A Day in the Life of The SkyHawks!
Parachute Demonstration Team
The SkyHawks are Canada’s only military parachute demonstration team. And, the editors of LearnToFly.ca were invited to spend a day with this precision parachute jump team. It was at the 2011 Waterloo Air Show that Greg McKay and Geoff McKay met up with the SkyHawks. We were given full ‘behind the scenes’ access, allowing us to compile a complete video of the experience.
The SkyHawks perform incredible aerobatic parachute formations before crowds across North America. With 33 shows this season, the SkyHawks represent Canada and the Canadian Forces with great pride.
71 Million Spectators
This elite team of skydivers puts on a spectacular show. Over 71 million spectators worldwide have enjoyed watching the SkyHawks as they perform their dangerous and thrilling manoeuvres before the crowds.
A Day in the Life of the SkyHawks!
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to jump from an airplane? Follow along as we meet the SkyHawks, prepare for take-off, and then perform before tens of thousands of spectators at the Waterloo Air Show.
Video: A Day in the Life of the SkyHawks!
Watch a Day in the Life of the SkyHawks at the Waterloo Air Show!
The Canadian Forces SkyHawks are based out of Warfare Centre, Ontario. Team Members are specially selected from the Army, Navy and Air Force to showcase the professionalism, dedication and team work of Canada’s military.
Captain Thackorie is the Announcer for the SkyHawks at the many air show performances. It’s her energetic voice you hear as she gives a detailed and exciting “play-by-play” of what’s happening in the skies above. As the SkyHawks jump from the airplane overhead, often two miles above, Captain Thackorie narrates the action and explains all their amazing and dangerous manoeuvres. She also provides some history of the SkyHawks, as she keeps you focused on the action above.
Canopy Relative Work
The SkyHawks team builds beautiful formations in the sky. The team members come in close proximity to each other and link together to assemble into formations. You see two, three, four or more SkyHawks members and canopies connected as one. Their canopies may be stacked on top of each other, or sometimes they connect via their arms and legs in a side-by-side formation. It takes incredible skill and courage to accomplish this death defying Canopy Relative Work (CRW).
The 2011 season marks the 40 anniversary of the SkyHawks. This is an amazing milestone and accomplishment for this talented team of skydivers. The SkyHawks perform 33 shows across North America during their 40th anniversary season from May to October 2011.
The SkyHawks are easily recognized by their Signature Canadian Flag Canopies. The red and white Canadian Flag Parachutes are a trademark icon at Air Shows and Performances throughout North America.
Canadian Flag Parachutes
This SkyHawk has the signature Canadian Flag Canopy overhead, and he has also unfurled a 450 square foot Canadian Flag trailing from his foot.
In addition to the Canadian Flag Parachutes, the SkyHawks usually have at least one large Canadian Flag and one large U.S. Flag displayed on a member’s foot. A provincial flag is also attached to a team member during a performance.
The SkyHawks performance is always very exciting and also very colourful. With the large Canadian Flag parachutes and trailing flags, the sky is filled with brilliant and colourful images.
Our Day in the Life of the SkyHawks video shows both single jumpers and tandem jumpers. The tandem jumpers are strapped together, and jump out of the aircraft as a pair with a single parachute. In Tandem parachuting, the guest skydiver is securely connected to a tandem instructor by a harness. The experienced tandem instructor guides the guest through the entire jump. The two remain connected as they exit the aircraft, freefall, open the parachute, pilot the canopy, and safely land in the designated landing zone.
Two Miles High
During our ride with the SkyHawks, there was a team of 13 members jumping, and two additional “guests” were part of the tandem jumps. Along with LearnToFly.ca, the Discovery Channel was also invited, and they performed several scientific experiments involving coloured water during the jumps. Most of the team jumped (@ 9:20 in the video above) from 6,000 feet (over a mile in the sky), and the tandem jumpers jumped (@ 10:30 in the video above) from 12,500 feet. (over two miles high in the sky)
VIP Tandem Jumpers
On the aircraft with us were two VIP Tandem Jumpers. Todd Cowan, the Mayor of Woolwich, and 96.7 CHYM FM Producer Ryan Mahn took to the skies, and tandem jumped with the SkyHawks from 2 miles above. (You can see their terrified faces in the video above @ 10:30)
The Canadian Forces Parachute Team have several Signature Formations they perform before the crowds. Pictured to the right are two SkyHawks with their chutes side-by-side and their legs locked to hold them together.
Dangerous Canopy Work
This is very dangerous canopy work as they must ensure their parachutes do not become entangled or collapsed as they set-up and maintain these tricky formations. (TIP: Click on the picture to enlarge)
Parachute Aerobatics, or “Parabatics” are often performed by the SkyHawks. Two SkyHawks will form a Bi-Plane (2-stack) and then transition into a leg lock. They will fly their parachutes side by side and perform aerobatics in the sky.
Many of the formations include three SkyHawks linked together. There’s the “Tri-By-Side” where three SkyHawks form a 3-stack and then transition into a horizontal circle with their parachutes forming the outer ring. There’s also the “Three Stack Drag” where three SkyHawks form a 3-stack. They then transition into opposite ends with two jumpers on one end, and the bottom jumper locates at the bottom of the stack and inverts, flying upside down!
The SkyHawks Signature “Canadian T” Formation pictured here also involves three jumpers. Three SkyHawks form a 3-stack and then transition into a formation in the shape of a “T”. You can see the jumper at the bottom has the large, trailing, 450 square foot Canadian Flag at the bottom of the formation.
For our Day in the Life of a SkyHawk video, we were introduced to the SkyHawks team, and then provided a tour of the aircraft and the equipment was demonstrated and explained. We then joined the team as they flew to the skies, and jumped out of the SkyHawks aircraft. The parachute equipment is carefully checked before every flight.
Each SkyHawk has multiple parachutes. There’s the large Canadian Flag Canopy main Parachute you typically see above each SkyHawk. (This is attached to a small drone chute that first deploys to help the Main chute deploy correctly) But, each jumper also has a smaller Reserve Parachute as a back-up. If the main parachute gets tangled or fails, the jumper will then release the main chute, and open the smaller reserve chute. It’s a back-up or “safety” chute just in case the primary parachute fails to deploy properly. Each SkyHawk packs their own mains, but one of the four parachute riggers on the team must pack the reserve parachute.
Corporal Johann Reimer
Our Day in the Life of the SkyHawks video features Corporal Johann Reimer. Corporal Reimer is pictured here after safely returning to earth after the SkyHawks Waterloo Air Show performance.
Corporal Reimer is from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and he joined the SkyHawks this year as part of their 40th anniversary season. Johann has the lowest jump numbers of any of the SkyHawks on the team with about 300 jumps to date.
Corporal Reimer demonstrates great enthusiasm, expertise and professionalism for the SkyHawks as he guides us through a typical day as a member of the Canadian Forces Parachute Team – the SkyHawks.
The SkyHawks training camp is located in Perris, California. Training Camp lasts five weeks, and members jump about ten times each day. Corporal Reimer explains they have the best training with the greatest instructors.
SkyHawks Parachute Team
The Canadian Forces SkyHawks Parachute Team assembles for a group photo just before take-off. Pictured at the far left is Captain Indira Thackorie, and Corporal Johann Reimer is at the far right in the photo. You also see the guest tandem jumpers Todd Cowan and Ryan Mahn in the black jump suits.
In addition to the jump suit, main parachute, reserve parachute and helmet, the SkyHawks members have some important additional equipment they take with them on every jump.
Tucked inside the helmet of each SkyHawk is an audible device called a DYTTER. This beeps key altitudes that have been pre-programmed into the small device to make the Skydiver aware of key altitudes as they descend. (@ 1:39 in the video above)
Each SkyHawk also has a skydiver altimeter gauge they wear that displays altitude above the ground, and the jumper ensures this is correctly “zero’d” before they take-off. They also have an Automatic Activation Device (AAD) that will automatically deploy the parachute based on an algorithm of altitude and vertical velocity. If the jumper is unconscious or unable to deploy their parachute for any reason, the AAD is pre-programmed to intervene and automatically deploy the main chute.
SkyHawks Candy-Cane Formation
One of the really beautiful displays you’ll see at a SkyHawks performance is the “Candy-Cane” formation. A SkyHawk spirals downwards with several coloured smoke canisters attached below their feet. In this picture, you can see the six smoke trails generated by the canisters strung together on a line below the jumper.
The SkyHawks team is comprised of highly professional, skilled, and experienced soldiers from the Canadian Forces. The SkyHawks are renowned for their signature Canopy Relative Work (CRW) parachute performance.
The SkyHawks Parabatic CRW performance is amazing. These aerial demonstrations visually captivate spectators at every performance. Their performance highlights the technical expertise of the SkyHawks as they demonstrate thrilling and dangerous parachute formations.
It was a really fun and exciting experience to spend the day with the SkyHawks. After meeting the team, and seeing all the equipment, it was time to board the airplane and take to the skies.
We were fitted with a harness, and then tethered into the aircraft. This provided us the opportunity to access the ramp at the back of the airplane while in the air. It’s an excellent vantage point for shooting incredible photographs, and we could also video tape the SkyHawks as they jumped from the airplane.
CASA C-212 Aircraft
The SkyHawks jump plane is a medium transport STOL (Short Take-Off and Landing) CASA C-212 Aviocar aircraft. Before we took to the skies, you can see the team’s parachute equipment laid out and ready for the SkyHawks to board.
The CASA 212 is a medium transport, twin engine plane that holds the entire team and a few guests inside. On each side, there is bench seating where the SkyHawks sit during take-off and ascent. The centre aisle has room for jumpers to stand and walk to the front of the airplane (Cockpit) or the back of the plane where you see the jump ramp.
The Jump Ramp was at the back of the CASA 212 folds down for boarding. For take-off and climb to altitude, the ramp was partially raised, but the back was still left open to provide an awesome view. Once we got to 6,000 feet, the first group of jumpers moved to the back of the airplane and prepared to jump. The jump ramp was levelled, and it makes for a great, unobstructed platform for exiting the aircraft. Next to the ramp you see the small red and green lights used to signal the jumpers.
CASA C-212 Cockpit
You can see the SkyHawks Pilots in the cockpit of the CASA C-212 Aviocar as the team airplane ascends during the performance. It takes quite a few minutes as the airplane circles around the jump zone and climbs to the jump altitude. The pilots need to consider the wind velocity and wind direction to help determine the best exit location for the jumpers. The wind will cause the jumpers to drift, and the drift amount needs to be calculated carefully.
To help determine the amount of wind drift that will be experienced, the SkyHawks first drop some colourful streamers when they are directly over the drop zone. (@ 8:40 in the video) These streamers are made of colourful crepe paper and the crowd below watches these streamers float to earth. The distance they blow from the intended drop zone is measured, to determine the exact adjustment needed before the SkyHawks begin their jump.
SkyHawks Signature Salute
As the SkyHawks jump from the aircraft, many will use their Signature Salute. (@ 9:27 in the video) They stand on the jump ramp with their backs to the opening. As they salute the rest of the members in the airplane, they simply fall backwards to exit the airplane. It’s very graceful, and amazing to see!
Canadian Forces Parachute Team – The SkyHawks
It was amazing to spend the day with the SkyHawks. Thanks to the entire team and especially to Corporal Johann Reimer for his video interview. Through this video, you can now experience a Day in the Life of a SkyHawk!