Andre Webb and David Steppe, both lieutenants, arrived at a private hangar at the Tuscaloosa Regional Airport in their signature blue and yellow McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet, the fighter jet that the squadron’s pilots fly in their demonstrations all over the United States.
Steppe said their stop in Tuscaloosa was part of a site-surveying tour of more than 30 locations where the Blue Angels will perform next year.
“It’s always a good time anytime you’ve got an excuse to come back to Alabama,” said Steppe, a Birmingham native and alumnus of Auburn University.
When Webb, Steppe and the rest of the Blue Angels return to Tuscaloosa for the air show in April, it will mark the fifth time the stunt squadron has performed over the Druid City since 2009.
“The city and community does a lot for us. You guys have opened your arms for us to be here and it takes a lot of manpower to have any jet team in town, be it the (U.S. Air Force) Thunderbirds, the (Canadian Forces) Snowbirds or the Blue Angels,” Steppe said. “For us to come back to Tuscaloosa, it really is because of that relationship we have with the community here that we’ve built throughout the years.”
Steppe and Webb said the Blue Angels perform for two basic reasons — to inspire a culture of excellence, pride and professionalism through their aerial acrobatics, and as a recruitment tool to attract young men and women to the United States Navy and Marine Corps.
The Tuscaloosa Regional Air Show is scheduled for April 14-15, and Webb said attendees can expect a show that aims to be better than any they’ve seen in the past.
“In the course of an hour, you’ll see our C-130 support aircraft, ‘Fat Albert’ fly its demonstration for about 10 to 15 minutes and then our six F-18s will fly their demonstration for 45 minutes,” Webb said. “And there’s a lot of pressure, at least personally, to keep the team’s reputation up and perform at that level so someone doesn’t come and say ‘Well, it wasn’t as good as last time.’ We want it to be better every single time. Hopefully, that’s what people will come and see.”
Steppe also praised the more than 60 seamen who maintain the Angels’ aircraft and the other pilots and performers who will share the skies in April.
“We’re looking for everybody in the city of Tuscaloosa to come out because it’s going to be an awesome air show,” Steppe said. “And it’s not just us, you’re going to have a load of performers that are phenomenal here, too.”
Asked how the Angels would stack up against Tuscaloosa’s own team of world-renown, the Alabama Crimson Tide, Webb laughed and said the pilots and players are operating in “different spectrums,” but said he liked his chances.
“Alabama is amazing and I think Nick Saban has got something figured out that the rest that of us don’t,” Webb said. “But as far as our team is concerned, I’d put us up against Alabama in a heartbeat.”
For more information or to buy tickets for the 2018 Tuscaloosa Regional Air Show, visit www.tuscaloosaregionalairshow.com. Tickets to attend will also be available on the day of the event.