The Blue Angels are hard at work at their winter home of NAF El Centro, California, preparing for the 2017 air show season. After a month or so of training under their belt, the fabled naval aviation outpost hosts visitors from all rungs of the aviation photography community to show off not just the Blue Angels, but also what the base is all about.
Hosting the Navy’s flight demonstration team in the winter is just a small part of the base’s mission. It’s a Mecca of sorts for naval aviation training, with all types of US Navy and Marine Corps aircraft—and even those of other countries—flocking to the base to take advantage of the relatively clear airspace, great weather, and close-by bombing ranges.
Before photographers venture “inside the wire” for an up-close encounter with the Blues and the visiting aircraft, the group often huddles outside the eastern end of the base to catch the action from afar.
Aviation photographers are generally masters at finding even the tiniest advantage in angle and composition offered by their often-limiting perspectives. El Centro is a farming town along California’s Highway 8 that straddles the southern border. With farms come hay bales, and sometimes these are stacked in just the right position to offer an amazing view down the same runway the Blue Angels use for their practice demos. (The rooftops of cars can also do the trick.)
It is under these circumstances that the incredible videos shot below are captured. It has to be the single best angle on terra firma of the Blues’ iconic diamond departure.
I have spent weeks at NAF El Centro over the years snapping some of my favorite photos in my portfolio. The fact that the base has no permanent aircraft and is located near a remote rural town has zero impact on the esprit de corps of the sailors that work there. Of all the bases I have been to, El Centro is the most welcoming and its staff is consistently top notch.
Above all else, their public affairs team is absolutely passionate about and creative when it comes to keeping the public interested and informed about the hard work that goes on there. Do yourself a favor and mark the El Centro Air Show on your calendar—it may not be the biggest in the US, but when it comes to air shows on military bases, it has the most heart.