OSHKOSH – With less than a month to go, preparations for the U.S. Navy Blue Angels performance at the Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture 2017 are in full swing.
The 65th annual AirVenture is set for July 24-30, with the Blue Angels performing at 4 p.m. in the Friday air show and 5 p.m. in the Saturday air show.
“The Blue Angels are extremely excited to be part of an event that is not only for air show fans, but aviation enthusiasts from all over the world,” said Lt. Joe Hontz, public affairs officer for the Blue Angels. “There is an unspoken bond between aviation fans and we look forward to sharing the same passion for flight.”
The conversations to bring the Blue Angels to Oshkosh actually started a few years ago, said Rick Larsen, vice president of communities and member programs for EAA. The team wanted to perform at AirVenture, and it took about two years to get the schedule worked out to do so.
“This is one of those shows that they have always wanted to perform at,” he said. “Up until we brought the (U.S. Air Force) Thunderbirds in 2014, we simply hadn’t undertaken the effort to go facilitate having a jet team here. We really made that decision a number of years ago that we oughta go make the effort and see if we can accommodate them.”
Once able to demonstrate that AirVenture staff could accommodate the Thunderbirds, the doors opened up to also bring the Royal Canadian Air Force Snowbirds in 2016 and the Blue Angels this year, he said.
The Blue Angels were formed in 1946 and include U.S. Navy and Marine Corps aviators. The six-person jet team flies F-18 Hornets in tight formations; they can get as close as 18 inches to each other in the air and fly as fast as 700 mph, according to EAA.
Similar to the other jet teams, there are a certain requirements to prep for the performances.
“It’s really related to the size of the team and the operational requirements to support them; there are a lot of moving parts when dealing with this type of a performance,” he said. “It is different than what we would normally be doing on a day-by-day or act-by-act basis of a normal air show.”
The aerobatic box, or area that needs to be clear during the performance, is larger than it is for the rest of the air show, he said. That means the crowd line on the west side of the airport will move back by 100 feet. On the east side of the airport, people at 12 businesses and 13 residences in the Red Oaks neighborhood will have to clear the area during the performances. A few hangars on the north side of the airport will have to be cleared as well.
Conversations to accommodate the people affected by the aerobatic box began in September 2016, Larsen said, and EAA offers three different locations with accommodations for those folks to watch the air show.
Many of them are pilots — so they don’t mind. Resident Wayne Daniels said he and the others will take a four-minute walk to Fox Valley Technical College and watch the Blue Angels performance from there. A pilot and veteran of the Navy himself, Daniels has a hangar adjacent to his house and every year throws a party to watch the air show with about 250 friends, families and coworkers. About 40 Navy retirees will attend, too.
Daniels prefers the noise of airplanes over noises from other festivals in the area, he said, and overall, his neighbors seem generally supportive to work with EAA for the jet shows when it’s necessary.
“It’s kind of an inconvenience,” he said. “But it’s not a big deal.”
There are a wide variety of reasons to be at AirVenture, Larsen said, but the Blue Angels are a capstone element that complements all the other themes and celebrations going on throughout the week. Whether a hardcore or casual aviation enthusiast, people will certainly step back to watch the performance.
“They just put on a fabulous show,” he said. “I think the folks that’ll be here are in for a treat in terms of what the Blues do, and being able to do it here in Oshkosh makes it that much more special to us and the team itself.”
He expects to see a bump in the Friday and Saturday attendance numbers. Overall, attendance at AirVenture has been growing for the past four years.
The Navy will have a presence on the grounds, including a virtual reality exhibit on the flight line, and Navy Week events will take place throughout the Fox Valley and Green Bay areas.
Lt. David Carter, public affairs officer for Navy Week, said members of the Navy bomb squad and divers will be in the area participating in about 75 outreach events. Some of those include a visit at St. Vincent Children’s Hospital, a build with Habitat for Humanity, meetings and speaking events with leaders in various communities and even a seminar on how small-business owners can work with the Navy.
“Some of the best memories we have when we do these are when we are able to give back to the community,” he said. “We’re always looking for those opportunities.”
Bands from the Navy will perform, including with the Appleton and Green Bay city bands during their weekly concerts. Information on events is available through the Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce while details on other events open to the public are being finalized and will be released in the coming weeks.