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Former Blue Angels mechanic to speak at Veterans Open Roundtable

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Owatonna resident Lyle Schultz, who is pictured at 19 years old, was a jet plane mechanic for plane No. 6 in the Blue Angels.
Owatonna resident Lyle Schultz, who is pictured at 19 years old, was a jet plane mechanic for plane No. 6 in the Blue Angels.

OWATONNA — Lyle Schultz of Owatonna was a U.S. Navy sailor who never sailed.

“I always flew,” he said. “I never got on a ship.”

Schultz was a jet plane mechanic for the Blue Angels, a naval flight demonstration squadron that was established in the mid-1940s to raise the public’s interest in naval aviation and boost Navy morale.

“It was the best duty anybody could ever have being a sailor,” he said.

But it was almost an opportunity he didn’t have.

After graduating from high school in Willmar in 1958, Schultz enlisted in the U.S. Navy at 17 years old.

“The Navy was it for me,” he said. “I didn’t want to be in the Army.”

Schultz went to boot camp in San Diego, California, before attending prep school in Norman, Oklahoma where he was educated in the field the Navy chose.

“The Navy, and their wisdom, said I should be electronics,” he said. “I passed OK, but I didn’t score high enough to get my school.”

Then, Schultz was sent to Pensacola, Florida, where he waited about a month for new orders.

“I was kind of in limbo,” he said. “My background was being raised on a farm, so I didn’t know what I was going to do. I was the Navy’s to do with what they thought.”

But Schultz seemed to be in “the right place at the right time” because the chief of the Blue Angels, which was stationed in Pensacola at the time, requested two men for grunt work.

“Me and another guy jumped at the opportunity,” he said.

Schultz, a second class aviation structural mechanic, washed, waxed and performed maintenance on Blue Angels plane No. 6, an F-11 jet. He held that position for about six months before he was promoted to plane captain.

That meant Schultz was responsible for the jet and the pilot.

“I became a jet mechanic by on-the-job training versus schooling,” he said.

And wherever plane No. 6 went, Schultz followed in a transport plane — a four-engine prop plane used during the Berlin Airlift to help in whatever capacity he could.

The Blue Angels, which still exist today, traveled to civilian airports throughout the U.S. each weekend for its show that featured six planes and six pilots.

Schultz recalls a trip to Liberal, Kansas,

“There was no military there for miles and miles, and 100,000 people showed up,” he said. “It was amazing.”

But while the Blue Angels were strictly a demonstration squadron, it wasn’t without tragedy.

“1960 was a very tough year,” Schultz said.

That year four people were killed: three pilots and a mechanic — the one who joined the Blue Angels with Schultz.

“I was just stunned when they told me that because he and I competed for that job,” he said.

In December 1961, Schultz was honorably discharged from the U.S. Navy, which was part of an agreement when he joined.

“If you were 17, you’d get out the day before you were 21,” he said. “I was in for three years and 18 days to be exact. I went in 18 days before I was 18.”

Upon leaving the military, Schultz returned to Willmar where he helped his day far before moving to Owatonna, where he worked at Gallea’s for 10 years, drove a semi for Viracon for 24 years and worked at Federated Insurance for five years.

Today, Schultz belongs to the Blue Angels Alumni Association and attends Blue Angels shows when they’re in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

“I never get tired of it,” he said.

On Tuesday, Schultz will share about his time as a Blue Angels mechanic during the Open Veterans Roundtable Program in Owatonna. There he will show video, photos and artifacts from the Blue Angels.

“It was just a real pleasure to work with those young pilots, even though I was way younger than them, and just to experience what they experience,” he said.

The roundtable program will start at 7 p.m. at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Owatonna.

“The Navy is a good place to serve,” he said. “But Navy Air is the best place to serve.”

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