EL CENTRO – The Naval Air Facility gates opened to the Imperial Valley for the 8th Annual Entertainment and Food Festival, Friday night, allowing members of the Blue Angels’ team to mingle, sign autographs, and take pictures with the community before the first air show of the season.
The Blue Angels, based out of Pensacola, Florida spent three months calling El Centro their winter home. Arriving this year on January 2nd, and leaving Monday, March 16, the elite team now begins their air show season amazing crowds throughout the United States.
With 135 members on the Blue Angels’ team, the Imperial Valley desert is ideal for training, making it possible for new and seasoned pilots to practice flying up to 14 inches apart, two to three times a day.
The seven Boeing F/A-18 pilots and three C130 cargo transport pilots, affectionately known as Fat Albert, makeup only a portion of the Blue Angels’ team, there is also 118 maintenance crew members and seven support officers.
“We’re here to represent the Marines and sailors that can’t represent themselves, by putting on an airshow for civilians to remind them of the military men and woman defending our great nation around the world,” said Blue Angels Maintenance Crew Member PR1 Curtis Matthews.
Every member of the maintenance crew applied for the chance to become a Blue Angel, submitting packages and participating in a week-long screening process, according to Matthews.
The Blue Angels’ team will visit an estimated 35 show sites over the following year, performing between 65 and 66 shows, with the Naval Air Facility Air Show in El Centro jump starting their season.
Pride and honor were evident, and a reoccurring theme, in the men and woman that make-up the Blue Angels.
“It’s an honor to represent the 535,000 sailors and Marines stationed around the world,” said AM1 Mike Hern.
Even though officers are required to go to every show, only 35 members of the maintenance crew are present during any one show, rotating between shows and working at Naval Air Station Pensacola, with the exception of winter training at NAF El Centro.
During winter training, the Blue Angels’ team trained six days a week, Mondays through Saturdays, with Sundays off.
In the upcoming months, a typical work week will begin on Tuesday with a practice demonstration and debriefing. Officers will address the needs of the squadron, then the rest of the day is spent on maintenance and administrative tasks.
Wednesday begins with a practice demonstration, followed by a meet and greet afterwards. The team is then briefed on the upcoming show, then departing to their new location later in the day.
Thursday is spent preparing, while Friday is reserved for practice. Saturday and Sunday are show days.
Sunday night everyone on the team heads back to their home base in Pensacola, and Mondays are a well-deserved day off.
There is no doubt that the stars of the Blue Angels are credited to their many talented pilots. Yet, the Blue Angels are made up of many men and woman who take pride in working together with the pilots. From the officers and enlisted men who compose the maintenance team to the crew chiefs, maintenance control, public affairs, airframes, quality assurance, life support, power plant personnel, logistics, avionics, paint shop, video, and events coordinator these serviceman work six days out of the week. They all put in long hours to create a Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron that represents not just the best of the Navy and Marine Corp, but also our nation.[envira-gallery id=”53195″]