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Blue Angels prep for first full AirVenture show

The U.S. Navy Blue Angels taxi down the runway during the afternoon airshow at EAA AirVenture 2017 Thursday at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh. Their diamond site orientation flight was called off shortly after taxing down the runway.(Photo: Danny Damiani/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin)

The Blue Angels touch down Wednesday at the Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture fly-in convention in Oshkosh. (July 26, 2017) Nate Beck/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

OSHKOSH – The Blue Angels arrived minutes before the rain did Wednesday, through a thick mantle of fog, over onlookers below.

Their arrival at the Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture fly-in convention this year marks the first performance the full team of U.S. Navy aviators has given here.

“We’re thrilled to be here and I know each and every one of us has an extra level of excitement because it is Oshkosh,” Commander Ryan Bernacchi said. “This is a dream for many of us to be here.”

Attendees were supposed to get a sneak peek at the Blue Angels in the air during Thursday’s afternoon air show. But after taxiing on the runway for a planned orientation run in advance of Saturday’s full performance, it was announced the squadron would not be flying. The planes subsequently took to air at 8 p.m.

Those in attendance would have to wait.A practice run is planned on Friday and the full performance will be the highlight of the air show on Saturday.

It took years of planning to bring the Blue Angels to Oshkosh.

EAA staff has managed to land similar jet-propelled attractions in recent years. including the Thunderbirds in 2015 and the Royal Canadian Air Force Snowbirds last year.

The Angels, founded 71 years ago, fly F-18 Hornets in a six-person formation. These U.S. Navy and Marine Corps pilots can get as close as 18 inches from each other and fly up to 700 mph.

Though they’re missing a key member of their armada in Oshkosh.

Typically, the team travels with a C-130 cargo plane dubbed Fat Albert, after Bill Cosby’s portly character of the same name.

The Blue Angels’ C-130 dubbed Fat Albert gave a short demonstration flight to members of the 128th Air Refueling Wing in Milwaukee as well as members of the media on July 14, 2017. The C-130 cargo aircraft supports the Navy Blue Angels flight demonstration team carrying parts and 30 team members. Flown by Marine pilots the plane also takes part in the show and demonstrate the capability of the large combat cargo plane. Here the plane taxis in after the media demonstration flight. (Photo: Michael Sears/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

That fat is more likely muscle. Fat Albert lugs about 30,000 pounds worth of gear and some 40 crew members to shows across the country.

But on Wednesday, the Pentagon grounded all of the military’s C-130 planes, including Fat Albert, leaving the Angels to do without.

“Certainly there’s some logistical challenges without Fat Albert,” Bernacchi said. “We’re looking forward to getting Fat Albert back in the air.”

Blue Angels pilots begin by flying combat and cargo missions for the Navy or Marines before winning an exclusive slot on the team. After a tour on the squad, they return to service.

Bernacchi has been a pilot for more than 20 years. He grew up flying private planes with his dad, who is also a pilot.

With the Blue Angels visit, both will have a chance to visit EAA, a long-sought trip. Between shows, he’ll plan to stroll the grounds with his dad. That’ll be the highlight, he said.

“I definitely plan to walk around with him and take in the show,” Bernacchi said. “It’s going to be great, it’s going to be a very special week. This is something that a lot of work has gone into. We’re just really humbled to be part of this grand event.”

Nate Beck: 920-858-9657 or nbeck@gannett.com; on Twitter: @NateBeck9.

See for yourself

Want to see the Blue Angels? The fleet will buzz Oshkosh with their full practice show from 4 to 5 p.m. Friday, during the afternoon air show, and will fly the tail end of the afternoon show at 5 p.m. Saturday. The Blue Angels will also participate in a forum at 7 p.m. Friday, at Theater in the Woods, ahead of a program dedicated to the Apollo reunion.

The Blue Angels Navy flight demonstration team has a support C-130 nicknamed Fat Albert. Media took a short flight on Fat Albert and got to ask questions of the pilots.