Fourth of July revelers in Caldwell turned toward the sky this year not for fireworks but for the spectacle of a man jumping out of a plane with a 1,800-square-foot flag waving high over their heads.
That man is 24-year-old John Alcorn, a skydiving instructor at Sky Down Aviation in Caldwell. The flag jump has become a tradition to start the city’s Fourth of July parade for the last five years, Sky Down co-owner Denise Janes said.
“The feedback we’ve had is that it was just phenomenal,” Janes said.
This year was Alcorn’s first time getting to do the honor.
“It was the craziest experience I’ve ever had,” Alcorn said. “Getting to fly the flag for a crowd on the Fourth of July was an honor. It definitely got the heart beating.”
Alcorn first jumped out of a plane when he was just 16 and became licensed at 17. Since then, he’s performed close to 2,000 jumps. That includes getting to skydive into the Jimmy Fallon-themed corn maze in Meridian last year as part of a bit on “The Tonight Show.”
“I love what I do,” Alcorn said. “It’s not a job, it’s a passion.”
Alcorn, who grew up in Caldwell and saw people skydiving at Sky Down, said skydiving was always something he wanted to do. He held a more traditional job in sales at a tractor business, but Alcorn couldn’t stay grounded. Alcorn said he went skydiving on his lunch breaks and got jumps in before and after work.
Now that skydiving has become his job, Alcorn gets to skydive seven days a week during the season — which lasts four or five months — and typically jumps 40 times a week.
“John brings such a positive attitude to work and wants to help people,” Janes said. “He has a love for the sport and anything aviation related.”
Alcorn recalled special tandem jumps with paraplegics and a woman who has multiple sclerosis who wanted to skydive while she still had the chance.
He said those jumps keep him from getting burnt out on the job.
“There’s always something to light your fire, again,” he said. “Those are the jumps that keep you going.”
Sky Down is in its 22nd season and is the longest running, single-owner drop zone in the state of Idaho, Janes said.
“We’re really proud of that,” she said.
The business operates out of the Caldwell airport, where skydivers are visible from Interstate 84.
Janes said Sky Down gets anywhere from 50 to 75 people who see skydivers as they drive by and spontaneously decide to sign up for a jump. During the season, Sky Down is open seven days a week, just in case.
“You never know when the bug will bite and someone will want to jump out of an airplane,” Janes said.
People choose skydiving as a way to celebrate birthdays, marriages, divorces and other major life events, she said. It’s also a popular item to cross off the “bucket list.”
That’s how Janes got into skydiving. She originally planned to work her way up from paragliding, to learning to fly and eventually skydiving to cross off her list. Instead, she reversed that and started with skydiving.
Janes said working around people skydiving every day is a fulfilling job that keeps her young.
“It’s really fulfilling to see people challenging themselves and releasing their inner strength,” Janes said.
Some of Sky Down’s customers have never flown before, Janes said, and choose to jump out of the first plane they’ve traveled in.
Alcorn said he stays calm and tries to comfort people who are feeling nervous about jumping to put them at ease and reassure them.
“The people who are the most scared to do it end up having the most fun,” he said.
Flying is what puts Alcorn at ease, and he said he can’t imagine sitting at a desk all day and missing out on the spectacular views that come as a perk at his job.
“It’s not a job, it’s just passion,” Alcorn said.