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U.S. Navy Blue Angels greeted by community Monday at Vero Beach Regional Airport

Jude Stefan (right), 10, of Vero Beach, gets his shirt autographed by Blue Angel pilot US Navy Lt. Julius Bratton after the Blue Angels team of Bratton and Lt. Cmdr. Adam Kerrick landed their F/A-18 Hornet aircraft at the Vero Beach Regional Airport on Monday, Nov. 25, 2019, to visit with local officials in preparation for their appearance in the Vero Beach Air Show in April, 2020. "It's amazing that I can see the Blue Angels, and how cool they are," Stefan said after getting both of their autographs.

VERO BEACH — Phyllis Bright has seen the U.S. Navy Blue Angels perform at the Vero Beach Air Show.

But the 81-year-old Vero Beach resident never has seen them arrive in an iconic blue-and-gold F/A-18 Hornet for their four-hour visit ahead of the biennial event April 25-26.

She told her daughter, Michele Vachon, who was visiting from Arkansas for Thanksgiving, they had to go Monday morning to the Vero Beach Regional Airport.

“We have such a lovely little airport,” Vachon said. “You’ll never get that close to them again.”

Vachon, 45, said she hadn’t seen the Blue Angels since she was a kid in Michigan.

“It was a real treat,” Vachon said. “We were at the end of the runway, and No. 7 just flew right over our heads.”

They joined a row of vehicles parked in the grass near the airport, she said. Children and their families watched from the beds of pickup trucks as the jet flew in from the east.

Vachon and Bright wondered if they could get closer to see the plane, and ended up joining more than 100 people lining the fence outside C.J. Cannon’s Restaurant at the airport.

“We drove around and got a chance to meet them,” Vachon said. “It was super cool.”

The mother-daughter duo met Navy Lt. Julius Bratton, of Woodlawn, Tennessee, who arrived with Navy Lt. Cmdr. Adam Kerrick, of Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania., as part of the two-person advance team.

The Blue Angels F/A-18 Hornet crew arrives at the Vero Beach Regional Airport on Monday, Nov. 25, 2019, for a meeting with airport officials ahead of next year’s Vero Beach Air Show.

Bratton and Kerrick were greeted with cheers and whistles. They shook hands, took photographs and signed autographs — many on T-shirts — before they disappeared to meet with officials and learn about each area.

“We come and basically just talk through things that will help ensure success for next year’s air show, as well as get a lay of the land,” Bratton said, “so when the team arrives next April, things are as smooth and efficient as possible.”

They make these visits now because it’s their free time between air show seasons, he said. It was the first time both Bratton and Kerrick ever visited Vero Beach.

A Blue Angels F/A-18 Hornet, with the crew of Navy Lt. Julius Bratton and Navy Lt. Cmdr. Adam Kerrick, makes a sharp banking turn to the east before landing at the Vero Beach Regional Airport on Monday, Nov. 25, 2019, to meet with local officials for their appearance in the Vero Beach Air Show in April 2020.

“From flying in today, I have to say it’s just beautiful. It’s close to home — just under an hour flight here (from Pensacola),” Bratton said. “From my short experience, the people have just been amazing and welcoming.”

Bratton joined the Blue Angels this year and will be on the flight-demonstration team for the next three years, he said. He previously applied twice and took two years to become a Blue Angel.

“It’s not an overnight process,” Bratton said. “I’ve got a lot to learn, and it’s very humbling to be part of the team.”