Down to the ground

SkyHawks drop in to Iqaluit



The rear of the Buffalo airplane opens like a hungry mouth. Freezing air fills the fuselage as Cpl. Brent Nolasco positions himself on the edge of the opening and releases a bundle of coloured tape. The streamers twist and turn, telling him wind direction and speed.

Inside the plane, a dozen members of the Canadian Forces’ SkyHawks parachute team wait their turn to drop 3,000 feet onto downtown Iqaluit. A crowd gathers at the Nakasuk School grounds, eye cast toward the yellow aircraft overhead.

The SkyHawks were in Iqaluit from June 11 to 13 and Rankin Inlet on June 14.

Nolasco releases the coloured tape twice more then gives the signal to jump.

The red-clad daredevils obediently undo their seatbelts and perform final equipment checks. The 12 men and one woman take turns exiting the plane. For several seconds the parachutists see Iqaluit from a bird’s eye view with no strings attached. Then their trademark Canadian flag parachutes guide them to the ground.

“I’d like to be like them, jumping out of a plane. And I’d like to join the Army to do it,” said Natasha Noah, 8, who watched the parachutists start as specks and finish as giants.

Such enthusiasm is exactly what the Canadian Forces wants to hear.

The SkyHawks is a sub-unit of the Canadian Parachute Centre in Trenton, Ont. Whether jumping in tandem or solo, the demonstrative drops are purely promotional. (Paratroopers with the Royal Canadian Regiment are the ones who jump from planes on defensive combat missions.)

The role of the SkyHawks is to get people, especially youth, thinking about careers with the Canadian Forces.

Many apply, few are chosen

Membership with the SkyHawks is limited. All parachutists are regular and reserve members with the Canadian Forces. They earn a place on the prestigious team through years of training, exams and a love of carefully planned adventure.

The troupe has performed in 3,100 demonstrations in North America, Europe, Australia and Japan since it was formed in 1972.

When they’re not performing, the group trains other Forces members to jump. They also help civilian parachuting groups who are on-call for military purposes and provide tandem jumps for search and rescue operations.

While in Iqaluit, they made time to visit three schools.

Natasha Noah, a student at Nanook School in Apex, was smitten. “I’d like to join the army if it meant I could jump out of planes,” she said.

The inquisitive Grade 2 student asked Sgt. Kevin Karambowich about his specialized suit.

Karambowich invited Noah and classmate Jazlin Kalluk to tug on his pants and to test the fabric’s strength.

“It felt like frozen spaghetti,” Noah said of the padded leg flaps.

Kalluk doubts she’ll join the army. Nevertheless, the enthusiastic student said she was impressed with the SkyHawks’ visit.

“I would rather jump out of the plane than fly it because I’m not really good at driving. I still haven’t ridden a bike and I’m not very good at steering,” she said.

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