SSC-Natick Press Release
U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center-Natick
Public Affairs Office
Natick, MA 01760-5012
Contact: Chief, Public Affairs Office
Date: July 16, 2004
Employee reaches airborne milestone
NATICK, Mass. -- Peter Stalker first jumped out of an airplane as a 19-year-old Soldier in 1953 and today still jumps out of military aircraft as a Department of the Army civilian employee.
The team leader for the Parachute Prototype Facility here joined eight civilian employees and Soldiers from the Natick Aerial Delivery Life Cycle Team for a static line parachute jump at Fort Benning, Ga., May 25 to commemorate the 51st anniversary of his airborne school graduation.
"It was marvelous. The C-17 (airplane) is as nice as your living room," Stalker said, who's recorded more than 3,000 jumps in his lifetime. "It doesn't seem to bother me physically. I like the impact. I enjoy the bang."
Back in his Army days, make that also a punch.
The Massachusetts native enlisted in 1952 as an infantryman in a heavy weapons platoon and decided to go airborne for the extra pay. At airborne school in Fort Benning, he was selected to become an instructor, but during a parachute entanglement with another student in the jumpmaster course, he broke his foot.
During his recovery, an opportunity opened to join the post boxing team, which led to assisting the boxing team at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He kept his jump status with a small airborne unit.
Leaving the Army in 1955, he pursued a professional boxing career that he ended after five fights. He also trained to become a private pilot and remained involved with parachuting, this time skydiving with a school he opened in Pepperell, Mass., and barnstorming at local fairs around New England. Their performances were years before the establishment of military jump teams, such as the Golden Knights.
"I needed the money, anything for $100," Stalker said, which supplemented income as a toolmaker to support him and his family. "There was nothing you could read about (skydiving). We learned it after about a year of beating ourselves up. We made more tree landings than field landings."
Once an updraft carried his parachute from about 2,000 feet to 16,000 feet before he was able to break out of it and land at a country club during an armed forces day in New York. On another occasion, he modified his canopy to be able to get extra lift. Instead, he zoomed straight down.
"I was told that it looked like I bounced 10 feet," Stalker said, describing his landing. "My pants split open. The next day I hurt all over, but I didn't break any bones."
Parachuting became more than a side job when Stalker fulfilled a longtime desire for employment at Natick Laboratories, as it was called then, in 1968 when he was hired as a fabric worker at the Parachute Prototype Facility.
The facility fabricates prototype personnel and cargo parachutes, harnesses and accessories, modifies equipment and provides quick-response production.
He continued to jump out of airplanes as a skydiving instructor after work, but it wasn't until the 1980s that Stalker was able to return to jumping for the military. For the first time, civilians responsible for research and development of parachutes were authorized to attend jump school. After a refresher course, Stalker returned to his paratrooper roots.
"This teaming between military and civilians was the brightest decision. It helps give the engineers and designers credibility with the troops," he said. "(Returning) was like I never missed a day. It was a different aircraft but the same feeling. Regardless, there's always a tension. There's a closeness, a feeling that you overcome that fear. If I ever thought my equipment couldn't do the job, I'd be the last person off the plane."
Compared to the T-7 parachute of 1953, the current T-10 is gentler and more forgiving, according to Stalker. Decades of refinement on the T-10 make it a tough parachute to replace, but with heavier combat loads, a replacement to slow the rate of descent is on the way.
He now works closely with industry as a "contractor's troubleshooter," where he can apply his broad expertise that expands outside shop foremanship, said Edward Doucette, director of Airdrop and Aerial Delivery, who's worked with Stalker for 19 years.
"He's really a testament of how smart he is with production. He has a rare skills set," Doucette said. "He's enjoying himself. He loves jumping. I don't think he'd stay if he couldn't jump."
Stalker jumps at least once a quarter to stay qualified, gaining experience with a variety of static-line parachutes, and has a physical every other year to calm any fears of his fitness.
"You don't grow old if you stay with it. We have a jump schedule, and I look forward to it," Stalker said, who has no immediate plans of retiring. "It's been the thrill of my life working here for the Soldier. I just love 'em. Because of that I can't seem to let go."
For more information about the Soldier Systems Center, please visit our website at http://www.natick.army.mil.