ST. GEORGE – The tranquil blue skies of Southern Utah are about to get a little bit louder as the Thunder Over Utah air show gears up to thrill aviation enthusiasts and spectators alike with high-speed maneuvers executed at close proximity. If you look up, you might just see an angel.
The United States Navy Blue Angels, along with the U.S. Army Golden Knights and others, are set to take to the air on Saturday and Sunday in a high-flying spectacle of power, speed, control and precision.
More than 15,000 spectators young and old are expected to attend the show over the course of the weekend, and all eyes will be directed skyward to witness the grace and skill and of these elite flyers and their aircraft.
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Videocast by John Teas, St. George News
“You guys are in store for a fabulous show this weekend,” public affairs and safety officer Lieutenant Junior Grade Amber Lynn Daniel said. “You are going to see a lot of dynamic maneuvers. These are moves that are actually utilized by aviators out in the fleet.”
Pride, patriotism and near perfection will be on full display to the adoring eyes of the attending crowd; but that perfection has been the result of a long road of hard work and something the crowd doesn’t get to see, at least not directly: practice and persistence.
Road to the runway
Everybody’s path to the armed services is different. For Daniel, hers was influenced by her husband’s service as a sailor, she said.
Originally a broadcast journalist, Daniel wasn’t commissioned in the Navy until she was almost 30; but when her husband was deployed to Afghanistan, she recognized a desire within herself to tell his story – but not just as a journalist.
“While he was there,” Daniel said of her husband’s deployment, “I realized that there was this story – that these sailors were serving in Afghanistan – and I really wanted to tell that story, and I wanted to do it in uniform.”
Petty Officer Hospital Corpsman First Class Benjamin Hernandez, of Murray, Utah, comes from a military family. His grandfather was Navy and always told him stories while he was growing up, he said; so when he had the chance, he joined the Navy.
Hernandez studied medicine and aviation and jumped at the opportunity to serve on the Blue Angels crew.
“When I had the opportunity to apply for the Blue Angels, I jumped on it,” Hernandez said. “I couldn’t turn something down like that.”
Excitement and desire notwithstanding, the Blue Angels is an elite team, and for both Daniel and Hernandez, the road to the runway was a difficult challenge – it took Daniel three attempts, she said.
Practice, persistence, patriotism
It could be the unofficial motto of the Blue Angels, but the idiom “practice makes perfect” rings really true for these precision pilots.
The Angels begin training in January each year and spend three months flying three times a day, Daniel said. By the time show season arrives, the pilots are able to perform complicated maneuvers, including their famous Delta formation – a close proximity formation in which pilots fly their aircraft, the F/A-18 Hornets, at a distance of only 18 inches apart from wingtip to wingtip.
“As we continue to do these shows, they continue to get closer – refining that talent, refining those maneuvers to the fabulous show you will see here this weekend,” Daniel said.
Physical fitness and training are the key components for the Blue Angels pilots, she added; they have mandatory daily workouts to be able to handle the forces experienced in flight, and they train all day every day.
For Hernandez, one of his jobs is making sure the team eats well even as they travel – which can often be tough, Daniel said.
Additionally, pilots practice and perform in all sorts of temperatures and locations as they travel the United States, and though Daniel acknowledged the St. George heat, she said it was no different from what servicemen and servicewomen all over the world experience.
“Yes, (it is) hot here in St. George,” Daniel said. “I am pretty sure it is hot in Afghanistan, too.”
The Blue Angels might be the showy face of the Navy, but they are also real servicemen and servicewomen with a supreme love for their country and the people they serve with.
Public affairs representative Mass Communication Specialist First Class Eric Rowley began watching Blue Angels perform when he was 6, and he was interested in aviation ever since, he said. Rowley joined the Navy and then the Blue Angels as soon as he got the opportunity.
As a member of the Blue Angels team, Rowley said he considers it an honor to represent the sailors and marines who are out there fighting the hard fight.
Daniel echoed those sentiments, stating that each show is a reminder to her of why she chose to serve.
“The sense of patriotism I feel when men and women come up and say ‘thank you for your service,’” Daniel said, “we take that back and we tell the fleet ‘everyone is behind you and they are pulling for you.’ The Blue Angels is America’s team.’”
What it takes to be a Blue Angel and succeed in life
For the young boys and girls who look to the Blue Angels and other servicemen as heroes and think “some day that will be me,” the team offered a little bit of advice.
It might sound simple and basic, but the Angels outlined a few key ingredients to reach the top:
- Stay in school.
- Keep your body and mind clean.
- Never give up.
“Everyone can serve their country,” Daniel said. “Maybe you’re not going to do it in uniform; maybe you are going to be a fantastic baseball player; maybe you are going to be a doctor. But at the end of the day, you need to get your education – you need to take care of your physical fitness and you need to live up to your potential.”
Click on photo to enlarge it, then use your left-right arrow keys to cycle through the gallery.
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