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Blue Angels in Brunswick for weekend air show

The lead F/A 18 Hornet in the U.S. Navy Blue Angels pulls away from formation as the team prepares to land at Brunswick-Golden Isles Airport for a weekend Wings Over the Golden Isles air show. (Terry Dickson/Florida Times-Union)

BRUNSWICK, GA. | The only thing blue in the cloudy skies over Brunswick on Thursday morning were six F/A 18 Hornets that came out of the west like thunder.

The U.S. Navy Blue Angels touched down about 10 a.m. to prepare for their aerial performances Saturday and Sunday at the inaugural Wings Over the Golden Isles air show, the precision flying team’s first performance in Brunswick in 20 years.

The skies were leaden and the winds were stiff from a nor’easter that is forecast to be over well before the weekend show that includes aerial acrobatic teams, parachute teams and other acts.

A couple of Georgians are teamed on the No. 6 F/A 18 in the Blue Angels formation. Lt. Tyler Davis of Kennesaw flies it, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael McDuffie of Blackshear is its crew chief.

An advance team had already arrived but the six jets in the performance team flew in from California on a flight that took 4½ hours, Davies said.

The pilots had to throttle back during the flight, Davies said, “because we had to tank.”

“It’s like trying to drive down the freeway and put your key in the key spot in the trunk of the car in front of you,” he said of the precision hook-ups required for refueling in flight.

Of the entire schedule, Davies said he was really looking forward to two shows, the one in Brunswick and one later in Rome near his hometown.

Of flying with the Blue Angels, Davies said, “This is an absolutely amazing experience. Obviously, you have the best view in the world.”

Asked to compare the F/A 18 to other aircraft he has flown, Davies said, “Flying a Cessna is a little harder than this. You can get out of things in this aircraft. Ten knots of wind makes a lot of difference [in a Cessna].”

When he enlisted 17 years ago, Davies was a long way from a cockpit seat. He was working as an aviation electronics technician by day and going to school every night to get his bachelor’s degree.

“I got a four-year degree in two years. I put in an officer’s package,” he said of his application for a commission, “and got selected for [Officers Candidate School].”

From there he went to flight school and now is in the No. 6 jet in one of the U.S. military’s premier precision flight teams.

He spoke of the trust he has in the crew that maintains his jet while it’s on the ground. McDuffie of Blackshear leads the crew.

“We get along very good and have a trustworthy relationship,” McDuffie said.

That was obvious on the ground when the pilots lined up their jets on the apron, climbed down the ladders and shook hands enthusiastically with their crew chiefs.

McDuffie said he walks under and around the plane every morning and makes checks to ensure all is well.

“I climb in and fire it up. I make sure the cockpit is set up like he likes it. All he has to do is climb the ladder, sit down, fire it up and do his job,” McDuffie said.

Flying around the country with “the Blues,” as he calls them, is not the path laid before him in Blackshear.

He had worked in a fertilizer store beside U.S. 84 in Blackshear, and McDuffie said, “I wanted to get away from home. There was nothing there I wanted to do.”

He told his father he was joining the Navy and his family wasn’t happy at first, but they’re proud of him now and will be at the show Saturday and Sunday watching him work. His father, whom he credits for his work ethic, is still at the store.

McDuffie said he has been on a couple of deployments aboard ships and wasn’t giving much thought to the Blue Angels.

“I didn’t see my first air show with the Blues until 2011,” at Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach, he said. “I saw them there and I said, ‘I want to do that.”’

It took a couple of tries, but he’s a team member now. He recently re-enlisted in the Navy for six more years.

The Blue Angels’ will be among the afternoon performances Saturday and Sunday.

Gates will open at 5:30 p.m. Friday for a twilight air show and a .38 Special concert. The air show will be from 6:45 until 8:30 p.m. and .38 Special will perform at 9 p.m.

Tickets are $15 and parking is $10.

There is free parking for the air show Saturday and Sunday that requires a walk of about 10 minutes to the main gates. There is some parking for the disabled. General admission is $25 for those 18 and older, $20 for those 6 – 17 and free for those 5 and younger.

Those with general admission tickets should bring their own seating such as folding chairs. Coolers are among the prohibited items.

The parking lots open at 8 a.m. and the air show gates at 9 a.m. Opening ceremonies both days are at 11:30 and the air show performances will be from 12:30 until 5 p.m. The gates will close at 5:30 p.m.

At 2:15 p.m. Saturday there will also be a parade of veterans military tribute.

For more information go to the website http://wingsovergoldenisles.com/.