GARY — Spectators watched wide-eyed from the Lake Michigan beachfront Saturday as members of the U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute team leaped earthward from a C-31 military airplane.
From 1,000 feet above, parachute jumpers could hear the Gary Air Show crowd’s applause in and around Marquette Park as they spiraled in precise formations towards the sandy beaches, a stream of bright red smoke trailing behind them.
“It’s pretty cool to have people cheering you on,” said U.S. Army First Class Sgt. Jonathan Clevenger, a Golden Knights team member.
After the show, he stopped by the U.S. Army recruiting tent with fellow team members to pack up gear and sign autographs.
He said he loves meeting people afterward to talk about his service in the U.S. army and the Golden Knights team — considering a full-time gig as they travel the U.S. and overseas to perform sky stunts.
Clevenger said he’s tallied more than 1,700 jumps as a Golden Knight team member.
“I got into this to overcome my fear of heights. It didn’t work. I’m still afraid,” he said, smiling.
Air Show attendee Mateo Smalley, 15, of Gary, watched as Clevenger quickly repacked his parachute. Then he asked for an autograph.
“I wish I could jump out of a plane,” Smalley said to Clevenger, adding that he’s interested in joining the U.S. Army or Marines one day.
The Gary Air Show, which first launched in 2000, drew thousands of attendees Saturday.
Jessica Jenkins, 29, of Gary, was among those who spent the day at Gary’s lakefront to catch the spectacle of aerial acrobatics. She said she has attended the city’s Air Show since she was a child with her family.
She was there with her 1-year-old daughter and her mother, Theresa Cowart, also of Gary.
Jenkins said she loves the roar of the jets and all the aerial twists and turns in the sky.
“Honestly, I could never [jump out of a plane]. It’s risky, it’s scary. But that’s part of the adrenaline you feel from on the ground,” Jenkins said.
On the ground, hundreds of attendees enjoyed the array of food and drink vendors. Others kept their eyes on the sky in amazement, while some watched through smartphone screens as they recorded video of the acts.
Performers included the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, the U.S. Army Golden Knights, Aerostars, Bill Stein, Dave Dacy/Tony Kazian Wingwalking, Firebirds Xtreme, Matt Chapman and Paul Wood, piloting the A-4 Skyhawk.
Sarah Nelson and her daughter, Hollie, 8, of Valparaiso, said they loved the V-22 Osprey — a bulky grey military aircraft that appears half-helicopter, half-airplane.
“It was awesome,” Hollie Nelson said.
The Air Show will continue from from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.
Additional information can also be found on the Air Show’s Facebook page (search “Gary Airshow”) and the Twitter handle @GaryAirShow.