Even with about 300 jumps under her belt, Brighton native and U.S. Air Force Academy Cadet Erin Brown said her biggest fear is jumping out of planes.
Yet the 2009 graduate recently won a gold medal and set national and state collegiate skydiving records this month in the 2011 U.S. Parachute Association (USPA) National Collegiate Parachuting Championships in Eloy, AZ, as a member of the U.S. Air Force skydiving team, Wings of Blue.
At the competition, her team's name was Air Force Be With You. She and her teammates competed against about 100 other skydivers from around the country.
"I've been parachuting for about a year and a half now, but I'd never been to a competition before," Brown said. "It was amazing."
Brown's team won the six-way formation skydiving event. In formation skydiving, team members leap from an airplane more than two miles above the ground then race against the clock to form prescribed geometric formations in free fall before opening their parachutes.
The team also set national and Arizona state collegiate skydiving records for fastest single-round score by completing a formation in 9.62 seconds after jumping from the plane.
Brown's father, Scott Brown of Brighton Township, was in Arizona to watch his daughter compete.
"I don't have any trepidation watching her jump," he said. "I've been to the academy and seen some of the training and experience she got her first year on the team. I'm completely confident that she's in good hands."
Brown, a junior majoring in economics at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO, decided to take a jumping class during her freshman year.
"You get to do five free-fall jumps, and it's the only place in the U.S. where your first jump is by yourself because they don't use static lines that pull your parachute out for you once you leave the aircraft," Brown said. "You actually get like 10 seconds of free fall, which is falling through the air. At the end of the class, you have the opportunity to try out for the team."
During her first year on the team, Brown was a member of Wings of Green, where she learned to become a jump master and instructor, training other students in the beginning jump class. Now she is a member of the Wings of Blue competitive jumping team. There is also a demonstration team, which jumps into football games and air shows.
"It's a really cool opportunity to try something different," Brown said about skydiving. "Being an instructor for it now, I've never seen something that shows people how much courage they have. They have to make the decision themselves to jump. You train them, and they have to trust in that training. I'm really glad I get to do it."
Brown has not been home to visit in more than a year because she spends her school breaks practicing and training with the skydiving team.
Brown's mother, Kathy Herman, said she keeps in touch with her daughter through phone calls, emails and Skype. She also visits her daughter in Colorado as often as possible.
"I'm supportive of her," Herman said. "I'm impressed by her accomplishments, she's a modest young lady. But it's no different than any other parent who has their kid so far away. You figure out a way that works best for you to communicate.
The USPA is a nonprofit individual membership organization dedicated to promoting the safe enjoyment of skydiving. For more information, visit uspa.org.
Editor's Note: This story was changed to correct a quote about how the Air Force jump class does not use static lines.