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Skydiving with the SkyHawks


Daniel Martins, staff writer
May 11, 2012 — Weather Network presenter Suzanne Leonard got a chance at tandem skydiving with Canada's legendary SkyHawks, and made it right to the edge of the ramp before poor weather forced the team to cancel the jump.


Leonard (Right, in red) and members of the SkyHawks team await clearance for a jump
Leonard (Right, in red) and members of the SkyHawks team await clearance for a jump

As Suzanne Leonard looked out the back of the Hercules aircraft at the landscape stretching out far below, she wanted only one thing in the whole world.

"All I wanted to do was jump out of that plane," the Weather Network presenter says. "And I can't believe I'm saying that."

And, yes, Leonard did have a parachute and definitely wasn't alone. 

She was strapped to Corporal Jonnie "The Rocket" Shaw, her tandem jump instructor and a member of the SkyHawks, the Canadian Forces' elite parachute demonstration team.

Leonard and Shaw were joining forces to mark the start of the SkyHawks' 2012 season. The team will perform in more than 30 shows all across North America, and one in Belgium, between May and October.

Leonard's attempt at a jump Thursday was her second in a week, and unfortunately couldn't go ahead --- but not due to cold feet.

Tandem skydiving --- when two skydivers are strapped together, often for instructional purposes --- requires a minimum of 9,000 feet.

The SkyHawks prefer 12,500 feet for a tandem jump, pulling the ripcord at 5,500 feet,  which allows for up to 45 seconds of freefall.

But on Thursday, cloud cover limited the ceiling to 3,000 feet.

Leonard says that made the jump a no-go: Jumping into cloud cover is much too risky, due to visibility and collision concerns.

On Thursday, Leonard's second attempt, the Hercules aircraft circled around trying to find a big enough gap in the clouds.

She and Shaw actually made it to the edge of the ramp --- but Tandem Master Shaw, who was in complete control of the jump, decided it wasn't safe to go ahead.

Leonard had had plenty of time to conquer her fears by then, and says she was so pumped with adrenaline, not being able to jump was a huge let-down.

"I wanted to give this a go. I wanted to fly," she says. "I was totally ready. Going in I was both nervous and excited. But by the time training was done, I was 100 percent on-board, wanting to this."

Nevertheless, the experience wasn't a loss for Leonard, not by a long shot.

Leonard's gear was checked and double-checked for safety by her jump partner, Cpl. Jonnie "The Rocket" Shaw, who would have been in complete control of the entire jump
Leonard's gear was checked and double-checked for safety by her jump partner, Cpl. Jonnie "The Rocket" Shaw, who would have been in complete control of the entire jump

Thanks to Shaw's careful instruction, she knows enough about tandem skydiving to make her next attempt --- whenever that might be --- much easier.

No worries about future jitters either. As something of an outdoor enthusiast, having tried everything from mountaineering to snorkeling, Leonard says skydiving is the most stoked she's been.

"I was flipping out. I was so, so excited. It was quite an amazing experience." she says.

The germ of the idea of a skydive with the SkyHawks began during Ottawa's Winterlude festival, when Leonard braved the Canadian Forces' winter obstacle course.

Leonard said it was an honour to be invited to a SkyHawks tandem skydive, but unfortunately, there are no concrete plans for another dive with the team as they get going with their regular season.

Leonard's attempted dive was the first time the SkyHawks planned to launch the season with a day of tandem jumps with members of the media.

But Leonard says, one way or another, she's doing a tandem jump one day.

"One way or another, I'm going to find a way," she laughs. "So I guess, for The Weather Network, stay tuned."

If you'd like to see the SkyHawks in action, head to their website for more details on their schedule. 

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