The US Navy’s Blue Angels are returning to the skies after being grounded for most of last year due to budget cuts and restrictions. The elite aviation team, known for their acrobatics and daredevil stunts, appeared yesterday at the Naval Air Facility in El Centro, California.
While the fighter jets had not been seen by any crowds for most of 2013, the team had been training at their Pensacola, FL location. The US Navy canceled the Blue Angels’ remaining performances for the year last April, citing budgetary constraints. Now the Navy has confirmed that they will be reappearing at air shows starting this Spring.
Over 30,000 people attended the air show in El Centro, where the iconic blue and yellow F/A-18 fighter jets performed precision bank rolls and stunts. Blue Angel spokeswoman, Amber Lynn Daniel, recognized the team as an essential tool for the US Navy. “[Our] leadership has sent a loud and clear message that the Blue Angles are both a valuable asset for recruiting and we’re also valuable in showcasing the pride and professionalism of American sailors and marines,” said Daniel.
The aviation team performs stunts that bring the fighter jets at nearly 18 inches apart, in some cases, requiring a fit mind and body to carry out the life-threatening stunts. In anticipation for the US Navy’s Blue Angels to return to the skies, the team trains 6 days a week, both in the air and on the ground. Training can take years to master the art of being a Blue Angel. Lt. Commander Dave Tickle takes his psychical fitness “very seriously. Working out six days a week is no joke,” he said.
Each Blue Angel team member is chosen individually by the US Navy operation fleet forces for their calmness under pressure and skillful flying, coming from all different operational squadrons. Lt. Commander Tickle has logged over 2,000 flight hours. The highest priority is the pilots’ safety. “We’re very comfortable doing it knowing that we always have that margin of safety,” he said, now in his fourth season.
Practice makes perfect, as each team member is required to perform 120 practice demos before performing in an actual show. The team practices out in the desert, where they are constantly monitored in the high-risk situations by an on site doctor. One of the biggest risks is becoming unconscious during the tricky maneuvers, which would immediately have dire consequences.
Lt. Commander Mark DeBuse, a flight surgeon for the Blue Angels, notes that sometimes they operate only 50 feet above the ground. “[Going] unconscious just for a millisecond or a second can be detrimental or catastrophic,” he said. The $30 million aircrafts are capable of flying up to 30,000 feet in under a minute, flying at over 800 miles an hour. The strict practicing sessions make the incredibly dangerous job hold under a 10 percent fatality rate.
The Blue Angles was established in 1946 in order to recruit Americans into the naval and marine corps jet fighter program. The program costs around $40 million annually and has 130 team members who have served in both Afghanistan and Iraq high level missions. The US Navy’s Blue Angels are scheduled to return to the skies for over 30 appearances throughout the rest of the year.
By Nathan Rohenkohl