Blustery and chilly conditions Thursday morning proved no match for the U.S. Navy’s top pilots, the Blue Angels. Six of the seven team members zipped into the Brunswick Golden Isles airport ahead of the weekend’s Wings Over Golden Isles Air Show.
The pack came into view, flying in a Delta formation, and drawing audible gasps from the group of airport officials and media members on hand for the arrival. One by one, the F-18 Hornets effortlessly pealed off, turning into a straight line. Then, one at the time, the pilots gently landed their aircraft, creating a neat row. From there, the maintenance crew moved in, helping their teammates secure and exit the jets.
Navy Lt. Nate Scott was one of six pilots stepping out of the cockpit. Clad in the classic bright blue flight suit with gold accents, Scott carefully climbed down and took his place beside his machine — number three in the group. Even now, it is a bit surreal for Scott. Like so many, he vividly remembers his first Blue Angels show when he was a youngster. It was something that inspired him to become one himself.
“I was 5 years old when I saw my first Blue Angels show. That was in San Francisco. I had my picture taken with number seven. My dad had it framed and put on my wall. Never in a million years did I think that it would work out but I always wanted to fly,” he said. “I joined the Navy. They taught me everything I know. So I kept training and trying to go for it. And I found myself on this team.”
And that is still relatively new for him. Scott joined the team in September, making this weekend’s event his third show. Of course, most of the team is fairly new since the tenure for the team’s pilots only lasts a couple of years.
“It is about a two-year stint, maybe three years. Every year we reinvent the wheel with basically half of the pilots being brand new,” he said.
With that being the case, practice is critical. That’s true even though the Blue Angels are some of the best pilots anywhere. Scott said the team spends months prior to hitting the air show circuit preparing.
“We spent three months of our time in El Centro, Calif., which is basically the desert. It is basically training six days a week, twice a day. There are 120 training flights required to put together a show like this,” he said. “It literally takes the entire time. The last couple of weeks it starts really coming together. We keep trying to get it perfect. It will never be perfect but we like to get it as close as we can.”
The effort has paid off. When the team takes to the skies this weekend, they will flawlessly execute a number of challenging maneuvers. Scott feels fairly confident that the crowds will appreciate the show.
“We have six jets flying in the demo, we call that the Delta formation. It will start with the diamond and then we have the solos. We also have a bunch of opposing passes, those will ramp up in intensity,” he said. “And it will end with us all flying together. You will also see an entire military drill with us walking down in formation then breaking off. The whole thing is synchronized.”
While most eyes will be on the sky, there is another full team on the ground. The full Blue Angels team includes 140 members. For the pilots, those down below are as critical to the performance as those in the air. Bobby Fitzpatrick is the crew chief for the team and oversees all of the work it takes to ensure the angels keep flying.
“We are part of the maintenance team and we’re responsible for inspecting the aircraft, making sure it is safe for flight. We are responsible for the overall appearance, making sure it’s washed and looks nice,” he said. “We also set up the cock pit for the pilot, help the pilot strap in and direct the pilot during launch and landing procedures.”
Working together is critical for the entire team, not only to ensure a good show but also to ensure the pilot’s safety.
“Teamwork is the fuel for this team’s success. We’re only as strong as our weakest link,” Fitzpatrick said. “It is very busy but it is very rewarding. It is a lot of fun too.”
Of course, for the entire team, the demonstration is about much more than exhibiting some impressive skills. Both the pilots and the crew understand that the shows allow the public to experience something that they might not otherwise.
“We like to show people what our brothers and sisters out there on aircraft carriers are doing. They do incredible things,” Scott said.
“That’s really what it is all about … representing our brothers and sisters overseas. We want to inspire and represent that culture of excellence that they live up to everyday. We want to bring that to people who otherwise wouldn’t see it.”