Service & Sacrifice: Parachuting Pioneer

5:52 PM, Jul 26, 2012   |    comments
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Dick Fortenberry is one of the original Golden Knights, meaning he's taken off in a lot of planes that he hasn't landed in.
"We did some pretty wild things back in those days," said Fortenberry recalling his early days back in the mid-1950s as part of the Army Parachute Team.

The group evolved into the Army Golden Knights. They make up one of three aerial demonstration teams in the US military that also include the Navy Blue Angels and the Air Force Thunderbirds. In during the last half-century the Golden Knights have set world records for sky diving accuracy, team performance, and altitude jumps. Most Americans know them for their aerial acrobatics and parachute jumps into football stadiums or in air shows.

"Our first demonstration we had was when we were in Danville, Virginia. (1959) And we had to drive our own cars up there. Buy our own parachutes. Modify our own parachutes and when we got up there they said, 'Where is your airplane?,' and we said 'no, you have to provide an airplane.' So they had to go out and rent some airplanes," Fortenberry recalled with a chuckle.

"Instead of a hotel they had us staying in the bottom of a roller skating arena. And we could hear people skating all night you know, that was our first demonstration," said Fortenberry.

Fortenberry's prowess in the skies landed him on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1962 with the headline, "Championship in the Sky." He would go on to make almost 1,500 jumps in his parachuting career. In 2011, he wrote a book recalling his experiences from his flight logs titled, "No ETA The Pioneering Days of Sky Diving."

In addition to his decorated parachuting career, Fortenberry went on to become a private pilot. He is out of the cockpit now but still volunteers at the Tennessee Aviation Museum in Sevierville, Tennessee.

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