As a young student at Arlington’s Lone Star Elementary School in the 1990s, Kyetta Penn dreamed of becoming a doctor.
Her eyes were still on medicine when she graduated from Sandalwood High School in 2006 and majored in biology at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.
Then the blue sky beckoned, and now the 27-year-old U.S. Navy petty officer has a top-flight billet as an aviation electronics technician for the elite flight demonstration squadron, the Blue Angels.
Back home this weekend for the 2015 Jacksonville Sea and Sky Spectacular, Penn knows she will be busy helping keep the Blue Angels’ F/A 18 Hornet jets’ flight controls, communications, navigation, radar and fuel systems working perfectly. But she sees herself flying into the medical field with the Navy when her three-year stint with the Blues is done in 2017.
“I never thought I would be where I am today,” she said. “But I am very thankful for the opportunities while still seeing myself as that doctor.”
The Blue Angels were born in 1946 at Jacksonville Naval Air Station, moving to the F/A 18 in 1986 after their pilots first trained on them in Jacksonville.
This year’s show season started March 14 at the El Centro Naval Air Field in California and ends Nov. 7 at its home base in Pensacola. Along with 17 officers who fly, there are about 100 enlisted military personnel handling three-year tours in public relations, maintenance, administration and medical needs.
A 45-person crew flies with the Blue Angels to each air show. Penn is part of the team that maintains the aircraft.
Growing up on the Southside, she first went to Santa Fe College before heading to the University of Central Florida. Her thoughts turned toward the Navy in her senior year when “school was the only thing I had known and I was burned out,” she said.
She decided to pursue her medical career in the Navy, joining in 2009. But medical corpsman billets wouldn’t open for a year, so she went into aviation electronics.
First based in California with Strike Fighter Squadron 192, she was aboard the USS John C. Stennis aircraft carrier on deployments in the Middle East. Penn said her mentors and supervisors helped her learn aviation electronics and build her application for the Blue Angels. Now she works a 37-show season, saying it takes a full team to “keep these birds in the sky.”
“We are responsible for the all maintenance actions performed on the road,” she said. “So that means anything that happens to that jet, whether powerplant or airframe, they all have to come through us.”
There are benefits, like traveling across the country. And even working long hours to keep the Blues in the air has its plus side.
“We are there late to make sure those birds are ready to go,” Penn said. “But since we are family, we make each other laugh and get through it.”
She said she loves going to schools around each show site to talk with children, inspiring them and seeing “their little eyes light up.” And her own dream is still alive once her Blue Angels tour ends. She plans to become an instructor as she works her way into a Navy medical program.
Dan Scanlan: (904) 359-4549
SEA AND SKY SPECTACULAR
The event will be visible from Jacksonville Beach 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, including the U.S. Special Operations Command Parachute Team, Navy P-8A Poseidon and P-3C Orion teams, a World War II-era F4U-4 Corsair and P51D, Air Force F-16 and the Blue Angels.