The masses of people – over 80,000 – flooding the grounds of the Vectren Dayton Air Show proved one thing: humans are fascinated by big machines that fly, and the people that make that happen.
“We’re all just normal guys, but we put on this blue flight suit and people think we’re way up here,” Blue Angel Pilot Lieutenant C.J. Simonsen mused.
Of course, most of the time, the featured performers were ‘way up there’ – soaring above the crowds to rock music and applause. Performers included Sean Tucker, a National Aviation Hall of Fame 2008 Inductee, flying a custom-built 400-horsepower Challenger II biplane. Tucker has been named a “Living Legend of Flight,” and is known for flying backwards, straight down, at over 100 mph.
Another demonstration included the Naval F-18 Super Hornet, which flew at a 45 degree angle for an extended period – something that amazes even fellow airmen.
“That’s a beautiful move right there,” gushed Captain Rodney Miller of Wright State University’s Air Force ROTC, “If he doesn’t have the throttle just right, it’ll stall.”
The Aeroshell Acrobatic Team also dazzled, with their barrel rolls, double rolls, bell rolls, and ferris wheel ‘salute to summertime’ – all in AT-6G Texan warbird planes that are over 60 years old. They also provide momentary heart attacks as they zoom toward each other – turning so as not to crash at the last minute.
Other performers included “pirates” that stand in their plane, B-17 Bombers, Team Fastrax Skydiving Team, and aerobatic pilot Greg Poe. But the star of the show was the U.S. Navy Blue Angels.
“When they started the planes up – from there on [the Blue Angels demonstration] was an amazing experience,” said spectator John Tobergta, here all the way from Indiana.
This team of seven F/A-18 Hornets reached speeds of 400 mph, pulling up to 7 G’s, and flying in Diamond four-jet and Delta six-jet formations. They even make a Diamond 360, where they are flying 18 inches apart at 350 mph.
“Now that’s difficult,” stated Aircraft Commander Major Brendan Burks.
The Blue Angels travel with a crew of 50, consisting of Naval and Marine enlisted volunteers. Crews are rotated frequently, with pilots serving 2-year stints and enlisted officers serving 3. It’s an intense selection process, with the current team choosing their own replacement. After all, this is a crew that works hard and fast.
“These guys do in a couple of hours what it takes most crews a day to do,” bragged Crew Coordinator Travis LeGendre on his men and women.
The entire traveling crew and about 6 pallets of equipment fit into one C-130, nicknamed “Fat Albert.” The “Bert” was originally designed for combat fighting and hostile environments, and is part of the Blue Angels demonstration. The 130,000 pound plane makes tight turns and is able to complete a JATO, or jet-assisted takeoff. Eight solid-fuel rocket bottles, four on each side, attached near the rear paratrooper doors are fired simultaneously. They allow the aircraft to takeoff within 1,500 feet, climb at a 45-degree angle, and propel to an altitude of 1,000 feet in approximately 15 seconds. It can land on a runway as short as 2,500 feet too.
But despite both the F/A 18 and C-130’s amazing aerial accomplishments, the Blues claim their favorite part of their job is meeting and stirring up America’s youth.
“Our main mission is to inspire. It’s an honor, a privilege, to make an impact on young boys and girls,” said C-130 Pilot Captain Benjamin Blanton.
Simonsen adds, “Meeting all the kids and seeing the look of ‘aaah’ on their faces – hands down that’s the best part.”
The Air Show concludes on July 18, with doors opening at 9 a.m. and shows beginning at 11 a.m. For more information, visit www.daytonairshow.com.