Expert Q/A

Blue Angels Need More than Jets to Fly

Interviewer: Maria King
Expert: Lieutenant Amber Lynn Daniel US Navy Public Affairs Officer
Date: October 13, 2015
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I have always been fascinated by air shows and how they can get the whole thing organized. I finally got a chance to put my questions right to the source last month when the Blue Angels came to Atlantic City for the annual air show. Everything that goes into a show was even more than I had imagined. Sticking with the AC show tradition of securing top flight teams and performances, the Blue Angels Demonstration Squadron was the featured performer this year. I had the opportunity to meet and speak with some of the Blue Angels and their support staff. I found out just what happens from the application process through the actual show. Here is my conversation with Lieutenant Amber Lynn Daniel.

I think many of our users would like to know more about how the whole operation works. It is common knowledge that the Blue Angels are in great demand to perform every year. Certain factors enter into the decision of what shows actually make your schedule. Can you elaborate somewhat on how that process works?

The Blue Angels receive between 70 and 100 requests every year. As you know, the Blue Angels are primarily a recruitment tool and being that means consideration is given to certain areas based on criteria and objectives that are set out program wide. For example one thing we look for is diversity. But we do not make the decision alone. There are multiple departments that have a say in the final schedule; NAVCO Outreach, Parent Command, Chinfo Media Center and of course the Blue Angels Squadron as well.

Are there shows that make the schedule every year?

Yes there are 3 that are on the schedule every year. Two are in Pensacola Florida because it is our home base and the other is the US Naval Academy Graduation Ceremonies.

I can certainly understand being the US Navel Academy. And considering that you are away so much of the year, I am sure that the hometown appreciates the chance to see you. You spend a great deal of time on the road. What does your typical year look like?

Well we spend January to March in El Centro, CA for training. Even though the performance remains the same every year we train constantly. In March we leave El Centro and start our performances. The schedule is divided by East and West shows. We perform at shows starting in March and ending in November. Year round the team works 6 days a week with Mondays off including 6 days a week physical training. Pilot training is extremely critical because of dealing with G force.

It sounds like you have a very full year. When you finally head out on the road to a show, how far in advance of a show does the team arrive?

Well Atlantic City is a unique show because it is held mid-week, typically shows are held on the weekend. So we arrive at the host city for the show on Thursday. We have practice on Thursday and Friday and we perform on Saturday and Sunday. We also get in some community outreach on Fridays with a school or hospital or some other community oriented organization such as Girls and Boys Clubs, Boy or Girl Scouts, etc.

I see quite a few people on the flight line here. How many people comprise the "team" that travels to produce the show and support the pilots?

Well, the team that travels includes the pilots and about 55-70 support personnel. These are with the team directly and travel to all of the shows. At the host base or airport, there is an additional team of support. Here in Atlantic City, for example, we are hosted by the 177th Fighter Wing and they will provide an additional 130 people for the days that we are here. And in the host city and surrounding area, there will be a staff briefing for EMS, Police and Fire personnel who will be trained by us in the special needs surrounding the jets and pilots should there be any emergency.

I really had no idea until I saw all of this activity that it took so many people to just do the behind the scenes jobs. I guess on a conscious level I would have said that it took a huge support staff but I really had no idea it was so huge. And today is practice. I can only imagine what it will look like when the performance is taking place.

It is, and the reason is that it is such a precise and perfectly orchestrated performance. Everything from the ground crew to the tower people need to be exact for the show to run as it does and for the safety of our pilots and the spectators.

When we were talking earlier, you mentioned that every person on the team has multiple jobs. You are liaison officer and responsible for safety/security? What does that job entail?

The job I have concerning security and safety has to do with positioning. It is really about spacing. I monitor spacing between the Blue Angels Flight team when they are flying. The spacing is crucial in every phase of the show; the flying, the maneuvers etc. Also, we grade the team in "real time" which is necessary for safety as well. There is a team of 3 people monitoring here at the base and another 3 people at the tower at the show. Every aspect of the performance is constantly monitored.

Again, the intricacies of putting on a show like this are just overwhelming. But to look around here it seems like it everyone is focused and making it almost look easy. What circumstances would cancel a performance? Say for example would rain cancel a show?

No, rain would not cancel a show. Weather can be a factor but it would be low cloud cover under 1000ft. Also a pilot being ill or unable to fly would not cancel the show unless the "Boss" pilot was unable to fly. That would most certainly cancel the show. (The boss pilot is the commander/lead pilot of the team).

 
Thank you so much Amber for taking the time out of your busy schedule to speak with us and to give us great insight into the entire process of just what it takes to put a show like this together.

A lot of the questions I had, have finally been answered. Now I have this whole operation in perspective and it is even more remarkable then I had imagined. I wanted to get a better idea of exactly what takes place behind the scenes and I sure did. It was great fun being out on the flight line with the jets and the team as they practiced and prepared for the show. (Did I mention it was about 1000 degrees out there?) What I hope I did was give all of you some really great insights into just how much goes into putting on a performance like the Blue Angels. Keep in mind there are hundreds and hundreds of unsung heroes who are also on the team as well as the support personnel. And that doesn't even take into consideration the local show planners, sponsors, marketers, emergency personnel and many many others. The next time you attend an air show keep that in mind and appreciate just how hard many people work so that you have an unbelievable experience.

Maria can be reached directly at expertQA@eventcrazy.com
or visit her website at EventCrazy.com

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