Tuesday, September 11, 2012

TOP STORY >> Open house brings 200,000 to air base

Leader staff writer

The Blue Angels drew more than 200,000 people to Little Rock Air Force Base on Saturday and Sunday for the 2012 Heritage and Heroes Open House and Air Show.

“It was near perfect weather. I don’t think you could have custom-ordered better weather. We are humbled by the massive outpouring of support for our air show by more than 200,000 of our neighbors. It was a tremendous honor to show off our base to them,” LRAFB spokesman Arlo Taylor said.

Petty Officer First Class Eric Rodley, a spokesman for the Navy’s flight demonstration team, said, “The air show was great. Everyone in Arkansas treated us really well. The crowd was great. We appreciate everyone’s support out there.”

People were turned away when the gates closed 15 minutes after the start of the Blue Angels performance. The gates were closed to prepare for outbound traffic flow, Rodley said.

About 11 million people see the squadron during air shows every year. The Blue Angels also visit more than 50,000 people March through November at schools and hospitals, according to the squadron’s website.

The website says 16 officers voluntarily serve with the team, and every year it chooses three tactical jet pilots, two support officers and one Marine Corps C-130 pilot to replace the members who are leaving.

The Blue Angels have 16 jets — four single-seat F/A-18 A models, nine single-seat F/A-18 C models, one two-seat F/A-18 B and two two-seat F/A-18 D models.

The closest the jets fly to each other is 18 inches during the Diamond 360 maneuver. They can reach speeds of about 1,400 mph and climb 30,000 feet per minute.

The jets travel between 120 mph and 700 mph during air shows. The highest they fly is 15,000 feet during vertical rolls and the lowest is 50 feet during the sneak pass.

The team also has one Lock-heed Martin C-130 Hercules, which is known as Fat Albert, which cruises at 375 mph.

Blue Angels pilots have to have an aircraft-carrier qualification and a minimum of 1,250 tactical flight hours.

The same is required of the events coordinator, who must also be a naval flight officer or a weapons systems officer.

The Marine Corps pilots flying Fat Albert have to be aircraft commanders with at least 1,200 flight hours.

The demonstration pilots, the events coordinator, maintenance officer and flight surgeon spend two years with the Blue Angels. The other officers usually serve the squadron for three years.

Capt. Greg McWherter, a native of Atlanta, is the “Boss,” the commanding officer for the Blue Angels. The chief of naval air training selects the “Boss,” who must have commanded a tactical jet squadron and have at least 3,000 tactical jet flight hours.

The other Blue Angles officers are Lt. Commander John Hiltz of Fort Mitchell, Ky.; Capt. Brandon Cordill of Hernet, Calif.; Maj. Brent Stevens of Knoxville, Tenn.; Lt. Commander C.J. Simpson of Coon Rapids, Minn.; Lt. Commander David Tickle of Birmingham, Ala.; narrator Lt. Mark Tedrow of Charleroi, Pa.; event coordinator Lt. Commander Todd Royles of Willow Grove, Pa., and C-130 pilot Capt. Benjamin Blanton of Ventura County, Calif.

The squadron’s enlisted team has 105 members, according to the Blue Angels website.

That team takes care of maintenance, public affairs and provides medical support and coordinates events. There are five technical representatives in charge of financial matters and logistics.