Air Force Academy's Parachuting Team Sets National Record

The Air Force Academy's parachuting team may be too successful — after 13 straight national collegiate championships, the body that issued the honor stopped giving it out.

The academy had to settle for 26 individual collegiate parachuting honors this month for the school where cadets are known as the best in America at falling from the sky. The Wings of Blue team swept categories including "four-way" that sends four jumpers in free fall formation.

"To top things off, the Air Force Academy's 6-way speed team set a new national record," the U.S. Parachuting Association said in a news release, lauding cadets for linking up six jumpers in 5.26 seconds.

The parachuting team has been a staple at the academy since 1962.

One of the team's coaches, and former academy jumper, Lt. Col. Sean Baerman, said falling from altitude teaches cadets skills they'll need as Air Force officers.

"It teaches you to control those nerves and excel in an unforgiving environment," said Baerman, who flew A-10 attack planes in Afghanistan before returning to the academy's 98th Flying Training Squadron, which includes the parachute team.

The collegiate nationals were held in Florida and ended Jan. 2. The competition capped a busy winter break for the academy parachutists who also sent teams of skydivers to the Armed Forces Bowl in Texas and the Orange Bowl in Florida to show off their skills for college football crowds.

Sophomore cadet Joe Wilde was one of the academy's youngest competitors at the national meet.

"It was weird at first to show up as one of the people with less experience," he said.

But Wilde said his training at the academy, which started during his freshman year, shined through.

"One we started jumping you could see the difference," he said.

With 100 skydivers in the competition, including 28 from the academy, the school racked up 26 honors.

Wilde's exposure to national competition made him look forward to upholding the school's winning ways next winter.

"You see the value," he said.

Baerman said the results in Florida showed him the value of jumping, too.

"The Air Force is going to ask you to do a lot of scary things," he said. "This teaches you to face that fear."

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