Between skateboarding and hitting the beach, Brandon Bates worked near the Cocoa Beach Pier as a Publix bagger and Domino’s Pizza delivery driver.
Now, the 2007 Cocoa Beach Jr./Sr. High graduate has landed one of America’s highest-profile aviation jobs. Bates is a crew chief with the Blue Angels, and he’ll prep one of the stunt squadron’s F/A-18 Hornets for flight during 34 upcoming air shows this year from coast to coast.
“It’s crazy, because I had some little Boy Scouts come up to me and ask me for my autograph — which is something I’ve never experienced before,” Bates said during a phone interview from Naval Air Facility El Centro in California.
“My mom’s blowing up Facebook all the time with how she’s so amped on the Blue Angels,” Bates said, laughing.
The 29-year-old Merritt Island native enrolled in the Navy after high school, and he reached the 10-year service mark in January.
An aviation ordnanceman, Bates worked for five years aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier based at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia. Then he spent three years maintaining missile launchers and bomb racks at Fleet Readiness Center Southeast at Naval Air Station Jacksonville.
But Bates remained fascinated by the Blue Angels. Early in his career, shortly after boot camp, he attended the Naval Air Technical Training Center in Pensacola, home base of the precision flight demonstration squadron.
“I’d see them flying over in their formations and doing their maneuvers. I thought it was like the coolest thing ever. I didn’t really know how to be a part of it until further along in my career,” Bates said.
Bates applied for the Blue Angels last spring, and, “I’m guessing with my hard work and all that, they decided to hire me.”
The squadron is wrapping up its annual winter training session in California, and this year’s air show schedule starts March 10 at NAF El Centro.
As one of 14 crew chiefs, Bates is assigned to Blue Angel #5, flown by Lt. Tyler Davies of Kennesaw, Georgia. A lead solo pilot, Davies has racked up more than 1,850 flight hours and 220 carrier-arrested landings.
“In the morning, we hop in the jet. We get both engines online. We do all the pre-ops, make sure the flight controls and instruments are functioning properly,” Bates said.
“So when the pilots walk out, they know that that jet’s ready to fly. We’ll set up the cockpit. We’ll put their gear in,” he said.
The Blue Angels will headline the Vero Beach Air Show on April 21-22. Other Florida appearances are scheduled for May 12-13 at the Tampa Bay AirFest, July 14 at the Pensacola Beach Air Show, Oct. 27-28 at NAS Jacksonville, and Nov. 2-3 at Naval Air Station Pensacola.
“Oh my gosh, I am just over-the-moon excited for him. And I’m so proud of him,” said Bates’ mother, Debbie Norgren, a Cape Canaveral stay-home grandmother.
“I know it’s been his dream for many years, ever since he went to ‘A School’ up there in Pensacola. He knew he wanted to be with the Blue Angels — and I told him, ‘Just go for it,’ ” Norgren said.
“I’ve got so much of family that’s been in aviation. My brother’s a pilot. My dad was a consultant for airlines, with the selling of the engines out in San Diego and then down in Miami. So we’ve got a long history of aviation in our family,” she said.
In March 2015, the Blue Angels headlined the Melbourne Air & Space Show at Orlando Melbourne International Airport.
Blue Angels shows in the Sunshine State for 2019 are scheduled for Key West, Lakeland, Fort Lauderdale, Pensacola Beach, Jacksonville Beach and Pensacola.