Halfway through the 2018 air show season, Marine Maj. Jeff Mullins said Thursday that he and the five other Blue Angels pilots are really starting to gel in their demonstration flights.
“We are tightening up, getting closer,” he said, during an interview to promote the annual Pensacola Beach Air Show this week.
Mullins said the six F/A-18 Hornets routinely fly within 18 inches of each other, and the formations get tighter with every show.
He predicted the tens of thousands of local fans gathered on the beach through Saturday will like what they see.
Mullins, a native of Memphis, Tennessee, said the performances get better as the pilots become more comfortable with each other throughout the season.
More: Blue Angels Air Show on Pensacola Beach: What You Need To Know
“What we do involves a lot of teamwork and trust,” he said.
By the homecoming air show at Pensacola Naval Air Station in November, the jets are flying less than 18 inches apart, he said.
Mullins’ wife and younger brother will be part of the crowd this week watching the performance at his first Pensacola Beach air show. His brother is a Navy officer and flight student at Whiting Field Naval Air Station.
Mullins recalled watching the Pensacola-based Blue Angels during his own time as a flight student.
“I saw them and I thought it would be awesome to come here and do that,” said Mullins, a graduate of Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach.
Although being a fighter jet pilot has a lot to do with confidence, it also has a lot to do with humility, he said.
“A defining characteristic of a successful person is humility, learning from your mistakes whether as a pilot or a Marine,” he said.
Mullins graduated from the U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School TOPGUN in 2015. He has flown more than 500 combat hours in support of operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Japan, Guam, the Philippines, South Korea and Thailand.
Mullins said Thursday that he is excited about flying in his first Pensacola Beach show. The team routinely flies over the Navy base, but doesn’t get as much time flying over the beach.
Although Mullins is intensely focused on flying during the shows, he said he also notices the tens of thousands of people gathered on the beach and on condominium and restaurant balconies.
Mullins said he also occasionally spots larger marine life, such as sharks and dolphins.
“You notice the darker shadows in the water,” he said.
The 2018 Pensacola Beach Air Show continues Friday with a full dress rehearsal. Civilian performers will start around 11:45 a.m. with World War II veterans flying as passengers in vintage Stearman aircraft.
The Blue Angels are scheduled to fly at 2 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday.