IN A HELICOPTER ABOVE MANAMA, BAHRAIN – A Black Hawk helicopter takes off from Endurance Village outside of Manama with seven paratroopers and three reporters on board. The parachuters are members of the Bahrain Defence Force, and they’re demonstrating both the country’s military strength and a new parachute pack.
The men who jumped at the Bahrain International Defence Exhibition and Conference on Wednesday were trained by Andrew Goodall, a former British Army Parachute Regiment member who is now the chief parachute instructor for the Bahrain Royal Guard special forces.
Goodall, who has been training the forces for five years, said he focuses on safety with the Bahraini forces, many who had no parachuting experience before joining the training program.
“I’ve trained them from zero to military free-fallers … They might have a little bit of exposure to helicopters but they’ve certainly not jumped before,” Goodall told The Defense Post. “I rigidly stick to the USPA and the British Parachute Association safety standards … they are fully aware. If they see anything wrong, they’ll fix it, because they know how dangerous this is.”
The drop from 10,000 feet to 5,000 feet lasts roughly 40 seconds, and after the first thousand feet (about 10 seconds), a skydiver hits terminal velocity, meaning they’re traveling about 120 miles per hour.
Goodall’s strict safety training is clear in the attitude of the parachuters in the Black Hawk. When the chopper reaches altitude, the soldiers check each other’s packs and pull back the door. The wind rushes in, and with a smile and a thumbs-up, they’re off.
The parachuters are testing Airborne Systems’ Hi-5 parachute. The company, which is sponsoring the event, says the pack will outperform others during HALO missions. Featuring a 5:1 glide ratio and a completely silent canopy, the parachute gives troops the ability to drop altitude faster and glide from a longer distance.
During the demonstration, one of Airborne Systems’ representatives told a special forces officer to land as close to reporters’ cameras as possible; the man touched down less than a foot in front of a Sky News cameraman and his parachute lines became entangled with several news cameras.
Goodall is training the parachute forces to not only be elite parachuters but also as future instructors. They need around 200 jumps before taking two courses in order to teach future paratroopers.
“Physically you’ve got to do the theoretical training on the ground so you understand what’s going on. That’s roughy 12 lessons. So it takes about 6 hours of ground school to teach someone to jump and then we go through a process of jumping out with them,” he said.
Around 30 students are currently in the training program, which runs annually. Goodall trains them to a mix of USPA and British Parachute Association safety standards.
The Royal Guard Special Forces was created in 2007 as part of Bahrain’s push to modernize and expand the Defence Force. Goodall said he couldn’t disclose where the paratroopers would be deployed, but the unit was awarded in July for their actions in Yemen. They have also rescued refugees as part of the European Union’s Operation Sophia in the Mediterranean Sea.