Air Force Cadet Third Class Kitt Regier never expected parachuting to be one of his hobbies — or that he would teach others to jump out of an airplane.
The Hesston High School graduate just finished his sophomore year at the U.S. Air Force Academy and was recently accepted as a member of the Air Force Parachute Team, which is also known as Wings of Blue.
"Some people probably think that we're crazy ... (or) that we're adrenaline junkies, but it's a sport," Regier said.
Each year, about 750 Air Force cadets learn to parachute by participating in several weeks of intense training on the ground and in a wind tunnel.
"After that, we go up and jump out of the plane," Regier said.
Unlike other parachuting classes, only U.S. Air Force Academy students jump solo on their first flight. An instructor jumped along with Regier, videoing him for later reference on the technical aspects of his jump.
"After the first one, I knew that I didn't want to stop," Regier said. "It's flying in its purest form. There's no engine, no wings attached to us. We're flying with our own bodies through the sky."
Sixty cadets applied for the Air Force parachute upgrade team called Wings of Green. Regier and 26 others passed, enabling them to learn advanced emergency procedures and accelerated free fall techniques.
Another skill Regier and his team practiced was group skydiving — which requires them to match their rates of fall.
"You can actually control how fast you're falling and which way you're facing almost as well as you could as if you were on the ground," Regier said. "It's a lot of fun to jump out and look your friend in the eye when you both have massive grins on your faces."
The team also practiced emergency scenarios both on the ground and in the sky.
"There'll be a deliberate malfunction the jumpmaster has to identify and correct," Regier said.
Regier is now a certified jumpmaster and instructor for the Academy's basic freefall parachuting course and will spend his final two years as a cadet teaching other cadets, officers and members of other military organizations to parachute.
"It was the coolest thing I have ever done — the most surreal experience, certainly, so it's going to be neat to pass that on to new students, the next generation," Regier said.
He was also accepted onto the Wings of Blue parachute demonstration team.
"We jump into sporting events and other events all over the United States and around the world," Regier said. "As cadets, we're able to represent more than just the academy, we're able to represent the Air Force as a whole."
A team of 10 to 12 Wings of Blue members parachutes into about 50 events each year. Regier, who has 110 jumps, will be part of some teams, but will have to jump 500 times before being allowed to parachute into a stadium.
"There's very little margin for error; you have to be a pretty good canopy pilot to put it right down on the 50-yard line," Regier said.
Learning to parachute changed Regier's outlook on the world.
"I think it brings a whole new perspective to my life," Regier said. "You look at things differently — literally and figuratively — when you're plummeting to the earth at 120 mph. The views in Colorado are pretty good, too."
In the future, Reiger said, he would like to jump in Dubai, Switzerland and Hawaii. He also encourages others who are thinking about parachuting to embrace the experience.
"Just do it. As crazy as that sounds, the fear entirely leaves you when you leave the airplane — once you let go of the door, it's the most surreal experience. There's no falling sensation, it's just serenity in the sky," Regier said.