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^ke <~Y\<ew6 - journal
Editorials ? Columns ? Features ? Classified Ads
Thursday, May 19, 1983
What happened to the floor?
With nothing surrounding him but clouds, air and the heavens, this
Golden Knight seems suspended in air probably hoping he can get back in
A member of the Golden Knight 's parachute team prepares to pull the cord that will glide him down to his destination.
Just Another Way To
Spend A Sunny Afternoon
Right on target
According to Gene Thacker, most of th e parachutist that jump at his school have made several hundred jumps
and can hit * ' right on th* money ' ' every time. Because of this and other reasons, Thacker cannot understand why
paople foal the Jump site should be moved.
By Sherry Matthews
Hop aboard an imaginary
airplane and soar 10,000 feet
above the ground. Hold that posi
tion and feel the wind whip
through your hair while you circle
the clouds that are close enough to
Now unfasten the safety belt,
crouch in the open passageway and
feel the force of the heavens pull
ing and causing you to tumble to
That feeling is one that every
parachutist must feel as he boards
that plane and prepares to jump.
Gene Paul Thacker, owner of
Raeford Aviation, trains and
prepares world class champions to
make just those sort of breath
taking, spine-tingling jumps.
Thacker's parachute jump
school, that encompasses some 22
acres bordering the Raeford Air
port, has been the setting of con
troversy for the past several years.
It has become a running battle
between Thacker, who is standing
behind his school, and the city,
who is hoping to get its $1 million
airport geared to attract new in
dustry into Hoke County.
The city council has voted to ac
cept recommendations that the
jump school site, which is only 100
yards from the airport, be moved a
half mile east for "safety
Thacker is opposed, and so are
the parachutists who come from all
parts of the world to train at his
"I started this school in 1970,
and there has not been any safety
problems yet," Thacker said.
The jump school is set up to
train "advanced competitors" as
well as beginners.
According to Thacker most of
his business comes from com
petitors who have made thousands
These people are trained and
know what they are doing,
The many parachutists who
come to train with Thacker bring a
lot of business to the Hoke County
area, Thacker said.
Some stay five weeks, others
"These people come to Hoke
County because of the jump
school, if it wasn't here they would
not be here either," Thacker said.
"We've got people from Com
munist Yugoslovia coming here to
jump, and we are the first ever to
have this," Thacker said.
"This is the best place in the
U.S. to train for individual com
petition," Executive Director of
the U.S. Parachute Association
William Ottley said.
Ottley' was at the school in
Raeford last week.
According to Ottley, Thacker's
experience and professionalism
brings him down from Washington
several times a year.
"This is the most well organized
place 1 have ever been to," Ottley
"It is all due to Gene Paul,"
Many of Thacker's students feel
he brings a great deal to the men
and women who look to him for
advice and guidance.
"1 can't get the kind of training
and coaching Gene Paul provides
anywhere else," Canadian Lisa
Olsen also travels to Raeford
several times a year to prepare for
the parachute competitions.
For Thacker, who was a member
of the Golden Knights back in the
early 1960's, the jump school is a
dream come true.
"I've made a good living out
here, and I'll be the first to admit
it," Thacker said adding that he
has had to work eight to 10 hour
days to get where he is now.
"I love what I'm doing, and not
many people can say that these
days," Thacker said.
As for the conflict with the city,
Thackcr and the parachutists think
it is "pure nonsense."
"This is absurd. In the whole
history of parachuting which in
cludes hundreds of millions of
jumps, there has been only one ac
cident involving a plane and a
parachutist," Ottley said.
"Gene has a firm control on
things out here, and I can't believe
people think it is an unsafe opera
tion," Olsen said.
"Many of us have jumped in a
lot of places across the country and
the world, and this is one of the
safest jump sites around," Olsen
"The people of the area should
appreciate what Gene has done for
this county and not try and uproot
what he has built up," Ottley said,
emphasizing that Thacker had put
Raeford on the map.
Thacker, too, believes he has
helped and not hurt the airport.
"The traffic that the jump
school produced opened the door
for the airport runway to be
paved," Thacker said.
According to Thacker federal
funds would not have been
available to pave the runway had it
not been for the traffic his jump
Thacker doesn't seem to want a
battle, but said he is ready to de
fend his territory if "the need
"This whole thing is silly. If
people would just come out and
have a look for themselves, they
would see that there is no danger
or any cause for all the uproar,"
While the city prepares to make
its next move, Thacker stands in
the wings coaching and training
the world class champs that have
made a name for Raeford and his
jump school all over the world.
"I love the work, and I'm very
proud of these men and women,"
Leader of the pack
Gene Paul Thacker, Instructor, mentor and friend to hundreds of men and women from all over the world. Ac
cording to Thacker, competitors come to hb jump school from Hong Kong, Canada, Germany and many other
foreign countries as well as people from across the United States.