PUNTA GORDA, Fla. - The skies are buzzing above Charlotte County. From high-speed military aircraft to skydivers, the Florida International Air Show is in its 33rd year.
We spent the day with the U.S. Special Operations Command Parachute Team, also known as the "Para-Commandos." You'll see them circling the sky with red smoke coming from their feet. While their performance is truly a spectacle, it's taken them years of combat training to get to where they are today.
You'll find some of our nation's bravest on the parachute team. They're Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen. "It's pretty exciting to be here and to be able to perform in front of a crowd," Lt. Col. Steven Bryant said.
In his 18-year career as Navy Seal, Bryant has spent much time serving in Iraq. "We are used to combat operations, and now we are doing a more demonstrator-focused skydiving," Bryant said. "It's a lot different jumping and performing for a crowd than jumping in the middle of the night for a combat operation."
They work full time at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, volunteering their own time at air shows. I was offered the chance to spend a day in their jumpsuit and take a dive.
"The biggest thing for today is safety," Lt. Col. Ken Ates said as he gave a detailed safety rundown.
I signed a long waiver and suited up. We did a few practice runs for the jump, freefall and landing, and the team took off. Soon, red smoke filled the sky as the Para-Commandos maneuvered their canopies above Punta Gorda Airport.
Unfortunately, the clouds were too low to safely do a tandem jump, so they had to leave me on the tarmac. Jump or no jump, their 120 mph free fall and formations are an incredible sight to see.
"Everything went really well," Ates said after landing. "We were hoping for a higher altitude, but this was all we were able to get today. Hopefully, tomorrow, we will get a little higher."
You can catch the Para-Commandos and all of the other performers Saturday and Sunday, March 23-24 at the Punta Gorda Airport. Gates open at 9 a.m. Adults are $29 at the gate, children are $5.
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