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Blue Angels fliers check out the area

Pilots Brandon Hempler and David Steppe pose with Mayor Barbara Delgleize in front of their jet. (Courtesy of Barbara Caruso)

Two members of the Blue Angels team took off on a survey flight Thursday morning to check out the area in preparation for the 2017 Breitling Huntington Beach Airshow, despite heavy rains and clouds that obscured the aircraft from public view.

More than 100 people showed up at the Huntington Beach Pier to catch a glimpse of the famous blue and gold outline of the jet streaking through the sky, but they were disappointed to find out the aircraft had to take a different flight path than planned because of the low visibility.

This U.S. Navy Blue Angels jet passed by Huntington Beach Pier on Thursday as part of a survey flight to prepare for the 2017 Breitling Huntington Beach Airshow. (Courtesy of Barbara Caruso)

Blue Angels members Brandon Hempler and David Steppe were in the jet that flew near the pier Thursday.

Hempler said each member of the elite group is required to have 1,250 tactical flight hours under his belt.

Hempler has flown in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Steppe, who rides in the backseat of the jet that Hempler flies during Blue Angels activities, has flown in Japan and Afghanistan. The Blue Angels team is considered a recruitment tool for the Navy and Marine Corps, and Hempler and Steppe say they are humbled by being able to represent the military to the public.

The Blue Angels also appeals to them because the group is tight-knit.

“Most of us want to join the Blue Angels because it’s a true team mentality,” Steppe said.

“It is the most well-oiled machine in teamwork that I have ever been a part of,” Hempler said.

Hempler said team members have to trust one another because of the dangerous nature of their performances.

He said the jets fly as close as 18 inches to one another and reach speeds as high as 71/2 g-forces, which means the pilot will feel pressure equal to that many times his body weight.

Hempler said that because flying is “perilous,” the team spends a great of deal of time preparing for its flying season.

The group’s main preparation is winter training, which lasts from Nov. 13 to March 10. During training, Steppe said, members fly six days a week, performing one to three flights a day.

They are currently preparing for this year’s shows at a naval air facility in El Centro. The Blue Angels will fly in about 70 demonstrations this year, Hempler said.

Hempler said pilots get up at about 5:30 a.m. on a typical training day, perform their flights and then have mandatory workouts.

The workout regimen is crucial because pilots must have the core strength to use the Hick maneuver, whereby pilots tense the muscles throughout their body to ward off the loss of consciousness from excessive and sustained g-forces draining blood away from the brain, Hempler said.

Hempler and Steppe don’t fly in the demonstrations, but rather they provide a number of support services and coordinating efforts for the team.

Both will be narrating the 2017 airshow.

“It really is a good time for the crowd to be able to interact with us during the show,” Steppe said.

Aside from the Blue Angels, the nine-jet Snowbirds team will also be featured in this year’s show.

The Snowbirds, formed in 1971 by the Royal Canadian Air Force, are also considered one of the most renowned aerial groups in the world.

McCabe said the group mostly performs airshows in Canada but chose Huntington Beach as one of its few U.S. destinations in 2017.

The 2016 airshow, the first of its kind in the city, was considered a huge success by city officials and event organizers.

McCabe, in presenting an overview to the City Council in November 2016 of the month-earlier show, estimated that 550,000 people attended.

That show’s flyovers were performed by the Air Force Thunderbirds and the Breitling Jet Team. The Thunderbirds will return for the 2018 show, it was announced in December.

Admission to the show is free. A portion of the vendors’ proceeds will go toward the Aerospace Educational Foundation of Huntington Beach, a nonprofit dedicated to fostering education in the aerospace industry.

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