Gale and Jane Tart’s grandson Caleb Ferguson is following in his grandfather’s footsteps — and then some.
Caleb is a second-year cadet at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs and hopes to become a pilot like Mr. Tart when he graduates from the academy. For those who don’t know, Mr. Tart was a fighter pilot in Vietnam who flew over 100 combat missions in F-105’s.
Until then, the 20-year-old has added a new dimension to the dream, he’s become a champion parachutist. Yes, that’s right a champion parachutist.
“He went there and started playing lacrosse then went through the jump school during the summer program,” Mr. Tart said. “He got his jump wings then decided to try out for the cadet jump team.”
Caleb’s successful venture to join the competitive jump team led him to Arizona and the 2018 U.S. Parachute Association National Collegiate Parachuting Championships. The event, which took place near Phoenix, is listed as the oldest and biggest collegiate skydiving event in the world.
Jumping from around two miles high in the Two-Man Advanced competition, he and his partner raced against the clock as they performed various routines and freefall formations before they opened their chutes.
The tandem were good enough to earn the gold medal.
“I went through parachute training as far as ejection seats and parachutes, but I did not get jump wings,” Mr. Tart said. “He’s absolutely taken it to a new level. A few guys went to jump school, but I did not go to jump school.”
The two have discussed the part about being a pilot and flying aircraft, according to Mr. Tart. He says they speak about it often when given the opportunity.
“We talk about it quite frequently when he’s home,” Mr. Tart said. “He’s pretty quiet and does his own thing, but we do talk about it.”
Mr. Tart admits a little surprise when he learned of his grandson’s decision to be a parachutist. Not so much that he wanted to jump out of aircraft, but rather he was choosing to give up the sport he played in high school in Holly Springs.
“Actually I was surprised because I thought he was going to play lacrosse, but he can’t do both,” Mr. Tart said. “So he gave up lacrosse to be on the parachute team. He really kind of took it off on his own, it was his decision. It something where he’s found a niche he wanted to do.”
Mr. Tart admits the desire to jump from an airplane was truly his grandson’s idea. He also admits he was never really excited at the prospect of jumping, even though he does have a respect and admiration for the men of the U.S. Army and others who do such things. He said it just wasn’t for him.
“I never was really enthusiastic about jumping with a parachute,” he said. “I have a lot of admiration for those in the Army who chose to become part of the parachuting corps. I was a fighter pilot for 20 years and never really had a desire to jump out — I came close a couple of times, but I never did.”
Mr. Tart feels as though his grandson is representing the family well. He says Caleb was a great student in high school, is continuing the trend in the Air Force Academy and is a fine young man.
“He did all the competition and all the checklist items it took for him to get into the academy and he’s doing well at the academy, he likes the academy,” Mr. Tart said. “He doesn’t complain about the discipline and the regimentation that is required and he’s very happy and doing really well, we’re really proud of him.”
Mr. Tart admits he was probably the first in his family to take up aviation as a career, and he’s glad Caleb has joined the ranks. Mr. Tart also has a nephew who is an Apache Helicopter pilot for the North Carolina National Guard, so the roots seemed to be taking hold.
“I think I’m the first one but I’ve got two now, if Caleb makes it through flight school,” Mr. Tart said. “It’s pretty rigorous. I think when I went we had about 70 in our class to begin with and when we graduated we had around 40.”