Even the pilots are impressed by the experience, according to Commander Ryan Bernacchi, who has been flying for more than 20 years with the Navy. Bernacchi is the flight leader, making many of the formation radio calls to the five other planes.
Bernacchi said he’s “very grateful and extremely humbled” to work with the U.S. Navy-Marine Corps Blue Angels, which began in 1946 and has a crew of more than 100 people. On Saturday and Sunday, the Blue Angels will headline the third annual New York Air Show at Stewart International Airport.
While it takes plenty of hard work to become a Blue Angel, the work doesn’t stop there. The job demands constant practice to make sure the routines are memorized.
“There’s a lot of trust, a lot of teamwork,” Bernacchi said. “And it’s a lot of practice.”
Bernacchi called the practice schedule “procedural,” saying that practices are done in nearly the exact same way every time.
Through repetition, the pilots are able to fly challenging formations no matter what other variables there are, like weather or wind, Bernacchi said.
The Blue Angels fly the F/A-18 Hornet, a single-seat, twin-engine fighter, and the formations are what real pilots learn for tactical missions. The opposing solos flight formation is essentially a dog-fight simulation performed at a much lower altitude, Bernacchi said.
Those routines require the planes to be in tip-top working order, a responsibility that falls on crew chief Jonathan Cronin.
Cronin, 32, has an extra level of pride in the jets, which cost about $28.5 million each, he said.
“I’m the first one to inspect these jets every morning, and the last one to inspect them every night,” he said.
As a Bronx native, Cronin is especially happy to be back in New York during his final season with the Blue Angels. Typically, pilots and crew members spend two to four years with the team before moving on.
He’s glad to help with the Blue Angels’ mission — showing younger generations about the professionalism and excellence of the Navy and Marine Corps — especially since many of the places they visit don’t have a large military presence.
“It’s just trying to inspire a culture of excellence,” he said. “Growing up in New York City, I had no idea what a Blue Angel was.”
Steve Neuhaus, Orange County executive and a lieutenant in the Navy Reserves, said that the Blue Angels spark a certain energy.
That energy and prestige the Blue Angels bring is why the New York Air Show changed dates for 2017.
When the Blue Angels have an opening, you take it, Neuhaus said.