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Emergency management head takes flight with Angels

Growing up in Brunswick, Capt. Jay Wiggins can vividly remember watching the Blue Angels rehearse at the former Glynco Naval Air Station. But never, even in his wildest dreams, did he ever imagine he would join them on a flight.

That became a reality Wednesday afternoon. Wiggins, who serves as director of the Glynn County Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency, got to take to the air as part of the Wings Over Golden Isles Air Show’s Key Influencer program. Savannah resident Ernest Lee, who was named the state’s Teacher of the Year, was also selected for a flight.

An element of the air show, which will begin Friday, the program allows local people of note a chance to hitch a ride with the Blue Angels prior to their weekend performances. Wiggins was selected for his dedication to Glynn County, especially during Hurricane Matthew last October. The natural disaster led to the original air show being rescheduled, but it also opened up the opportunity to feature the Blue Angels.

While Wiggins was thrilled by the opportunity, climbing into the passenger seat of the F-18 Hornet gave him pause.

“I was very nervous … and it takes a lot to make me nervous,” Wiggins said with a chuckle after completing the flight. “I climbed up the side of the plane … and I’m not embarrassed to say, I’m a big guy. I was thinking, ‘I’m not going to fit in there.’ The crew chief says, ‘You are flying today.’ So they strapped me in.”

From there, it was up, up and away. The Hornet zipped down the runway, taking flight and ascending nearly straight up into the beyond, becoming invisible to those on the ground. From there, Wiggins and the pilot ran through much of the routine to be featured over the weekend.

“We did barrel rolls and loops. It was amazing. It was definitely a high … figuratively and literally,” Wiggins said.

Of course, the literal height also brings some challenges.

“They told me the human body could take up to 7.4 Gs … we got up to 6.1. I almost lost consciousness at one point … when we reached the most Gs, but they teach you this breathing technique beforehand, where you tighten your abdomen and press your feet down. It helps since all the blood is leaving your head,” he said.

“And when I did that, I came right back. It was really great though. I survived. I survived the hurricane and I survived the flight with the Blue Angels.”

The near-fainting episode did not take away from the awe-inspiring experience. Wiggins considers himself lucky to be chosen and is very grateful to those who helped him reach new heights, so to speak.

“You had to submit a package and Laura Ginn, who works with me, just did an outstanding job of putting it all together. I’m the luckiest guy in the world. I was very fortunate to be picked. It is something you’ll tell your grandchildren about for sure,” he said.

While the public will not be able to climb inside the cockpit themselves, Wiggins encourages them not to miss the Blue Angel’s show this weekend.

“These guys are amazing and so nice. They are true heroes. I have been involved with the planning and setup too … the Blue Angels are amazing but so are the other performers,” he said. “The F-22 Raptor, all of the other performers and the parachute teams. It’s like Disney World coming to your backyard. It’s going to be a fabulous weekend.”

The Wings Over Golden Isles Air Show will kick off Friday evening at the Brunswick Golden Isles Airport with a twilight air show featuring the F-22 Raptor Demonstration Team followed by .38 Special’s concert. Performances will continue Saturday and Sunday with a variety of aircraft and shows.

For more information and a full event schedule, go online to wingsovergoldenisles.com.

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