No, they are pilots. Nevertheless, I’m a-gonna review them.
Since this here’s a book blog, we’re going to talk about the flight demonstration as though it were a book. (Books and Blue Angels. What more could a person want?)
Plot: While the flight demonstration has its own plotline, there is a back story to this particular airshow. This was the Blue Angels’ comeback show after a distressing thing that caused the cancellation of some previously scheduled appearances (one of which I had planned to attend—practice show and all; the fact that I was sadder for them than for me is a testimony to the depth of my adoration).
So there was some added drama to the thing because this was their first flight demonstration after the personnel change. Given that fact, and given that it’s still fairly early in the season, I was expecting the formations to be somewhat loose and the maneuvers perhaps a bit loose, also. But man, they looked darn good. There was only one maneuver in which my eye could spot a lack of symmetry. (Oh, it hurts me to say it, but there it was. They’re darn-near perfect, and what they’re doing is hard.)
Anyway, the plot of the flight demonstration itself leads us to the next topic…
Pacing: I’m really not sure how they do it, but it seems to me the Blue Angels just keep tightening up the show, so the time between maneuvers is very short indeed.
So what I’m saying here is: Fast-paced.
We got ourselves an event that just rages forward with a purpose. You shall not be bored. Even if some ingrate were tempted to tune out, the sneak pass would happen, and that’ll get their attention.
At this particular airshow, since the skies were severely overcast and the ceiling low, the Blue Angels did either the low show or the flat show, and I sure as the dickens wish I knew how to tell the difference between the two. So it seemed that we got to see the aircraft up-close a little more than you do when they perform the high show.
Character: It’s in this all-important category that I suffered a disappointment right there on a visit to my home state of Iowa. One of my most favorite things in all the world is to see the Blue Angels on the ground and in the air. And at this show, we didn’t get the full flight-line Blue Angels experience. They took off from another airport and flew in, which always bums me out.
I like to see the walkdown.
I like to see the ground crew.
I like to see the takeoffs.
I like to see the landings.
Doggone it, I like to see the pilots.
However, since my mood on airshow days (see “Tone/Mood” below) is positively altered by jet fumes and general elation, I focused on the characters I could see.
First off, you can, actually, see the pilots, sort of. Check out those gold helmets in those there jets.
That’s CAPT Greg McWherter upside down in #1, LCDR Jim Tomaszeski in #2, MAJ Brent Stevens in #3, and LT Rob Kurrle upside down in #4. The fellas are Double Farvel-ing there; I love it when they Double Farvel.
And here we got LT C.J. Simonsen flying #6 all up into the sky and LT Ben Walborn flying #5 straight and level so as to gain some serious airspeed.
Even if I can only see their helmets as they scream by, I’m still saying hello to them all by name.
And also, I could see the Narrator. On the ground. And that dude’s a pilot, even though he’s on talking duty for a year. He gets to fly the #7 jet, and he does the VIP flights.
(An aside: It is my fervent wish to somehow, someway, in this life, experience a flight in the #7 jet. I have this theory that my clarinet-playing school days have given me a ridiculously strong diaphragm muscle, which would keep me from passing out. Yes, I know I’m deluded. But really, “nearly-supersonic librarian” is a great concept, ain’t it?)
Anyway, so we got to see #7, LT Dave Tickle, the Narrator. And we got to see #8, LCDR Todd Royles, the Events Coordinator (and also a pilot). (That’s them there: LT Tickle on the left, LCDR Royles on the right.)
And the cool thing we saw is the way these two guys work together. I guess, since I’d never seen the Narrator during a show, I never thought about the fact that the guy has his back to the action, so of course he’d need someone to serve as his eyes. That’s #8’s job—he cues #7 when the jets approach, so he knows when to resume the narration (which he has full-on memorized, which is darn bookish; kind of makes me think of the Odyssey and the oral tradition).
Also—and I love this—#8 hands #7 a bottle of water (you can see the water bottles in the picture!) periodically throughout the show. And they do this in a way that you barely even notice—#8 placing the bottle in #7’s left hand, which is positioned behind #7’s back, and then removing it from#7’s hand after he’s taken a drink. (Which, I’m telling you, was necessary. It was about 90 degrees and Iowa-humid out there.)
So we got to see the teamwork, not only in the sky, but also on the ground, even though we missed seeing the ground show.
And it’s the teamwork that I love just as much as the actual glamour of the flight demonstration. The fact that the pilots don’t pre-flight their aircraft, because they trust their crew chief. (Even as a mere private pilot in my younger years, I know this is a huge leap of faith.) The way the ground crew is synchronized in their movements. The way the pilots lower the canopies on their aircraft at the same exact moment.
Tone/Mood: Since they’re complete professionals, the Blue Angels (the ones we could see on the ground, and the ones up there in the sky) don’t allow a person a sense of whether they’re having a wonderful or a terrible day. You gotta love ’em for that. My guess is that they were relieved to be back on the circuit, but perhaps still adjusting after the recent shake-up. But frankly, I ain’t got a clue.
For myself, I get weirdly calm and freakishly positive (“I know it won’t rain”—and guys, it didn’t) on Blue Angels days, so I recovered from the no-ground-show disappointment almost immediately. It helps to have 6 blue jets roaring above in all their splendor.
Language: The Narrator is pretty amazing. The guy’s got 3 different shows memorized, plus different intros, depending on whether there’s a ground show or whether the 6 jets appear out of the clear blue sky (or the cloudy gray sky, in this case). His cadence is distinctive, but it’s also the same cadence from year to year, even though the Narrator changes annually—as last year’s #7 (Narrator) becomes #6 (Opposing Solo) this year, and then becomes #5 (Lead Solo) the following year.
In Summary: If this were a book, I could read it again and again and again. Two days in a row just wasn’t enough.
So, if you, too, just need more, here’s what to do next:
1. Visit the Blue Angels website and click “Inside the Demo.” It’s freakin’ amazing what you can see and hear there.
2. Visit YouTube and look up “Blue Angels.” Clear your schedule, because you’ll be at it for several weeks.
3. Watch the fabulous DVD Blue Angels: A Year in the Life.
4. Read Blue Angels: 50 Years of Precision Flight by Nicholas A. Veronica and Marga B. Fritze (reviewed last year by yours truly).
5. Visit the Blue Angels website and click “Show Information” and get yourself to an airshow. (This is the only item on this list that will give you the thrill of having the insides of your ears vibrate.)