Text and photos (unless otherwise noted) by Alicia Accetta, Strike-Hold! Special Correspondent.
For the third year in a row the Liberty Jump Team performed at the National Warplane Museum’s annual airshow at Geneseo, in upstate New York – “The Greatest Show on Turf”.
The Geneseo Airshow (as its commonly known) was held July 13th and 14th and had an assortment of planes flying and on static display – two of the most notable being the C-47 from which the Liberty Jump Team jumped, and the WWII Lancaster bomber. (For our UK and European readers, imagine Duxford’s “Flying Legends” airshow with even more planes, and all happening on a period-authentic grass strip airfield! – Editor)
The Liberty Jump Team is a non-profit organization formed in 2006 as a way to honor US veterans of foreign wars. They honor the veterans by performing WWII-style parachute jumps at various events each year. The team now has over 70 members, including jumpers from the U.S., France, Canada, England, Ireland, Holland, Germany, South Africa, and Belgium, and is constantly growing. Many of the members are active duty or retired military and are veterans from Vietnam, OEF, OIF, and WWII – some of the members are over 70 years old and some are also Purple Heart recipients.
Every year the Team jumps from the WWII-veteran C-47, based at Geneseo. The C-47, known as W7 (“Whiskey Seven”), was one of the lead planes of the Allied airborne operation on D-Day in the early morning of June 6th, 1944, dropping 82nd Airborne Division Paratroopers over St. Mere Eglise, Normandy. Whiskey Seven also participated in Operation Market Garden on September 17th, 1944, towing gliders for the 101st Airborne Division ‘Screaming Eagles’ into Holland. (You can’t get much more authentic than that! – Editor)
Considered ‘the workhorse of the Army Air Corps during World War II’, the C-47 has a wingspan of 95 feet, can go to a maximum speed of 230mph and weighs about 26,000 pounds fully loaded. It can carry 18 fully equipped Paratroopers and tow a Waco glider. The Historical Aircraft Group Museum has recreated its original markings representing its service during D-Day, including the number 37 on the nose to signify its position and the black and white invasion stripes.
With an original aircraft comes original-looking gear. Many of the team members wear M1942 Paratrooper jump suits for the Normandy commemoration jumps and M1943 fatigues for the Holland commemoration jumps – as well as airborne-modified M1C ‘Steel Pot’ helmets with unit markings of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions.
The jumpers do not of course use original parachutes – out of consideration for the jumpers’ safety. (As well as the fact that original WWII-era parachutes are very rare and expensive! – Editor) The parachutes used by the team are modern static-line-deployed, steerable, round canopies, such as the MC1-1D, SET-10, and the SF-10A (MC-6). The static line automatically deploys the parachute as the jumper falls away from the plane. In case of malfunction of the main parachute, each jumper also wears a reserve parachute as a back-up. The parachutes allow the paratrooper to fall at roughly 17 feet per second.
Once they reach 200 feet above ground, the jumpers will put their feet and knees together as they assume ‘a prepare to land attitude’ while turning their canopies into the wind. Upon hitting the ground, each jumper performs a PLF (Parachute Landing Fall). A PLF has 5 points of contact as you land – balls of the feet, calf, thigh, buttocks, and lastly the deltoid muscle. The knees will be slightly bent, the chin will be tucked in, and the parachute risers may be grasped in an arm-bar to protect the face and the throat. After landing, the main parachute and harness gets stuffed into an aviator’s kit bag, the reserve ‘chute gets clipped to the carrying handle, and the whole package is physically carried to an assembly area.
This year there were 13 jumpers and two jumps at the event. The drop altitude was 1,500 feet above ground level with ‘Whiskey Seven’ flying at approximately 90 knots or 100-mph. There were two ‘sticks’ for each jump, meaning the plane dropped the first 6 jumpers and the came back around for another pass the drop the next 6 jumpers and the Jump Master. On the first day’s jump the ground wind speed was about 3 knots with higher winds at altitude. On the second day, the wind speed was about 8 knots. Both jumps were very successful with no injuries and as always, a crowd favorite. As the jumpers came down the crowd watched in awe, and once they had landed the applause lasted for several minutes. After every jump, a WWII truck provided by a group of re-enactors collected the ‘chutes and equipment as the jumpers came off the Drop Zone.
The jumpers then dispersed into the crowd to shake hands, pose for photos and talk to families, veterans, and kids. The Liberty Jump Team members also jump with pockets full of Team pins that the jumpers hand out to the public as a true ‘airborne’ souvenir.
Patrick Dennis, a member of the Liberty Jump Team who performed the two jumps on the 13th and 14th, summed up the experience by saying:
“We find great personal pride and gratification in doing a good job jumping and demonstrating the airborne craft safely by adhering to the principles of the U.S. Airborne. But the greatest joy is always in meeting a WWII veteran in the crowd and getting to say “Thank You!” to one of the Greatest Generation. Nothing prepares you for those moments and they are to be treasured and used as inspiration for our team mission of honoring all veterans. In looking sharp while jumping from a WWII, D-Day veteran C-47 and doing it well, we specifically honor the men and women of WWII and in doing so, honor all veterans of the United States military!”
The Team has been invited to come back next year and perform again. For more information and schedules, please visit: www.libertyjumpteam.org
For further information about the National Warplane Museum visit: www.1941hag.org
You can also visit the National Warplane Museum – Geneseo Airshow on Facebook.