As chief judge at the 2019 USPA National Collegiate Skydiving Championships at Florida Skydiving Center in Lake Wales, Kirk M. Knight chose to receive USPA’s prestigious Gold Medal for Meritorious Service—bestowed on him by unanimous acclaim of the USPA Board of Directors earlier in the year—at the banquet following the event. In so doing, Knight gave collegiate competitors and their supporters the opportunity to be a part of skydiving history.
Knight began his skydiving journey as a 19-year-old enlistee in the U.S. Army. He made his first parachute jump in 1965 to qualify for his airborne wings before being shipped to Vietnam as an infantryman and mortarman. It was the first of three tours of duty to the war zone. He made his first civilian jump in 1966 with the military club at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, and joined the Parachute Club of America (USPA’s predecessor), becoming member number 8797. In 1967, it was back to Vietnam, this time as a long-range patrol leader. Once stateside again, he continued jumping and earned B-6573 in 1968 and C-6164 in 1969 while jumping at Florida DZs owned by Paul Poppenhager and Jimmy Godwin. Then in 1971, after Infantry Officer Candidate School and Army Aviation School, Knight returned to Vietnam a third time as a pilot flying L-19 observation planes.
After returning from Vietnam for the final time, skydiving took a backseat for a few years as Knight settled in at home and started a family. However, it was soon game-on again for the sport, and in 1980 he earned his D license and began accumulating instructional ratings. He first earned a static-line rating and then followed that up by earning an accelerated freefall instructor rating (at a time when the rating was relatively new and very difficult to achieve). He soon earned his examiner ratings for both methods of instruction, as well as a USPA PRO rating and, when USPA instituted it, a Coach Examiner rating. During this time, he volunteered his instructional services to the Ft. Rucker Parachute Club, where he trained hundreds of military personnel to become skydivers.
Knight also gravitated toward competition, and was a devotee of para-ski, a discipline combining giant slalom skiing and mountainside skydiving accuracy. He not only competed but served as leader of the U.S. Para-Ski Team at several world para-ski championships. The U.S. Army noticed his dedication to competition and safety, and in 1989 appointed him commander of the famed U.S. Army Parachute Team—the Golden Knights. During his three-year command, the Golden Knights racked up multiple national and international titles and gold medals in 4- and 8-way formation skydiving.
Knight retired as a colonel from the U.S. Army in 1999, which gave him time for more skydiving. As a Department of Defense civilian, he joined the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) Para-Commandos, a demonstration team. This professional team jumps into very high-profile events—including National Football League and Major League Baseball games—as well as airshows and other special occasions. Knight’s interest in competition also led him to earn several regional, national and Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (international) judge ratings, in addition to the style and accuracy judge ratings he earned in the late 1980s.
With 6,650 jumps, a current PRO rating, five current instructional ratings and 11 current regional, national and international judge ratings, Knight is still very active in the sport. He is also very active in preserving the history of the sport and is a trustee of the International Skydiving Museum and Hall of Fame. In addition, Knight has contributed financially to the causes he cares about, making significant donations to the museum, as well as the U.S. Parachute Team and the U.S. Team Trust Fund.
Knight received his Gold Medal for Meritorious Service, which honors “outstanding Americans who, by their efforts over a period of years, have made significant contributions to the skydiving community,” at the closing banquet of the National Collegiate Skydiving Championships. USPA Executive Director Ed Scott presented him with the medal, whose citation reads, “For over 40 years of dedication to skydiving, both military and civilian, as an international judge, competitor and role model, and for his immense contributions to the International Skydiving Museum and Hall of Fame.”