BY MELANIE BUCK –
Over the years, Mena Municipal Intermountain Airport has had countless planes fly in and out of its hangars but not all are quite as unique as others. The United States Army has used the airport for regular maintenance checks, repairs, repainting, and upholstering for a number of years and because of this, Rose Aircraft, Inc., has the privilege of maintaining aircraft for a special unit of the Army, the United States Army Parachute Team, also known as the Golden Knights.
The Golden Knights, initially formed from the Strategic Army Command Parachute Team in 1959, performed seven shows that year, and have been based out of Ft. Bragg Army Base in Fayetteville, NC since that time. What began as a way to bring in new recruits has evolved into so much more. The thrill-seeking team dazzles onlookers across the country with their high-flying techniques and human geometric patterns. The group tours around the U.S., leaving home for an average of 250 days a year, to demonstrate the aerial capabilities of the aircraft and the jaw-dropping talents of the skydivers on the team. There are approximately 65 “jumpers” currently on the team who perform almost 40 shows a year. They perform stunning skills in the air from flying the American flag at 12,000 feet to passing batons at 120 mph, and continue to amaze spectators as they strategically end their performance by landing on their feet dead center of their target. They truly are a must see show.
In addition to entertaining civilians, they also compete internationally, becoming known as our “Goodwill Ambassadors of the World.” Only the most elite are chosen for the team. Those elite have brought home so many gold medals for their efforts they were dubbed the Golden Knights. According to their website, http://www.goarmy.com/events/golden-knights, they hold over 400 national championships and more than 60 worldwide championships. “When the Golden Knights show up to a competition, everyone else is battling for second place.”
The aircraft of the Golden Knights, the Fokker F27 Military Troopship, not only has specifications that other planes don’t, it also is no longer in production. The Golden Knights use two Fokker F27s in their nationwide shows, ‘Ambassador’ and ‘Excalibur.’ Excalibur was built only fifteen spots down the production line from the Ambassador in 1985.
The Ambassador was flown into Mena by pilots Ken Breeden and Frank Reiner, former Golden Knights who have logged over 10,000 hours of airtime each. Both being retired military personnel, they know what is required of the aircraft to carry out the many tricks performed. Michael Dieck, also a former Knight, is the maintenance “wizard” who meets the pilots and plane on location to inspect the completed work and make sure it is ready to fly. “We’ve amassed about 15,000 hours on this airframe alone, since we first had it on lease back in 1985,” said Dieck, who has maintained the Ambassador for over 24 years. “I have the records going back when this aircraft was delivered from the Netherlands when it had 11 hours on the airframe.” The plane was fully purchased by the Army in 1988.
Full maintenance and repainting are required every 6 years and to be the airport selected to perform such tasks is an honor. “Rose Aircraft is the perfect fit for our planes. The big dogs say we’re too small and the small dogs say we’re too big. But Rose is just right,” states Dieck. The maintenance on this plane has been performed at Rose Aircraft many times and the army does contract with other companies, however, this is the third consecutive time that Rose has had the privilege of making the Ambassador operate perfectly. They also get to make it look good. From painting the army logos and the American flag to the Excalibur like sword on the side, the Army is more than pleased with the job. Because of this ‘perfect fit’ Rose is in line to take care of several Golden Knights’ aircraft for many years to come.
Bringing commerce to our small town is an essential part of the future of our community and what better way then to help send our ambassadors throughout the globe to represent our glorious nation.