Everything You Didn't Know About The Blue Angels

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In this episode, Ward talks about his flight with the Blue Angels, what it takes to make the team, and the transition from the F/A-18C to the F/A-18F Super Hornet.

Without warning the team suddenly pushes back from the conference table and lowers their chairs. Each pilot hunches over, gripping an imaginary stick with his right hand and throttle with his left. Their heads tilt in the same directions they’ll face while flying close formation during the flight. Their eyes narrow in what looks to be a Zen-like trance as the Boss goes through his radio cadence. “Up . . . we . . . go,” the Boss chants. “A . . . little . . . more . . . pull. Easing . . . power. Easing . . . more . . . power. A . . . little . . . pull. Rolling out.” The atmosphere is generally like that of a church congregation at prayer with the Boss playing the role of priest. Then suddenly the team comes out of the trance, pops up in their chairs, and moves back to the table. After reviewing the next maneuvers in the show sequence, they push back once again and go back into the role playing – the Zen state – as the Boss again sings his radio commands. The brief ends with other members of the Team briefing items required by their secondary roles. The supply officer briefs the weather. The maintenance officer briefs the field conditions and which runway they’ll most likely use for takeoff. And just like a regular fleet squadron, the pilots review an “emergency procedure of the day” and any other safety of flight items that might be germane. The main brief ends and the support staff along with the C-130 “Fat Albert” crew files out, but only after shaking each pilot’s hand. One can sense that these traditions aren’t arbitrary. They underwrite the intangibles that surround the Blue Angels’ mission, one that’s not reckless but inherently hazardous nonetheless. After a short van ride from the hangar to the flight line, the Blue Angels march over to man up, peeling off in front of their respective jets in a 90-degree pivot at each Hornet’s nose. Each gets in without a lot of fanfare. The pilots apply electrical power to their jets, and after a quick radio check the canopies come down. They taxi to the duty runway in numerical order, waving and giving the thumbs up to the enthusiastic crowd as they pass. Soon they’re in position for takeoff. The Boss calls over the radio: “Let’s run ’em up . . . smoke, on . . . off brakes now . . . burners ready now . . .” and 1 through 4 are on their way down the runway. They’re barely off the ground when No. 4 slides from the right wing into the slot as the four airplanes simultaneously raise their landing gear.

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