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Blue Angels pilot, crewmember reflect on service in elite squadron

Blue Angels Lead Solo Commander Frank Weisser compared flying an F-18 jet to a roller coaster — only much faster.

“It’s like a roller coaster to the Nth degree,” he said. “It’s a roller coaster that where you find yourself under two or three times the force of gravity.”

That was the description he gave during a media event Thursday at Armitage Airfield aboard Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake. The Blue Angels set aside time to have pilots and enlisted crew speak with local media outlets, describing what to expect at the airshows and providing a glimpse at why they joined the Navy.

The China Lake Airshow is Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with flying events beginning at noon. General admission is free for residents, though strict entry restrictions will be observed for safety and security reasons.

Weisser, an Atlanta, Georgia native, joined the Navy after he graduated from the Naval Academy at Annapolis in 2000. He was commissioned as an ensign. He reported to Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola, Florida, for aviation indoctrination in October 2000. He completed primary flight training in the T-34C Mentor at NAS Whiting Field, Florida, and completed advanced flight training in the T-2C Buckeye and T-45C Goshawk at NAS Meridian, Mississippi. He received his wings of gold in November 2002.

Weisser considered joining the Navy a calling, adding that flying wasn’t his original intent.

“I hadn’t necessarily wanted to fly, I love that I get to fly and it is an awesome way to serve my country,” he said. “But it wasn’t my prime motivator to join, I just felt called to serve and the Navy afforded me more opportunities as a young man and it has been awesome. Flying has been a real blessing, whether I’m doing it in a small or large aircraft.”

He has flown with the Blue Angels once before from 2007 to 2010, before beginning another tour at Lemoore Naval Air Station, tours on an aircraft carrier and Germany. He re-joined the Blue Angels in July 2016.

The China Lake Airshow is one of the Blue Angel’s first on the road this season.

“We have just completed our winter training in El Centro, our winter home,” Weisser said. “We do training sorties there to prepare for the show. That’s for our entire team, for our maintenance personnel, our administrative personnel, and our support officer.”

“We normally arrive on a Wednesday or Thursday, do practice flights Thursday or Friday, and do a show for the community on the weekend,” Weisser said.

This is one of the first performances on the road.

“We have a really busy schedule throughout the year, but it typically involves us flying once or twice day in each of the cities and perform on the weekends,” Weisser said.

“I hope the area is able come out en masse and be able to enjoy the airshow, as well as some of the surrounding communities who aren’t as close,” Weisser said.

“We do a number of shows in California, including the annual show in El Centro,” he said. “We perform occasionally in San Francisco and San Diego. We added another show this year in Huntington Beach, the second show ever there.”

He said California is such a big state, that he hopes people come to the airshows.

Flying the F-18 has its perks, Weisser said.

“These are amazing machines just by looking at them,” he said. “They’re essentially rocket ships: they’re light, nimble and they are just very fun to fly.”

He noted the precision with which they fly are often demonstrated in the airshow itself.

“Blue Angels 1, 2, 3, and 4 demonstrate the precision, and how close they can fly and the formation aerobatics of the machine, while 5 and 6, which are myself and my wingman, try to demonstrate the maximum operations of the aircraft: how high, how low how fast and how slow it can go, how quickly it can turn.”

The runway and the town of Ridgecrest will see a lot of blue aircraft overhead in the next few days.

“Our hopes is that it brings in a lot of tourism and revenue for the community and that we can put the town on the map for a while so people can visit a city they might not otherwise visit.”

“This show is not just about the Blue Angels. There are lot of military and civilian performers and everyone puts on a very different act,” he said. “Bang for your buck, airshows are the best deal going in the entertainment industry.” He noted that military airfields are typically free, and civilian airfields might charge $30 or $40 for that “type of high level, high octane over course of four to six hours of entertainment.”

Behind every flight operation is a solid support crew, from administrative to maintenance.

Petty Officer First Class Stephen Reardon, of Rosemount, Minn, is among that cadre. Reardon is assigned to the Blue Angel’s Life Support work center.

The Life Support work center comprises Navy Aviation Structural Mechanics – Safety Equipment technicians and Aircrew Survival Equipment technicians. They maintain and repair the systems that support the life of the pilot in normal and emergency situations. These systems include air conditioning, avionics cooling, heating, liquid oxygen, and canopy and ejection seat emergency escape systems. They also maintain the personal flight gear the pilots must wear, such as helmets, oxygen masks, inflatable flotation devices, and ejection seat flight harnesses.

He said being assigned to the Blue Angels is pretty much like a tight-knit community.

“I love it and it’s great atmosphere,” he said. “We work really hard, and it’s a small team, so we have to work together. We’re all go-to guys and get to know each other very personably.”

Reardon is a parachute rigger, tasked with the survival gear that the pilots are assigned. The overall support crew includes approximately 130 members, with 40 assigned to an airshow.

“I deal with survival gear that the pilots wear, be it torso harness, oxygen mask, things like that,” Reardon said. “As parachute riggers, we have a motto: ‘We’re at a loss to let you down’, so we take our job very seriously.”

Reardon enlisted the Navy in 2009. “I wanted to experience the world, get out of my hometown and build myself up as a better person, and I think the Navy does that for me,” Reardon said. “I’m from a small town in Minnesota so traveling the world isn’t something that a lot of people get a chance to do, so I think that is one of the greatest aspects.”


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