By Stephanie Ruby
Photos Courtesy of Andrea Nay
“…anything faster than the speed of sound – windows break, people get angry, so we try to keep it below the speed of sound…” Lieutenant C.J. Simonson, who flies the Number 5 jet, was only partially joking when he was explaining just how fast the F/A-18 Hornet will fly during the Vectren Dayton Air Show this weekend (July 7 and 8). “The max air speed is mach 1.8, which is about 1400 mph. The fastest you will see us fly this weekend is .96 mach – we’ll be going about 650 mph in our sneak pass, a
two solo sneak pass. That’s as fast as we’ll get in the air show.”
Becoming a pilot for the Blue Angels isn’t an easy task, that’s to be sure. It takes a long time to reach this level, and when asked if it had always been his dream to fly for the Blue Angels, Lieutenant Simonson had this to say: “It’s such a long road, even to get (to fly) jets you know, which was my first goal. After getting an aviation slot, I’m like ‘Ok, the next goal is to get jets.’ After jets, the next goal was then to get F-18’s, so every step along the way just kind of developed into this. Once I got F-18’s, I set
my eyes on becoming a Blue Angel.”
After becoming a Blue Angel, there are many hours upon hours of practice required before the show is ready to be seen by the public. Lieutenant Simonson discussed what it takes to become “air show ready.” “Well, it all starts from day one, when we get to El Centro, California. We fly six days a week, fifteen times a week. We are starting from day one learning the maneuvers. As we learn them, we get closer, and closer, and closer (to the other jets – coming as close as eighteen inches). So, to get to an
air show in July, it’s been six or seven months of straight practice. I mean, even at air shows, we are still practicing. We’re not perfect.”
It makes you wonder what happens when they aren’t exactly perfect during a performance. Lieutenant Simonson said that they do have a way of pointing this out, “You’ll see us turn our smoke off every now and then and that means that we are out of position. It’s our way of calling ourselves out in front of everybody, and it helps us to get better. Once we get back into position, you’ll see us turn our smoke back on.”
It seems that, even though one might think that becoming a pilot for this prestigious program is the end all, be all, the men and women return back to the Naval Fleet after they are finished with their tour of duty. “We all come from the fleet, we represent those in the fleet while we’re here, and we all go back to the fleet, so it’s a fantastic way to do business.”
The Blue Angels certainly know how to put on an incredible show, with each being better than the last. “We are always practicing – even now, we fly six days a week. It’s just continuous. We are always pursuing perfection.”
Don’t miss Lieutenant C.J. Simonson and the rest of the Blue Angels this weekend, at the Vectren Dayton Air Show. For more information, please visit www.daytonairshow.com.
Special Thanks to Andrea Nay for sharing her photos with MiltonNews again this year.