Monday, March 30, 2015

Soaring, spinning and speeding with the Blue Angels

Soaring, spinning and speeding with the Blue Angels...

Soaring, spinning and speeding with the Blue Angels          

The Blue Angels perform, on average, for more than 11 million spectators annually, with an intense schedule that keeps them in the air across the nation each weekend from March until November. Their annual budget, funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, was $37 million in 2011.


Since their first show on June 15, 1946 in Jacksonville, Fla., there have been 35 flight leaders / commanders and 251 demonstration pilots. The application process to become a Blue Angel, is rigorous. Only elite pilots are worthy. Each applicant must be a career-oriented, career-qualified active duty Navy or Marine Corps tactical jet pilot with at least 1,250 hours of flying time. Applicants follow typical chain-of-command procedures. They submit a statement, letters of recommendation and flight records. Current team members vote whether or not to accept a new team member, and each selection must be unanimously approved.
During the show, the pilots perform an array of formation loops, barrel rolls and transitions from their popular Diamond formation into the Solo portion where they put on display the plane’s ability to reach top speeds, make tight corners and high-speed passes.
It’s somewhat a young man’s game, with 33 as the average age of a Blue Angels pilot, who typically serves 2-3 years. While some pilots have attended Navy Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN) it is not a requirement. Chuck Brady (1989-90) is the only Blue Angel to go on and become an astronaut.
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The first African-American member of the Blue Angels was Donnie Cochran in 1986, and he returned seven years later as flight leader. Navy Lt. Cmdr Amy Redditt Tomlinson was named Blue Angel No. 8 in 2010, becoming the first woman to wear a number. Marine Captain Katie Higgins joined the Blue Angels in July 2014, and in the Spring 2015 is expected to become the first female to perform with the Angels, flying the C-130 cargo plane, Fat Albert.
Current flight commander, US Navy Capt. Thomas Frosch, is a decorated pilot with multiple tours of Iraq and Afghanistan, accumulating more than 3,800 flight hours and 830 carrier-assisted landings, according to his biography on the Blue Angels official website. He joined the Blue Angels in Nov. 2012.
There have been 26 members of the Blue Angels killed in action since 1946, approximately 10 percent of those who have served. However, only three fatalities have occurred in the last 30 years.


Of course, the pilots need a nimble, powerful machine to pull off maneuvers in which they accelerate to speeds of 750 miles per hour, climb to 15,000 feet, drop to 50 feet above ground and, at 400 MPH, come within 18 inches of touching wings.
There have been 10 different aircraft used during the Blue Angels history, with the current choice a Boeing F/A-18 Hornet, which weighs 24,500 pounds can climb 30,000 feet in a minute and reach top speeds of 1400 MPH, or Mach 2. (Blue Angels are prohibited from reaching Mach 1, which creates a sonic boom that shatters windows on the ground and causes other damage).
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The Blue Angels show also features a C-130 cargo plane, affectionately nicknamed “Fat Albert”, after the popular children’s animated television show.
To become show ready, the planes are painted in the classic blue-and-gold scheme and undergo other modifications, such as removing the nose cannon to install a smoke fluid system, inverting the fuel pump and installing a stopwatch. All planes that come to the Blue Angels have already served in active duty in either the Navy or Marines.

Behind the strength of our nation’s best pilots commanding incredible aircraft, the Blue Angels have spun, sped and rolled with spine-tingling velocity and precision to become the benchmark for an electric air show unforgettable for anyone fortunate enough to gaze to the sky and watch in awe, full of wonder.

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