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Blue Angels pilots share stories and answer questions from fans

Lexi Dittenber, center, listens as Emily Rogers' grandfather shows off her pilot uniform photo during the first Blues in the City event of the 2017 air show season in downtown Pensacola on Wednesday, April 12, 2017.

Two Blue Angels pilots answered questions from fans in downtown Pensacola on Wednesday night during the first Blues in the City event of the 2017 air show season.

Two Blue Angels pilots answered questions from fans in downtown Pensacola on Wednesday night during the first Blues in the City event of the 2017 air show season.

The speaker series began last year as part the Pensacola-based flight demonstration team’s 70th anniversary celebration. Organizers decided to continue the series this year because it was so popular.

A small crowd braved intermittent rain to hear Nate Scott and Damon Kroes, both U.S. Navy lieutenants, talk about their positions as wingmen on the six-jet team.

Scott is a native of Danville, California. He attended the University of Southern California and was commissioned as a Navy officer in 2007.

Kroes is a native of Fremont, California. He enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve and served on active duty with the Marines around the world before attending San Diego State University.  He graduated from Officer Candidate School at Pensacola Naval Air Station and was commissioned as a Navy officer in 2007.

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Here are a few of the questions that audience members had for the two men:

Will McManus, a 12-year-old from Navarre, asked how long it takes to be a Blue Angels pilot.

Kroes said it takes at least 8 to 10 years of military flight training. He explained the lengthy process of gaining the flight time and the skills required to fly with the team.

He said it is “something that happens one step at a time.”

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Maxine Rogers, 10, of Pensacola, wanted to know how the pilots knew they wanted to become Blue Angels.

Scott said he knew he wanted to be a pilot from the first time he saw the Blue Angels fly at a San Francisco air show. But Scott said he didn’t imagine actually flying with the Blue Angels, an accomplishment he said was the fulfillment of a dream.

He encouraged Rogers and others to not give up on their dreams.

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Felipe Portal, 10, of El Salvador, asked the pilots how they “drive” the planes.

Kroes explained how he maneuvers the jet using both the stick and throttle. Blue Angels flying is fun because the planes use an engine that has two afterburners, he said.

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Other questions included what it feels like to fly upside down — which the pilots said is “really cool” — and whether the two pilots expect to have a female pilot on their team.

The pilots said it is likely a female will eventually fly with the elite team. There are female fighter jet pilots who are well qualified to make the team, they said.

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