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System ensured Blue Angels pilot’s safety in Eau Claire

Blue Angels No. 2 jet landedwith the help of hook and cable

After dazzling thousands below with rolls, tight formations and
turns, five of six of the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels F/​B-18 Hornets
landed, leaving the No. 2 aircraft circling in the clouds above.
“There was an announcement that the plane was (experiencing) some
sort of technical difficulties,” said Sgt. Bill Slaggie of the Eau
Claire Police Department, one of dozens of officers involved in the
Chippewa Valley Air Show.
A short time later, the pilot of the Boeing aircraft dropped a hook
from the tail of the Hornet as the aircraft touched down on the
8,100-foot north-south runway at the Chippewa Valley Regional Airport.
As the wheels rolled, the hook grabbed a cable that was part of an
aircraft arresting system installed for the show.
Such a system is used to rapidly decelerate an aircraft as it lands
on a runway or the deck of an aircraft carrier, and the Blue Angels
require an arresting system be set up on site or within so many miles of
an air show, airport manager Charity Speich said.
During an air show, the fastest speed of a Hornet is about 700 mph,
just under Mach 1, according to the Blue Angels website. The slowest
speed is about 120 mph.
In the past, air show organizers were able to use Volk Field, a
military airport located outside Camp Douglas, Speich said. But since
the last show in 2010, the distance requirement changed, and Volk Field
no longer qualified to host a show. So a system had to be installed at
the Chippewa Valley Regional Airport.
“It can be a dangerous job,” said Andrea Perez, assistant lead petty
officer for the Blue Angels public affairs. “That’s why we take safety
very seriously.”
Perez, who attended the air show, had no idea why the aircraft arrest
system had to be used Saturday. Randy Fahrenkrog, who retired from the
Eau Claire Police Department Monday, was standing next to the announcer
during the Blue Angels performance. He said the narrator guessed the
pilot might have had some sort of warning regarding the Hornet’s
“If there is a warning, there may be a problem, you automatically go
to the safety protocol,” said Fahrenkrog, a founding member of the
police department’s tactical response team, which he led for at least a
dozen years before stepping down in 2013.
That effort included having members of the airport and city fire
departments and their vehicles parked at the event, Fahrenkrog said.
“It’s just smart to do that in case anything happens,” he said. “Can
you imagine trying to get a truck through a crowd of thousands (in the
event of an emergency)?”
Speich believes the No. 2 aircraft could have landed without the
aircraft arresting system, which has since been removed from the
“It was really cool because everyone thought it was part of the act,”
Fahrenkrog said of the tail-hook landing. “The crowd loved it.”
The aircraft arrest systems have been used by Blue Angels pilots
before, said Perez, who has flown in one of the Hornets when such a
system was tested at another site.
“It was fun for people to watch,” she said, noting all Blue Angels pilots have experience using tail hooks.
The issue with the No. 2 aircraft was addressed Saturday evening, and
the Hornet was back in the air for Sunday’s show, she said.
Before the Blue Angels took to the air, they all stood up and cheered
for Fahrenkrog, who was at the tail end of his 34 years in law
“It was … a great way to go out,” said Fahrenkrog, who will remain
president of the Association of Swat Personnel–Wisconsin through March.


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