member of the SkyHawks, please contact that team through their Facebook page to get information as it becomes available.

We hope to have as many Ex-SkyHawks and Honorary SkyHawks out as possible,” said Capt Porter. “They are our legacy and we would like to honour them and celebrate this achievement with them. Plus, I bet some of them have some great stories to share about their time with the SkyHawks and the CAF.

If you would like to help celebrate their 45th anniversary with the SkyHawks, come out to one of the more than 30 performances the team will be giving this season. For a complete schedule or where and when the SkyHawks will be jumping, visit their website or their Facebook page.

By Karla Gimby, Canadian Army Doctrine and Training Centre

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