NAF EL CENTRO, CA - Midway through their winter training, the Blue Angels look forward to their first show of the year at Naval Air Facility El Centro, a dream for Lt. Mark Tedrow, his first year on the team.
"There are actually 120 training flights prior to our first public demonstration for all the demonstration pilots so that is a requirement to fulfill prior to performing in front of a public demonstration, a public audience," says Lt. Tedrow, who flies Blue Angels #7. "It's a big number as you can imagine from January to the middle of March. These guys fly two sometimes three times a day."
Lt. Tedrow's Crew Chief, Sgt. Kyle Storm, says the Blue Angels' support crew take pride in backing up the pilots.
"We'll inspect the engines and do an overall walk around the jet and make sure there are no leaks, no cracks or anything. We'll get into the aircraft, we'll get both engines online and started," says Sgt. Storm. "And once that happens, we have power to the aircraft and all the systems that the pilot we need to do the demonstrations."
The Blue Angels are the only pilots in the entire military fleet that don't pre-flight their aircraft.
"Our pilots have a lot of trust in us. That way, they don't do what the normal fleet pilots do," explains Sgt. Storm. "Normally, they'll do the walk around. We do all that for them so we shake their hand and get of that ladder, they have a 100-percent confidence that we deliver the best product we can."
Lt. Katie Kelly says the support crew conducts "morning turns," a Blue Angels ritual.
"That's where our maintainers go out every single morning and they're going to do is do a FOD walkdown," says Lt. Katie Kelly, a spokesperson for the Blue Angels. "That's a foreign object walkdown just to make sure there's nothing on the ground that could get blown up into the intake of one of the jets and ruin an engine."
Maintainers check for irregularities that could compromise safety.
"We will look up in there and they will pop out about an inch to tell you that the filters are bad. So we'll call the respective work center to change it," says LS2 Vania Reid, who works as a crew chief for Lt. C.J. Simonsen, who flies Blue Angels #5.
Attention to minute details contribute to a flawless show.
"We'll check the pressure of the landing gear to make sure everything is good when a pilot goes up," says LS2 Reid. "When he's ready to land, the landing gear is safe for him to land."
The Blue Angels say its team develops trust and confidence throughout the flying season.
"We start out the season here in El Centro and we are very, very far apart, really wide. Our jets won't even look like they're hitting each other," says Lt. Simonsen. "As the season progresses, we get closer and closer, closer. And the diamond is the exact same thing. We start out really far apart as the season goes, they're going to get closer and closer."
Lt. Simonsen says the team stays challenged by upping its game over time, never settling for less.
"Three months in, we're going to move our sets closer, six months in, we're going to move in even closer. At the end of the year, we're at the closest that we'll ever be," says Lt. Simonsen. "It kind of keeps you on-edge, keeps you a little bit not comfortable and, you know, you're always focused on that new position."
"There are some teams out there that will stay in the same position all year long and we get tighter and tighter as the year goes on. So towards the September timeframe is kind of when we're the closest that we'll be all year. And that's a safety measure, which doesn't sound like it, but it keeps us on our toes."
Lt. Mark Tedrow says its pilots and support crew are ready to shine.
"El Centro has been great. We've been doing a lot of great winter training, what we need to get ready for the show season," says Lt. Tedrow. "Everyone can see the great work that we've put in and I think it will show in our first demonstration."
The Blue Angels' first show will be Saturday, March 10, at NAF El Centro. Over the flying season, they will have 70 performances in 35 cities.
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