EL CENTRO — The U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Team, the Blue Angels, arrived in El Centro early Wednesday afternoon to begin their three months of winter training and fine tuning their aerobatic skills under the spacious, clear blue skies of Imperial Valley.
“This is our 50th year coming to El Centro,” said Blue Angels Commanding Officer Ryan Bernacchi, who flies the Boeing F/A-18 Hornet jet number one.
Imperial Valley’s wide air space and flatlands provide ideal training grounds for the Blue Angels and naval aviation students as well. “There’s nowhere else like it. So many of us come here as students to learn to fly, and learn tactics. But for us, the biggest thing for the Blue Angels is that the Imperial Valley provides an unmatched weather and airspace combination,” said Cdr. Bernacchi, USN.
In addition to the abundant sunshine in the region, it is also the people and their warmth and hospitality that appeals to the team. According to Cdr. Bernacchi, “Everybody is so welcoming when we come here. We feel like we’re home when we see El Centro come into view. Nice warm air just feels like we’re home. So we love being here.”
The Blue Angels flight demonstration team, 130 individuals in all, arrive at the Naval Air Facility El Centro at varying timetables. Some of the team members came in before Christmas in preparation for the arrival of the rest of the squadron according to Cdr. Bernacchi.
“We’ve got the seven initial jets here today. We’ve got a C-40 —which is full of most of our people and luggage. We also have a C-130 coming in with more people and a bunch of more equipment and cargo. And about three semi-trucks full of stuff.”
NAF El Centro Public Affairs Officer Kristopher Haugh said the presence of the Blue Angels can be a source of pride for Imperial Valley residents. “It’s very good and a proud moment for our community to be able to have them here. And this going on 50 years, so they must love us,” said Haugh.
Cdr. Bernacchi said there will be at least 120 flights between now until March. “We will fly six days a week typically, anywhere around between 12-15 flights a week.”
Furthermore, Cdr. Bernacchi said their mission is “To showcase the pride and professionalism of the Navy Marine Corps and to demonstrate a culture of excellence in serving our country. It is our privilege to wear this uniform and take what we do all around the country and show what we can accomplish through our teamwork and are professionalism.”
When asked about his experience as commanding officer, also called the “Boss,” of the Blue Angels flight demonstration team, he said, “It is just incredibly invigorating to be around a team of 130 people. All of them care so deeply about their mission. All of them worked tirelessly and give everything they’ve got to execute in the mission to the best of their ability. And the results that we get out of that are really something special.”
Expectedly during their winter training, the Blue Angels Boeing F/A-18 Hornet jets will be seen flying in different formations in the skies of the Imperial Valley, often, leaving behind smoke trails to display their precise maneuvers.
People can watch the Blue Angels honing their aerobatic skills along pathways above their homes and in the agricultural fields. However, Haugh said, Sunbeam Lake in Seeley is a great place to watch the practice sessions.
The culmination of their practice is the airshow on March 11 which signals the beginning of the Blue Angels season.
For more information about the Blue Angels, and the 2017-2018 air show schedules, please visit their website at www.blueangels.navy.mil.