EL CENTRO – The Blue Angels took the skies over the El Centro Naval Air Facility Saturday morning during their 70th Anniversary Air Show performing several aerial stunts leaving spectators flabbergasted with an amazing presentation.
Referred to as the Blue Angels’ winter home, the Imperial Valley skies have been the team’s training arena for the past ten weeks from January to March. The daring team has accomplished 15 flights per week equaling to 18-20 hours per week.
“Imperial County offers clear skies and beautiful weather for our training needs,” said Blue Angels Slot Pilot Lt. Andy Talbott. “When we train here we feel like we own the skies.”
This year’s event brought in tens of thousands of spectators from as far as Washington, Utah, Arizona, Minnesota, Virginia, Tennessee, Michigan, Arkansas, and including different states of Mexico among many others who enjoyed incredible aerial stunts which included pilots flying upside down while in tight formation.
“My family and I usually come to El Centro to visit family for a couple of weeks during this month,” said Jane Landers, a Michigan resident. “We came to see the Blue Angels three years ago for the first time and our jaws dropped, and since then we have made it a rule to come down during their air show. Our kids enjoy their stunts and all I can say is these pilots are awesome and deserve a lot of respect.”
A total of 16 officers voluntarily serve with the Blue Angels. Each year, the team typically selects three tactical fighter jet pilots, two support officers and one Marine Corps C-130 pilot to relieve departing members. Officers typically serve two years with the team and then return to the fleet after their tours of duty.
“Our mission to showcase the pride, professionalism and mission of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps by being a role model and inspiring the youth with our flight demonstrations and community outreach,” said Talbott.
This year, the Blue Angels are celebrating their 70th Anniversary. Since 1946, the team has performed for more than 484 million fans. On average, the Blue Angels perform 70 different air shows in 35 cities throughout the year. They have been training in El Centro for 49 years, since 1967.
“Best show so far,” said Alan Singh, an Arizona resident. “I love seeing the Blue Angels perform. It’s such a rush seeing their daring maneuvers. It simply wows me every time.”
“It’s always awesome to see these guys!” said Kerie Robinson. “I love how the audience, including myself, go crazy cheering for our servicemen and women. All I have to say is, ‘America loves you and thanks you for your service to our country’.”
This year, turnstiles were installed in an effort to have an exact count of spectators that attended the event.
“We are excited to get a final count and know the exact amount of people who came to the show,” said Kristopher Haugh, Public Affairs Officer at NAF. “There is a lot of guessing here in the Valley, so it’s exciting to finally have an exact count.”
According to Haugh, it takes a total of eight months to prepare for the air show with plans beginning in the month of August.
Career-oriented officers specializing in maintenance, administration, aviation medicine, public affairs and supply fill support positions for the team. The Blue Angels base their selection of officers on professional ability, military bearing and communication skills.
One team member who assures the aircrafts are safe to fly while looking for any discrepancies is Aviation Support Equipment Technician 2nd Class Justin Mowery.
“I look over the aircrafts and make sure they are safe to fly,” said Mowery. “I make sure no fasteners from the intake are missing, tire pressure, and check hydraulics, overall, all the entire maintenance and appearance. We want to make sure our pilots come back safe.”
“I remember being six or seven and seeing the Blue Angels for the first time and since that day, I always wanted to become part of the Blue Angels,” Mowery said. “I absolutely love what I do.”
Flying a WWII, Army Air corp AT-6, also known as T-6 Texan, and performing his “Ballerina Routine” was pilot John Collver who flew the aircraft in honor of U.S. veterans. The aircraft was built in 1944 as a trainer and was used during the Korean War.
Collver has been a pilot since 1968 and has showcased his flying maneuvers over the past 34 years.
“I bought the plane as scrap for $500,” said Collver. “I restored it and now it is valued at $200,000. I am proud of flying this vintage aircraft during the Blue Angels performance.”
Collver played music from the 1940s during his demonstration flight, bringing WWII veterans memories of their past.
“I put all of my feelings into my flying,” said Collver.
The rounded, yellow and blue C-130 Hercules affectionately known as “Fat Albert” also roared through the skies with a dynamic performance.
“Fat Albert” is the laboring pack mule on which much of the Navy’s Blue Angels show depends, transporting people, supplies and tools between the 70 shows put on annually. Without a doubt, literally “Fat Albert” and its crew are the ones responsible for all of the “heavy lifting.”[envira-gallery id=”73584″]