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Wings of Blue prepare to celebrate their golden anniversary

  • Published
  • By Dona Fair
  • 12th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs
This weekend the United States Air Force Academy Parachute Team Wings of Blue will celebrate a milestone--50 years of "Standing in the Door."

Many things have changed during the past 50 years for the team, but the one constant has been "standing in the door" -that moment when a cadet is standing in the open door of the plane and must take that gut check to decide whether to stay or jump out the door.

Since the spring of 1962 when a band of bootleg jumpers stood in the door and made their first parachute jumps as cadets, the team has been on a path to greatness.

Using condemned survival, evasion, resistance and escape rigs and local aviation pilots, cadets, Joel Stuart Aronoff, John Joseph Davis Jr., Jay Wilford Kelley, Stuart Boardman McCurdy, and Lance Peter Sijan--made a number of demonstration and competition jumps in the Colorado area at their own risk and expense. One of their jumps --included the Academy's first collegiate-national appearance in Wisconsin where they won a gold medal.

The cadets had no sanctioning from the Academy; truthfully, the Academy had no idea of what they were up to. When word got back to the superintendent, the Academy leadership was facing a dilemma--punish these outlaws or reward these collegiate competitors. Needless to say, the first couple of years were pretty rocky, but after a challenge from the Commandant of West Point to compete in a Parachute meet--club status resulted in May 1964, and in September 1964, the fledgling parachute club made its first jumps on USAFA property, and the Wings of Blue were on their way to jump to new heights..

Under the careful guidance and nurturing of Cadet Pete Johnson, the club became known throughout the skydiving community. It is because of his efforts, along with several officers and enlisted members, that the club eventually became what is now - internationally known as the United States Air Force Academy Parachute Team Wings of Blue.

From its humble beginnings, the Wings of Blue has become an aspiring venue through which many leaders and officers have grown from and commanded. The team has produced at least 10 general officers (including two 4-star generals) as well as a Congressional Medal of Honor winner Capt Lance Sijan.

"It's been the honor of a lifetime to command such a historic and high performing organization as the Wings of Blue," said Lt. Col. Sean M. McLay, commander of the 1st Flying Training Squadron, USAFA. "The leadership, character and confidence required by our instructors (some are the youngest in the AF) to give their students the confidence to 'stand in the door' and willingly exit a perfectly good aircraft at 11,000 feet is very similar to that required by a flight-lead to lead his formation in harm's way in a combat zone."

Each year, the Wings of Blue conduct over 22,000 training jumps awarding over 700 Jump Wings to the students who pass through the Airmanship 490 Program at USAFA. Today's students are proud to be able to ensure that the program continues on for another 50 years.

"The 98th Flying Training Squadron has been my family for the past three years. I have grown a lot as a leader, follower, friend and overall person on the Wings of Blue," said Cadet First Class Lindsay Johnson, Wings of Blue, Blue Team commander. "Nothing compares to teaching your peers how to jump out of a perfectly good airplane. I am really looking forward to meeting all of the members of the Wings of Blue from these past 50 years and I am blessed to have the privilege to be surrounded by so many incredible people. I'm looking forward to sharing the memories with everyone."

The team has received national recognition as both U.S. National and Collegiate National parachuting champions (Collegiate Champs for the 34th year), as well as the 12th Flying Training Wing "Top Operations" squadron. They continue to expand their renown both nationally and internationally through venues such as football games, open houses and air shows.

It's because of the organization's rich history that it is able to be the outstanding program that it is today and celebrate their golden anniversary at the Air Force Academy this weekend.

"It is a tremendous honor and privilege to host the 50th anniversary," said Air Force Col. Joseph M. Rizzuto, commander of the 306th Flying Training Group, USAFA. "One of the amazing aspects of being at the Academy is being able to meet and interact with the legends in the AF that made history. I love the fact that our cadets today get to spend time with and learn from the original members of the Wings of Blue. Such events are inspiring for everyone from cadet to colonel."

As the team prepares to celebrate this great milestone, they will soon be looking to skies around the world, to show today's youth that they can succeed beyond their perceived limitations and "stand in the door" and soar to heights of greatness.