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Blue Angels give key influencers the ‘experience of a lifetime’

“This is the best rollercoaster on the planet,” is how Blue Angels Crew Chief ATI Anthony Batronis described a flight with the Blues. Key influencers Alexis Crouch and Glenn Morningstar got to take that thrill ride before the Naval Air Station Jacksonville Air Show Nov. 1.

“I grew up watching the Blue Angels and I never thought I would get the chance to fly with them,” said Crouch, a high school science teacher at Edward H. White Military Academy of Leadership. “It’s the chance of a lifetime.”

Before each person took their the 45-minute flight, Crouch and Morningstar were given a safety briefing by Batronis that covered such topics as fighting G-forces, what the passengers could and could not touch in the cockpit and even the possibility of ejecting from the aircraft.

“Everyone is nervous the first time. It is something no one can really prepare you for. It’s why we do the brief, to reduce the nervousness a little bit,” Batronis said.
“But as soon as the jet goes into afterburner, all the nervousness goes away and it is the best ride of your life.”

Crouch is an example of that. Admittedly very nervous before the flight, she sounded like a veteran pilot after landing.

“We broke the speed of sound, so we went above Mach 1,” she said. “The max G-force I was able to pull was 7.3, and I didn’t pass out.”

Standing on the tarmac next to the F/A-18 Hornet she just flew in, Crouch recounted some details of the flight that took her out over the Atlantic Ocean.

“It was amazing,” she said. “There is some serious power in these jets.” She said the biggest surprise she had during the flight was flying upside down for 30 seconds and not realizing it. “It was really beautiful.”

Also flying with the Blues was Det. Glenn Morningstar of Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office (JSO). A 27-year veteran, Morningstar currently works as a military liaison for the sheriff’s office, but he also worked 15 years in JSO’s special events department, where he worked closely the Blue Angels on previous visits to the city. “We coordinated all the Blue Angel movements when they came to Jacksonville,” he said.

“We escorted them everywhere they went. If they moved, we moved them.”

Working with Blue Angel pilots gave Morningstar a “pure respect for what they do.” It also instilled a strong desire to fly with them.

“Ever since I’ve been working with these guys, it has been a dream of mine to go for a flight,” he said. “It is a privilege and an honor to get to get to go fly with them.”

Watching Morningstar take his flight was his wife Denise, his son Trey and his daughter Sophia. “It is super-exciting to watch my dad get the opportunity to do this,” Sophia said, “I’ve bragged to all my friends. They are all jealous.”

Since Morningstar is retiring from JSO in December, he said this flight “makes a nice retirement gift.”

The Blue Angels do about 90 key influencer flights a year. Key influencers are defined as the people who help to shape attitudes and opinions of youth in the community and may be experts in their field, public figures, teachers, guidance counselors, coaches, school administrators and leaders of youth organizations.

As a high school science teacher, Crouch will take this experience back to her students.

“Our entire school is going to benefit from this because there is going to be a video of me the entire time in the aircraft, so our physics and aerospace students can look at it to see how the G-forces affect me when I was flying. Our anatomy and physiology classes can also watch it.”

Crouch will also use this experience as an example to encourage her students to aspire for great things.

“Go after your goals,” she said. “You never know what is going to happen unless you try. I never thought I would be able to do this. I saw the opportunity, I jumped for it and I got it.”

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