Preparing to fly what will likely be his last Pensacola Beach Blue Angels Air Show, lead solo pilot Lt. Cmdr. Brandon Hempler is hoping the weather will continue to hold.
“I am no weather man,” Hempler said Thursday. “But I personally think it is going to be fine.”
Hempler spoke at Naval Air Station Pensacola hours before the team flew over the beach Thursday afternoon.
Dress rehearsal for the air show is scheduled to start at noon Friday with the Blue Angels flying at 2 p.m. The official show is scheduled for the same time Saturday. Sunday is scheduled as a make-up day if Saturday’s show is rained out.
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“We are planning on flying, and I think that the weather is going to allow us to fly,” said Hempler, who said the beach show is always a special part of the team’s season.
“It’s one of the great things about the Pensacola community, they absolutely love the beach show,” he said.
As the lead solo pilot, Hempler said, flying in the beach show is unique.
“Being right in the middle of everyone at the beach is a pretty special experience,” he said.
‘We appreciate all their support’
Hempler and Marine Sgt. Nathan Lyons, a maintainer for the team’s F/A-18 Hornets, spoke to the Pensacola News Journal on Thursday in advance of the show.
Lyons said the team is looking forward to performing for the local crowd. He said he sees signs of Pensacola’s support for the Blue Angels in bumper stickers, flags, posters and other items all over town.
“We would like the community to know how much we appreciate all their support,” he said. “When you go to a barber shop or any locally owned store around here, it is humbling to see how much support this town has for us.”
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Hempler agreed. Hempler, who has been with the team since 2017, noted the show falls midway through the NAS Pensacola-based team’s busy season and gives team members a little time at home.
It is also the time of year when the team interviews officers for the next season.
“It is a special time for the team, it marks the halfway point of the season, a lot of changes are coming for the team and we are picking new people to be on the team next year,” he said.
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Blue Angel pilots typically serve just two or three years with the team before returning to regular duties with the Navy and Marine Corps. Hempler served as the team’s narrator, pilot for guest riders and opposing solo pilot before becoming lead solo this season.
He is scheduled to leave the team at the end of the 2019 season in November and return to the fleet.
Dissecting the Blue Angels’ maneuvers
While Blue Angels’ flying is unique, the maneuvers are based on what Navy and Marine Corps do every day, he said.
“Navy and Marine Corps aviators aren’t doing the diamond roll and the 360, but formation flying and basic aircraft handing are things we learn in flight school,” he said.
And, Hempler said, those are skills the Blue Angels are demonstrating for the millions of fans who come out to see them fly each season.
“The Blue Angels, we put on a great show and it’s fun to watch and reinvigorates the sense of patriotism, but one thing to remember is we are just representing the Navy and Marine Corps worldwide who are out there serving and very well could be out there getting shot at,” he said.
He said his favorite Blue Angels’ maneuver is to come from behind the crowd and surprise people with the sneak pass.
“Like a true solo pilot, I like the sneak pass. I like going fast. I am pretty simple person,” he said.
Lyons, the maintainer, said he also likes the sneak pass. Unlike Hempler, he gets to see the reactions from the ground.
“There is a lot of satisfaction when you go to a show site and you see all the people come out and you see their faces just light up as soon as that flat pass (sneak pass) comes by, it is a beautiful sight,” he said.
‘They literally take your breath away’
Lyons, who has worked on F/A-18s throughout his career in the Marine Corps, has spent a lot of time around elite aviators. But he said he has gained a unique appreciation for the skills of Hempler and the other Blue Angels pilots.
“They literally take your breath away,” said Lyons, who has ridden in the back seat with the team. “What they do day in and day out is not easy. They make it look easy, but it is not easy.”
Although Hempler will leave the team before the scheduled transition to the Super Hornet in 2021 for the team’s 75th anniversary, he said he is excited about the change. Hempler, who has flown the Super Hornet in the fleet, said the larger and more power fighter jets should make for an exciting demonstration.
“The Super Hornet will be a definite improvement,” he said. “It’s a bigger airplane and it will be interesting to see how it affects the show.”