Parachute Jumping: A Deserved Perk for Three Miami Controllers
Thursday, March 01, 2012
Picture left to right: Graham Jones, Francesca Franco and Derek Hartman
For the last three winters, the controllers at Miami ATCT/TRACON (MIA) have had another responsibility besides their usual workload of handling nearly one million operations annually, and this week, three were rewarded for their hard work with an experience they will never forget.
During the off-season, the U.S. Army Parachute Team makes the airspace above Homestead, Fla., in southwestern Miami-Dade County, their training home. The Golden Knights, as they are nicknamed, are extraordinary military paratroopers who demonstrate their skills at major air shows and outdoor sporting events across the United States.
The paratroopers used to spend the winter in western Arizona, but cost concerns three years ago prompted the move to South Florida, much closer to their permanent base at Fort Bragg, N.C. As a result, MIA controllers have to direct traffic around their training area during the daytime, and as a thank-you, the Knights recently invited controllers and other local personnel to jump with them before they head back to the Carolinas.
Graham Jones, Derek Hartman and Francesca Franco were the lucky ones from MIA chosen this year, and they all jumped on Monday. All three usually direct traffic to the west of the airport, and as a result, have to juggle the safety of paratroopers and aircraft almost every time they go to work.
“When we are departing to the west, it’s a very tough job we have,” Franco said. “Imagine a five to ten mile radius south of Miami that we have to direct traffic around so we don’t interfere with the jumpers’ practice.”
MIA facility representative Jim Marinitti said that 15 controllers were initially invited to go, but that had to be whittled down to three. He said Jones, Hartman and Franco were selected because they are fully certified controllers who had never been diving before.
When asked the day after the jump about the experience, Jones was still thrilled. He said he was surprised at the sensation he felt as he was hurtling to the ground from 13,500 feet in the air.
“You feel weightless, you don’t feel like you’re falling,” he said. “You’re just out there spinning, and it’s not what I expected, but it was such an awesome experience.”
All three of the controllers said they would gladly jump again if given the opportunity, though Jones said the Knights’ track record also put him more at ease than if he had jumped with a private company.
“I would have reluctance doing it with anyone else, because these guys are really the absolute best in the world,” Jones said of the Golden Knights. “One of the jumpers had over 2,500 jumps with no incidents, so that really put me at ease.”
Hartman, who described the day as “something I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” said the jump was a generous showing of goodwill by the Army and the parachuters themselves.
“It’s great we have such a good relationship that we’re able to have the opportunity to do a jump like this,” he said. “I just had a blast. I remember screaming the whole way down and thinking, ‘yeah! This is awesome.’”