BILOXI – Oh, the Blue Angels! Just the mention of the name conjures images of aerobatic prowess in the sky. Gripping mid-air maneuvers. Adrenalin-drenched turns as they leave sight and disappear some 15,000 feet into the sky above the mesmerized crowd. Ask anyone who has ever saw them and you’re likely to get star-struck responses.
Forget that the heat index felt like it was 150 degrees. Forget the traffic was going to be gnarly getting to and from the air show, hash-tagged #BluesOverBiloxi. Forget the fact that there was limited access on Deer Island, the prime spot for most boaters wanting to watch. None of that would matter to the thousands and thousands who would venture out to see such a spectacle in the sky. This two-day air show was all most people could talk about for weeks. Whether you chose to watch by boat or by car, the focus was on the planes that would be flying. The center of all that attention is the famed Blue Angels.
According to the Blue Angels website, they were formed in 1946 by Navy Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. The purpose of the Blue Angels was to serve as a recruiting tool for the Navy and to build public and political support for more money in their defense budget. They are the second oldest flying team in the entire World! The oldest is the French Patrouille de France, who were formed in 1931. The Blue Angels name was chosen by the original crew planning a show in New York City when one of them saw a nightclub bearing the name, Blue Angel. The rest is history.
Ever wonder how Blue Angel pilots are chosen? This answer might surprise you. Their site says applicants “rush” the team at multiple air shows, sit on team briefs, post-show activities, and social events. These rushes are asked to tell a joke prior to the briefs, and are graded accordingly. Team members vote in secret on the next years pilot selections, with no accountability to higher Navy authority. All votes have to unanimous. And in order to preserve the small cockpit space, Blue Angel pilots don’t wear G-suits. Instead, they tense their muscles to prevent the blood from rushing from the head, knocking them unconscious. Wow! Gotta love a group like this who base part of admission to the team on how funny their joke is to others. Since I can’t remember a punch line under pressure, I’d probably not make the team.
It’s been seven years since the Blue Angels entertained the Mississippi Coast. I would watch them both days. Seriously, how could you think about not going both days. That would be like turning down a second helping of hot apple pie with a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream. Unthinkable, right?
We chose our spot to watch on the back of our friend David Bogg’s boat tethered in the marina just across from Deer Island. Mark Schloegel and I parked the truck and walked a few short blocks to our viewing perch on the boat. With the searing July heat, it felt as though we were walking in a giant sweltering sauna. But none of that mattered. As we got out of the truck, the very first thing we heard was the unmistakable roar of an F/A 18 Hornet thundering overhead. Looking up, we saw a solo Blue Angel ripping through the sky. Adrenaline kicked in and our little walk turned into a super brisk walk/run to hurry and get to watch the show. And within seconds, four more Blue Angels cut through the sky in their diamond formation and flying only 18 inches apart. More adrenaline rushing through your veins in sheer anticipation. Goosebumps up and down your arms at the eagerness of watching them perform. It felt like being kids on Christmas Eve waiting on Santa Clause.
We finally made it to the pier! Some people had been waiting for several hours to stake out the perfect place to see. Those who came by boat picked their place to anchor on or near the limited space at Deer Island. Finally, on the back of the boat, we stood looking to the sky with cameras pointed up in hopes of catching that perfect photo of these daredevil pilots in action. The element of surprise was not always knowing what direction they would speed by with amazing precision. And by speed I mean flying 700 miles per hour right before your eyes! Did you know their planes can reach speeds of 1,400 miles per hour? Don’t blink; you could miss them.
One of their many death-defying air tricks we saw was the Double Farvel. Four of the Blue Angels fly in tight formation with two of them inverted. And I still have trouble trying to do a simple parallel park maneuver. Then there’s the slowest stunt they fly called the Section High-Alpha Pass where two of the jets “slow” to a speed of 120 miles per hour with their noses angled at 45 degrees. Some call this “walking the dog.” And then there was the one where everyone watching took a collective gasp. The Knife-Edge Pass. Two Blue Angels fly at incredible speeds towards each other before slightly changing their positions as they pass each other. That’s one fast game of “chicken!”
For almost an hour each day, the Blue Angels would dazzle and amaze spectators of all ages. Their performance was nothing short of breathtaking. I asked our friend, Chuck Kelly, what he thought about watching the Blue Angels. He also attended both days and said, “I felt overwhelmed with patriotism, pride, awe, and reverence.” “I would do it all again if they were to come next weekend, too,” Kelly said. Cassia Gabbert had a similar summation of how she felt watching the show. With excitement still echoing in her voice she yelled, “how patriotic!” That one word, patriotic, reverberated in the conversations of everyone we knew who watched the Blue Angels. Other friends who went had this to say about their experience. Roman and Kathleen Mayer, almost in unison, said “patriotic” was how they felt watching. Mark McDaniel and daughter Jada watched the Blue Angels with great pride. “When they flew overhead traveling wing to wing, it was fantastic to watch,” McDaniel said. “Our hearts were pounding; we were mesmerized!”
Watching the Blue Angels during their two-day show, all the world was right. There was a mind-boggling prodigious sense of patriotism, American pride, a feeling of inspiration, and spine-tingling excitement. It felt as though there were no differences between people, no problems, and no horrendous heat. In that moment, we were one. Thank you Blue Angels for reminding all of us how great it is to be Americans, united in pride and patriotism by your performances. God bless the USA for the freedoms we have and for our military men and women who protect us. Bless our Blue Angels for bringing us together.