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Tuesday Morning by Jessica Weston: The Blue Angels

The Blue Angels diamond flies over Armitage Airfield Sunday afternoon as part of the China Lake Airshow.

No big surprise here. This week I am writing about the China Lake Airshow and the Blue Angels.
As someone who was born here before Ridgecrest was a city (by three months) and spent the first 12 years of my life in Navy housing, I had seen the Blue Angels before. My parents packed us off to the airfield every time they were in town, and I remember being suitably awestruck by their moves.

They seemed very glamorous to me, these dashing guys in their blue uniforms. They were stars. Even as a kid I was aware they had a worldwide reputation. And they came and performed for us! In my younger days I was not as aware of the importance and the reputation of China Lake, but the Blue Angels’ performances were one indicator that we did, indeed, have a cool thing going here.

So attending the show was a no-brainer for me this time around. In fact I didn’t want to brag, “I have seen them a bunch of times” because I didn’t want to rub it in. So I was looking forward to the event but I wasn’t truly excited until I saw them practicing on Wednesday.
I was coming out of Starbucks when I noticed a woman looking up. So I looked up too and there they were, flying in perfect formation. Tears came to my eyes. It was beautiful.
Anyway, I saw the show Sunday. All the members of the Daily Independent contingent met up at the office, carefully following all the restrictions that were publicized last week.
Driving out was a breeze. Kudos to Michael Smit for being our wheelman. We arrived at the airfield without incident and with no delays.

Some souvenir shopping and an excellent Grape Leaf lunch later and it was time for the show to begin. One of my favorite moments happened right away. The Black Daggers parachuting down with the American Flag reminded me of the beginning of “The Spy Who Loved Me,” my favorite James Bond film.
And of course they were parachuting from VX-31’s search and rescue helicopter to the tune of the National Anthem. From a theatrical standpoint it was pure magic.

The whole show, in fact, was more cinematic than I remembered. The tribute to vintage World War II era planes featuring the F8F Bearcat and the Spitfire MK XIV seemed like something from a movie. It’s hard to believe, but the Blue Angels have been around since 1946.
The appearance of a helicopter to the tune of Flight of the Valkyries was very Apocalypse Now. As was the surprise detonation of a line of ordnance.

The show even managed to work in some touching human interest content.
Presented for maximum drama was the story of pilot Dan Buchanan. It was only after he landed that announcer Ric Peterson revealed that Buchanan is paralyzed. I really did not see this coming and it provided quite the emotional wallop.

Also inspirational was pilot Anna Serbinenko. Serbinenko’s aim is to show young girls that they can become pilots, or anything else they want. She does what she calls sky dancing, flying in graceful acrobatic patterns. I was most impressed by her philosophy, however. She described flying as “three dimensional freedom,” a concept that seemed to summarize the theme of the whole show.

But these were the opening acts. Finally the main event: the Blue Angels themselves. This too was more cinematic than I remembered. It was like watching a real life production of Top Gun, complete with musical accompaniment. Although I kept waiting for “Highway to the Danger Zone,” which I don’t think they ever played.

The angels flew for a full hour, demonstrating their famous diamond and delta formations. Most impressive to me was the coordination of the pilots, their ability to fly so close to each other—sometimes upside down! It brought out the little kid in me.
Sunday was windy. My SPF 100 was put to the test when a very polite Sea Cadet closed our umbrella. Fortunately I was wearing my new pink Blue Angels cap and did not get burned. Another polite Sea Cadet removed our table cloth in deference to the wind.
Interestingly, other than those at my table I saw no one I knew except casino developer Nigel White and his wife and Tony Damiano. Everyone else was an unfamiliar face, which has to mean good news for the local economy.

Overall, my impression was that in addition to being great for Ridgecrest, this is great publicity for the Navy. I also covered the Meet and Greet at the Kerr McGee Center Friday. What really impressed me about the Blue Angels (and others) at this event was how kind they were to the kids in attendance. They patiently signed autographs and chatted with the little ones, frequently kneeling to be on their level.

They were equally patient with the more mature attendees and everyone in between. These guys are truly great ambassadors.
And the airshow, too, is great publicity for the Navy and all it does. As I said, it manages to demonstrate the Navy’s technical skill and expertise in a theatrical format that works for an audience of all ages. This is entertainment, but it also has a point: the skills these men and women possess are not just fun to watch, they also help keep the country safe.

Three dimensional freedom, indeed.