PERRIS, Calif.– The Canadian Army’s premier parachute demonstration team, The SkyHawks, arrived in southern California last week to begin their annual, 5-week training camp. Over the course of the next month, The SkyHawks will learn and then perfect the show they will perform throughout Canada during the upcoming year. Although there are similar training facilities available in Canada, the Perris Skydive airport offers the team one important advantage – better weather.
“We received six inches of snow right before I left,” said Sgt. Louis Vincent Richard Roy, one of the team’s two tandem masters. “The facility here is really nice.”
In addition to the teams formations and trick jumps, the two tandem masters must practice as many tandem jumps as possible.
“We don’t want to conflict with the business of the airport, which charges up to 300 dollars for a tandem jump,” said Richard Roy. “So instead, we invite members from the (March Air Reserve) base to jump with us.”
Maj. Amber Marcella, executive officer for the 452d Air Mobility Wing, was one of the first base personnel to jump this time.
“It is the most exhilarating experience I have had in my Air Force career,” said Marcella, who was “peer pressured” into signing up by a coworker. Marcella was outfitted in a red SkyHawks jumpsuit and an altimeter, in preparation for her jump. After a brief period of instruction she waited with the rest of The SkyHawks for the plane to arrive for their jump.
During the flight up, Marcella kept an eye on her altimeter waiting to put her training into action. When the altimeter finally registered 8,000 feet, she sat in front of her tandem master, Sgt. Sebastien Tremblay and he attached himself to her with five different straps. When the plane finally reached 12,500 feet, Marcella and Tremblay shimmied to the door as the big moment approached. Just as the duo had practiced, Marcella rested her head on her tandem master’s shoulder and trusted him with the flying. As they exited the aircraft, they quickly picked up speed and began plummeting toward the earth at 120 miles per hour. After 45 seconds they had traveled more than half the distance back to solid ground. When they reached 5,500 feet, Tremblay reached back, pulled the chord and released the parachute, that safely floated the pair towards the grassy landing strip.
Under The SkyHawks signature Canadian Flag parachute, Marcella safely descended while getting a bird’s-eye view of the entire valley.
“It was an out-of-body experience,” she said.
After landing, Marcella was presented with a shirt from Tremblay that boasted across the back “I jumped with The SkyHawks,” in both English and French.
Many Team March members will follow in Marcella’s footsteps to jump with The SkyHawks during their stay in Perris. Although the vacancies for this year’s tandem jumps are all filled, The SkyHawks hope to return to Southern California next spring.
As for Marcella, although she enjoyed it, she said it’s a once-in-a lifetime experience and she probably would not do it again.
“This wasn’t on my bucket list,” she said. “This isn’t something I had planned to do, but I’m so glad I did it.”