|Led by Sean Tucker, an air show pilot, in a Challenger 3 stunt plane sponsored by Oracle, the Blue Angels do a practice flight on Thursday afternoon, October 8, 2015 in preparation for Fleet Week 2015 at the Oakland International Airport.|
Blue Angels pilot Matt Suyderhoud knew when he was 3 years old that he just had to fly upside down and do barrel rolls with the whole world watching.
He went to an air show in his native Hawaii and the Angels were there. He was hooked.
“It looked like so much fun, and it is fun, and it’s something very special,” the Navy lieutenant said just before taking off from the north side of Oakland International Airport, the side where you don’t have to take your shoes off before getting on the plane.
Suyderhoud and his five fellow Angels spent much of Thursday afternoon whizzing over the bay to get ready for the Fleet Week air shows Friday, Saturday and Sunday. He already knows how to fly, but, when zooming over the bay at an altitude of 300 feet in an F/A-18 Hornet jet, you cannot practice avoiding 400-foot dives often enough.
Suyderhoud flies jet No. 2, on the right side of the six-plane formation. The control stick in his right hand, which is hardly ever sweaty, is more temperamental than a drill sergeant.
“Every movement of the stick translates into a movement of the jet,” he said. “You learn that right away.”
The fighter jets are 29 years old, although they have been repainted so many times that they don’t look it. The newer fighters off the assembly line are designated for combat, not show business.
“We get the aircraft near the end of their service life,” Suyderhoud said, the way a car lover might talk about picking up a classic sedan. Suyderhoud said the hardest part about flying one is maintaining your concentration every single second.
“You can’t lose your focus,” he said. “The consequences can be catastrophic.”
Parked near the iconic fighter jets was a fat C-130 propeller plane that is also a member of the Blue Angels fleet. It’s the supply and maintenance plane, said its pilot, Dusty Cook, and without it, the highfalutin jets that get all the attention wouldn’t go very far. He doesn’t haul spare parts, he said — he “provides logistical support.”
“Sometimes you need a 25-cent ‘O’ ring,” Cook said. “I’ve got that.”
The Angels will be the closing act of the annual Fleet Week air shows for the next three days, flying from 3 to 4 p.m., weather permitting. According to forecasts, the weather will permit.