Blue Angels Schedule

Southwest High School principal soars with the Blue Angels

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Southwest High School principal soars with the Blue Angels

Southwest High School principal soars with the Blue Angels

Danette Morrell, the principal of Southwest High School in El Centro, always encourages her students to take every opportunity presented to them.

Which is exactly how she ended up strapped into the backseat of an F/A-18 Hornet on March 9 for a fly-along with the United States Navy flight demonstration squad, the Blue Angels, at Naval Air Facility El Centro.

Morrell was chosen as a Key Influencer, a person who impacts the community heavily and has a direct effect on the community’s youths.

Petty Officer Edgar Ruffin, the event-leading petty officer, said that a list of eight individuals is compiled from nominations from recruiting officers, and NAF El Centro’s Public Affairs Officer Kristopher Haugh.

Of those eight, Morrell was chosen for the second ride of the day.

Ruffin said, “We want to extend this courtesy to say you reflect someone of Blue Angel standards and we’d like you to keep doing what you’re doing. You want to see a KI and be able to say, ‘I know that person. That’s a great person.’”

Before jetting into the skies, Morrell attended a briefing by Arthur Stockpole, the #7 crew chief who sets up the shows and briefs the Key Influencers before their flights.

During the briefing, Morrell was told about the controls in the cockpit (rule No. 1 is do not touch anything), what to eat before a flight (bananas taste the same way coming up as they do going down), and how to battle the gravitational force she would feel in the air.

On its sharpest maneuvers, The F/A-18 Hornet can pull up to 7.5 times the force of gravity (g-force). The average human body can withstand about 4.5 to 5.5 of g-force.

When the human body encounters more g-force than it can withstand, the heart has a difficult time pumping blood to the brain against the extra strain of gravity.

To keep from passing out, the passengers had to learn an anti g-strain maneuver that forces the blood from their lower extremities back up into the upper body.

But, it’s still not uncommon for riders to pass out. No reason for alarm, said Stockpole. It’s just time to catch up on some sleep until the pilot levels out. Once natural blood flow is restored, the rider wakes right back up.

Zip Upham, the assistant Public Affairs Officer for the NAF El Centro Air Show, said, “The limits of the machine are not the machine itself, but of the human being we put in it.”

However, Stockpole emphasized that the purpose of the ride is to give a once-in-a-lifetime experience to the passenger.

“If you’re not having fun, we’re not doing our job,” he said.

Though she looked as calm as the clear blue skies above, Morrell said flying second didn’t make it any easier.

She said it was like going second to “a presentation that you know is harshly graded.”

“I can only assume it will be (like a roller coaster) because that’s what everybody says and when you look at it, you can see why they would say that,” she said.

Morrell met her pilot, Lt. Tyler Davies, who has over 1,200 hours spent flying his aircraft. After being strapped in and going over the flight procedures a second time, they taxied down the concrete runway and took off.

Seconds later, the jet released a long smoke trail over Southwest High School as a greeting.

Southwest senior Hannah Kemp, 17, went outside with her class to see her principal fly by.

“It was really quick,” Kemp said. “But there were a lot of people out there taking pictures with their cameras.”

After a 45-minute tour of the Imperial Valley, up to the Salton Sea and back, it was time for the Eagle principal to return to Earth.

“It’s like really rich food. You only need a taste,” Morrell said after her feet were back on the tarmac. “It’s really fun but some things you only do once. I would never want that to become mundane.”

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