…The US Navy Blue Angels
Several weeks ago, my wife and I published a post on our “We Remember Blog” about our then recent visit to the US Navy’s Blue Angels training site. Unfortunately that post was not also made available to the readers of the “Crusty Conservative’s” website.
In response to many requests from “Crusty Conservative” readers, that entire post including pix and video is posted below.
Although the “We Remember Blog’s” primary purpose is to share our memories of growing up in the 1940s and 1950s, there are occasionally memorable current occurences that are “we will never forget” events that we want to record and share with our readers. One of those events occurred last week when, with our grandson Ryan Campopiano, we made an annual 250 mile, 3 day trip to the Mexican border and the small city of El Centro, Ca.
Each January, the US Navy’s Blue Angels precision flying team comes to the El Centro Naval Air Facility for 10 weeks of intense practice and training. Twice each day from January through mid March, the Blue Angels team flies over El Centro, transitioning new pilots into the team, as well as learning and perfecting the maneuvers that will make up the upcoming season’s air show routine. Each week during this training additional, new maneuvers are learned, practiced and incorporated into the Blue Angels’ Demonstration (show) Program. By mid March, when we usually visit them, their program is well perfected and the team is ready for their 50 + show season. The first of these demonstrations is traditionally at the El Centro Air Show in March – This year, last Saturday.
The three of us are extremely fortunate to be part of a small informal group, known to the Blue Angels team as the “Hay Balers”, who have access to a semi-private viewing area less than 50 yards from the end of the El Centro Naval Air Facility’s main runway. The name “Hay Balers” derives from the high stacks of hay bales that the farmer who owns the property leaves each year at this vantage point and serves as a place from which we “Hay Balers” can watch the practices very close up. The hay bales also serve as a marker for the pilots as they perform their intricate maneuvers. On most days 20 or 30 spectators at most attend the daily practices. Some days the group includes a small contingent of the Blue Angels pilots’ spouses. As shown in the picture, many of the spectators (including the pilots’ wives) climb to the top of the 20 to 25 foot high hay stack for prime viewing. At our age however, we are content to sit in lawn chairs at ground level right in front of the stacks and watch from there.
From our vantage point at practice time, we can look across the airfield at the distinctive Blue Angels’ planes, watch the pilots climb in, lower their canopies and start their engines. When the practice is about to begin, the four pilots whose F-18s comprise the main formation called the diamond taxi their planes in precise formation to the opposite end of the runway from the hay bales. At the same time the two solo pilots Ryan Chamberlain #6 and Mark Tedrow #5 taxi their planes to our end of the runway and hold. As they pass the hay stacks, each soloist gives us a big wave and extends us greetings over his radio.
At the appropriate time and at the opposite end of the runway, the Commanding Officer #1 or “Boss” – Captain Tom Frosch gives the order for the pilots in the “Diamond” to start their afterburners and then gives the command “Diamonds Roll”. From our end of the run we first see a cloud of grey, brown smoke from behind the four blue jets and hear a distant roar. Suddenly, four F-18 jets with full afterburners blazing are rushing down the runway directly at us at 400+ mph. About 25 yards from the end of the runway and at the most 50 yards directly in front of us, the four jets in unison become airborne and pass perhaps 50 to 100 feet directly over our heads. What an adrenaline rush! Despite ear plugs, the noise is deafening. Our entire bodies feel the vibrations, our cars shake and car alarms go off as the four massive planes at full throttle pass directly overhead.
The two solo pilots then taxi to the end of the runway and wait as the four planes in the diamond perform their first three or four maneuvers. Then suddenly you are looking directly into the engines and afterburners of the two solo planes as they begin their side by side roll. Number 5, the lead soloist, hits his afterburner as soon as he begins his roll and before the mid-point of the runway is airborne and traveling straight up at 30,000 feet per minute. After the lead soloist quickly performs a number of loops and rolls, the opposing soloist (#6) hits his afterburner and joins # 5 in a number of looping and passing maneuvers. Thus the Blue Angels 40 minute demonstration begins directly over our heads. At times the planes appear to be at ground level and aiming directly for the hat bales and the “hay balers” only to pull up into a steep climb, a roll or a loop at the last second. What a show especially from such a close vantage point.
Each year on the Friday night before the El Centro Show, the base opens its gates and throwsa big party for the Blue Angels team complete with sky divers, motorcycle dare devils and fireworks. During the course of the evening, we have the opportunity and privilege to mix, meet and socialize with the entire Blue Angels team. When we tell the various teammembers that we are “Hay Balers”, each and everyone lights up with a big smile, gives us a very warm hand shake and believe it or not sincerely thanks us for our interest in and loyalty to the Blue Angels.
Sometimes Pat even gets a tight hug from one of the team.
What a fine group of young American Servicemen and Servicewomen! It makes you proud to be an American and be able to say that you saw and met some of America’s finest –
the US Navy Blue Angels
“Up Close & Personal”.
“The Good Lord and Our Banker Be Willing”, we will go back next year, but if we cannot our previous trips to El Centro will be adventures that –
“We (Will Always) Remember”.
Pat & Frank Fleming
Note – Our friends and fellow “Hay Balers” Mike & Kathy Witman from Milliken, CO spend every winter in El Centro and attend each and every Blue Angels practice from January to March. Mike is an accomplished video photographer and video tapes every practice which he then posts on You Tube daily
The video below was recorded by Mike from the top of the hay stacks last Thursday (3/12/15) – the same day that we attended a practice at that location. Mike’s video gives you a view of a Blue Angels demonstration from the “Hay Balers” perspective that we have come to enjoy and appreciate.
A couple of viewing notes if you watch the video:
- The young ladies shown on top of the Hay Stack at the beginning of the video are all wives of Blue Angel pilots
- Notice that when the soloists in planes # 5 & # 6 pass us and taxi into their holding positions, each of them give us a big wave and extend greeting to us via their radios.
- The guttural voice that you hear in the background during the demonstration is that of the Blue Angels Commanding Officer – Captain Tom Frosch calling cadence for the team (a liiiiiiiitle moooooore powerrrrrrrrrr) or giving commands (…..Brrrrrreak!) to the team
- When the Blue Angels at the end of the video the pilots turn on their landing lights and line up to land (about 18 minutes into the video) watch closely as each pilot gives the “Hay Balers” a big wave as they pass over the hay stacks.
Thank You Kathy & Mike!
The Crusty Conservative
The Crusty Conservative
“… individuals may injure a whole society, by not declaring their sentiments.
It is therefore not only their right, but their duty, to declare them.”
–John Dickinson, Letters of Fabius, 1788