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Blue Angels’ pilot Lt. Andy Talbott has Pawhuska ties

It was love at first flight for Andy Talbott, whose unwavering fascination with flying has lifted him to
the pinnacle of heights for a United State Navy aviator. Lt. Talbott is one of six specially-selected pilots in the elite flight demonstration squadron known as the Blue Angels. (Rather ironic, considering the 2002 graduate of Sedan, Kan., High School had played football for the Blue Devils.)
Since September of last year,
Talbott has flown Blue Angels’ jet No. 3 — which is the Left Wing
position in the unit’s formations. Sometimes, only inches will be
separating the aircraft as the team pilots perform maneuver at speeds of
400 to 700 miles per hour while thousands of feet in the air.
Talbott’s
two-year assignment with the legendary squadron is to continue run
through most of 2016’s March-through-November air show season. During
that time, his Blue Angels’ squadron is expected to have appeared at
more than 150 shows and been watched by an estimated 25 million
spectators. (Team members also visit hundreds of people each year at
schools and in hospitals.)
The Oklahoma-born pilot lived in Perry
until he was 11 or 12. His mother, Reda Townley Talbott, was raised in
Pawhuska and his grandmother, Margaret Townley, and uncle Mike Townley
are longtime local residents. Another uncle, Steve Townley, lives in
Cushing.
Reda Talbott said her son wanted to fly since shortly
after they’d moved to Kansas and he was taken on his first
plane ride by
a local pilot named Roger Floyd. By the time he was 17, Talbott had
passed the tests at Bartlesville Airport for his private pilot’s
license. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Airway Science from
Kansas State University at Salina just 3 1/2 years after finishing high
school, then served two years as a flight instructor at KSU.
“He
joined the Navy as a pilot with the intention of making it a career,”
his mother said. “It was a decision he probably had made years earlier.”
Talbott
was commissioned as an Ensign after completing Officer Candidate School
at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Fla. — which, coincidentally, is
where the Blue Angels are stationed. His aviation indoctrination in
April 2006 also took place at Pensacola. He completed primary flight
training at Vance Air Force Base in Enid, followed by intermediate and
advanced flight instruction in Meridian, Miss. Talbott earned his Navy
wings of gold in February 2008.
Prior to being chosen for the Blue
Angels, Talbott completed two deployments aboard the USS Enterprise
during Operation New Dawn (August 2010 through 2011) and Operation
Enduring Freedom (October 2001 through 2014). He has accumulated more
than 1,800 flight hours and he’s made 335 carrier-arrested landings. His
decorations include a Strike Flight Air Medal, three Navy and Marine
Corps Achievement Medals.
Stated mission of the squadron is “to
showcase the pride and professionalism of the United States Navy and
Marine Corps by inspiring a culture of excellence and service to country
through flight demonstrations and community outreach.” Blue Angels’
veteran Roy Marlin “Butch” Voris expressed a more practical reason for
the team’s daring and high-risk exhibitions, however.
“We come
down to ground level so people can see the types of maneuvers fighters
do in combat,” the founder of the unit once said. “I think the public
deserves to see what their taxes are paying for.”
Formed in 1946,
the Blue Angels is considered the second-oldest flying aerobatic team in
the world behind the French Patrouille de France, which formed in 1931.
While both Navy and Marine Corps aviators are eligible for the
squadron, all six of the team’s current pilots are from the Navy. A
Marine does currently serve as the show narrator, however. The narrator
flies an F/A-18 that sometimes is needed as the team’s backup jet and
will oftentimes be used to give demonstration rides to civilian VIPs and
press members.
Talbot’s assigned spot on the Left Wing holds a
certain significance. Blue Angel pilot No. 3 traditionally moves to the
No. 4 (slot) position for his second year in the squadron. Pilot No. 4
serves as the team’s safety officer, due partly to the perspective the
slot position is afforded within the formation.
Like its
basketball counterpart, the Harlem Globetrotters, the Blue Angel
performances include many techniques and formations which have been used
throughout the team’s history. The McDonnell Douglas F-18 Hornet has
been used by Angel squadrons since 1986, but it is the eighth different
demonstration aircraft in the team’s history. Blue Angel F-18’s are
former fleet aircraft and they remain nearly combat-ready.
One
modification to the Angel units involves removal of the aircraft gun,
which is replaced (for demonstration purposes) with a tank containing
smoke-oil. Cockpits of Angel pilots are outfitted with spring-loaded
control sticks to facilitate more precise pilot input. The standard
configuration has 40 pounds of tension to allow “minimal room for
uncommanded movement,” according to the Blue Angels’ website.
Blue
Angel pilots refrain from wearing G-suits because continuous
inflation/deflation of the air bladders inside them would interfere with
control-stick operations. Instead, the demonstration pilots will tense
their muscles to prevent a bloodrush from their heads which might render
them unconscious.
Reda Talbott got to watch the elite team
perform in August at the Kansas City Aviation Expo. Later this month,
she has a trip planned to Hawaii for another Angels’ show. She said her
entire family —Townleys and Talbotts alike — are proud of Andy’s status
as a pilot.
“Watching one of the shows will just reinforce how special it is,” she said.
The final performance of the year will be Nov. 6-7 at the Blue Angels Homecoming Air Show in Pensacola.
“You
fly as close together as a couple of feet…every once in a while you do a
little bump and so forth,” team leader Voris once said. “People ask me,
‘How close do they fly?’ and I’ll say if we hit each other, it’s too
close and if we don’t, we’re too far apart.”

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