By Josh Pherigo / Assigning Editor –
Packed tightly in the diamond formation they’ve made internationally recognizable, six F/A-18 Hornets roared across the North Texas skyline Thursday afternoon, arriving in style for the Alliance Air Show.
Now in its 64th season, The Blue Angels are the U.S. Navy’s aerial demonstration squadron. The squadron tours the world as ambassadors for the Navy, showcasing the capabilities of U.S. Naval aviation, said Lieutenant Commander Amy Tomlinson. She said most people don’t realize there are 130 Blue Angels and six pilots.
“It’s amazing working with the team,” Tomlinson said. “The enlisted folks deserve the credit. They work longer and harder and don’t get as much credit as they deserve.”
Video by Bernice Quirino / Staff Photographer
After a high-speed, low-level pass, the Angels landed and taxied the glossy blue and gold jets with the same precision they had demonstrated in the air.
It’s a routine the pilots know well, Tomlinson said, especially this late in the year.
Beginning in January each year, the squadron trains for three months, learning the show and familiarizing new members with the fast-paced nature of the Blue Angels’ style.
It can be a pretty steep learning curve, said Logistics Specialist Second Class Bill Kelly.
But it’s an experience the New Jersey native wouldn’t have passed up.
“It’s the best job I’ve ever had,” Kelly said. “Every person wants to be here, and we all work together perfectly to achieve the mission.”
For Kelly, the squadron’s repairables manager, that mission involves supplying the jets with every replaceable part they could need to keep them in the air.
That jobs is harder than it may seem, Kelly said, because underneath the planes’ manicured exterior lies some of the oldest fighters in the fleet.
“Every Blue Angels jet comes here to die,” Kelly said with a slight grin.
Standing next to one of three sparkling Blue & Gold reserve jets parked on the tarmac, Tomlinson, the Angel’s events coordinator explained the value of that glossy finish.
“It’s not just for show,” she said. “The paint job is extremely important, because the pilots use it mid-flight to line up their formations.”
Jets parked, and engines cut, the pilots exited the airplanes.
In dark sunglasses and fitted-light blue flight suits, they climbed down the hoisted ladders and walked to shake hands with crew members on the ground, each placing identical black briefcases in a line on the tarmac. Moments later, a small motorcade of mostly minivans arrived to shuttle them to a debriefing. And like angels, they were gone.
Parked at the edge of the runway, half a mile from its gleaming blue sister jets, sits a much stouter airplane. Affectionately named Fat Albert Airlines, this C-130 Hercules is responsible for all the heavy lifting during the Angels 40 show season.
Operated by a Marine Corps flight crew of three officers and five enlisted personnel, “Bert,” as the crew calls him, flies more than 140,000 miles hauling all necessary maintenance gear to sustain the jets on tour, according to the squadron’s website.
“The best thing I like about flying on this is that it’s one airplane,” said Gunnery Sgt. Ben Thompson. “That’s the best part, the pride of making that airplane work. It’s mine. If it’s down, it’s my responsibility to make it fixed. I make it go.”
And go, it does.
Before taking to the sky in a preview performance before a crowd of hundreds Friday afternoon, Fat Albert Pilot Maj. Brendan Burks briefed his passengers — two Daily staffers — and crew on the specifics of the day’s flight.
Reaching speeds of more than 360 mph 50 feet off the ground, climbing at 45 degree angles and catapulting passengers and crew into four total seconds of zero-gravity, Fat Albert Airlines provides an unforgettable ride, Burks said with a wink.
He was right.