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Blue Angels fly to inspire at the Smoky Mountain Air Show

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The Blue Angels have landed.

The U.S. Navy
flight demonstration squadron flew from their base in Pensacola, Fla.,
Thursday morning and landed at McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base to
prepare for this weekend’s Smoky Mountain Air Show.

Lt. Ryan Chamberlain, who flies
as Blue Angel No. 5, said the squad is excited to be performing at
McGhee Tyson’s first air show in 16 years.

“It’s one thing to go to a city
that we hit every year. It’s another to go to a city that’s been starved
of an air show for so long,” he said.

Chamberlain, a Bloomington, Ill.
native, is the lead solo in the 2016 Blue Angels show. He described his
role in the performance:

“You’ll see the diamond formation
numbers one through four, they’re going to fly real tight, about 18
inches apart wingtip-to-canopy separation, and then numbers five and
six, we’re going to be the ones that oppose each other and look like
we’re going to hit at speeds approaching 800 miles per hour,” he said.

Chamberlain said the crowd will
see the Blue Angels put their F/A-18 Hornet jets through their paces
during the 40-minute performance.

While the stunning aerial display is up in the sky, there’s a lot of activity happening on the ground, too.

“While you see six airplanes, we actually have 55 personnel on the ground every show we go to,” Chamberlain said.

Kingsport native excited

One of those crew members is Petty Officer 2nd Class Kevin O’Neal, a Kingsport native.

O’Neal is on the logistics team
for the Blue Angels, and is in charge of inspecting the jets once they
land and finding replacement parts when they’re needed.

“As soon as we land, like today,
we check and double-check everything to make sure it’s good to go,
there’s nothing wrong, nothing broken from the flight here,” O’Neal
said.

The crew brings replacement parts
with them for each show, and O’Neal is in charge of all of the
replacement parts for the aircraft.

He said he’s excited to be
performing at an air show so close to him, and has nearly 30 friends and
family members coming to see him in action this weekend.

O’Neal has been in the Navy for
11 years, and said it was an exciting moment when he got the phone call
that he was selected for the Blue Angels.

“I almost dropped the phone at that point, and I jumped out of my chair,” he said.

The Blue Angels is a prestigious
group, but Chamberlain, the lead solo pilot, emphasized that it’s the
teamwork of the organization that makes it special, not the fancy
flying.

“Really what it is, is we’re a
bunch of average people that work together as a team toward a common
goal. That’s what makes this so special. You know what we do, the
formation flying … that in and of itself is not that difficult once you
get used to it,” he said. “We work together to put on this one, fairly
benign performance, but we work so hard, and that’s what people see as
the elitism of the team … it’s the common goal that we have to put on
that performance.”

Part of the Blue Angels mission
is to recruit and promote interest in the Navy, but even more than that,
their mission is to inspire, Chamberlain said.

“Our main mission is just to
inspire people to do better in their lives,” he said. “We want to show
people that no matter what you do, if you work hard at it, you can
accomplish anything.”

Viper ‘fast and intense’

The Air Force will also be
represented at the air show, with a performance by the Viper F-16 Air
Force demonstration jet. Maj. Craig “Rocket” Baker landed at the air
base Thursday to prepare for the show.

“My part of the show, I like to call it a fast and intense 15-minute show. It’s going to loud; it’s going to be fast,” he said.

Baker said his part of the show can be exhausting, too — he’ll pull nine G’s as many as 15 times during his act.

He said one of the best parts of
the act is at the end, though, when he flies in formation with a World
War II-era P-47 Thunderbolt.

“I’ll be three feet away, we’ll
do four passes as a formation, and it’s just a really unique way to
honor those that have gone before us and fought for the freedoms that we
have today, as well as those who are fighting now, and it’s a way to
inspire (the future),” he said.

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