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Blue Angels draw crowds, even for practice

BRUNSWICK, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — There was a lot of noise in Brunswick Thursday, leaving no doubt the Navy’s Blue Angels are in town.

The famous precision flying team is preparing for the big weekend air show, which is expected to draw tens of thousands of people to Brunswick Landing.

But some people were already on the former Navy base to watch the afternoon practice flights, drawn by the noise and the sight of fast moving planes. Members of the Blue Angels say attracting crowds is a big part of their mission.

Ryan Bernacchi was a child in California when he first saw the Blue Angels fly. He’s now Navy Commander Bernacchi, flight leader for the Blue Angels, with the coveted number “1” on the side of his F-18 Hornet. He remembers dreaming of flying.

“… I thought, wouldn’t it be great to fly an airplane that said ‘Navy’ on the side,” the 21-year Navy veteran said. “Never thought it would be a blue one like these.”

Bernacchi said most of the 130 members of the unit have similar stories.  They also share something else: all the pilots and nearly all the ground crew members have done tours of duty in the Middle East war zone and related trouble spots. All the pilots, the commander said, have seen combat.

Airframe mechanic David McWilliams said he’s been in the Navy eight years, including time in the war zone. He also spoke about the honor of being part of the Blue Angels and said the real applause should go to those on the front lines.

“We take a lot of pride and heart in what we do, we’re what the public sees, but all we are is representing the guys forward deployed. We’re no different from them,” he said.

The Blue Angels will fly another practice session Friday, with a special audience of veterans. Then they will fly for the full air shows Saturday and Sunday.

CDR Bernacchi said they all hope some youngsters in the crowd will be inspired the same way he was, and will eventually become the next generation of pilots for the Navy and Marines.

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