Heads swivel as Blue Angels streak across sky

A Blue Angel jet flies very close to the West Star Aviation Air Show fans parked on the hills northeast of the airport.

Fans were awed by Blue Angel pilots passing each other.

Two F-18s fly a mirror maneuver.

What began with inspiration from birds — the wing-flapping ascents, the focused dives, the weightless drifting on changeable air currents, the higher and higher euphoria of flight — progressed to this, to streaks of supersonic speed painting Etch-a-Sketch corkscrews on the hazy blue sky.

From birds to soldier-pilots in flight suits marching in unison to an awesome row of F/A-18 Hornets. When they climb into their individual Blue Angel cockpits and take off to seemingly defy gravity, there is nothing in the world cooler than them.

Which begs the question: Just exactly how busy is the U.S. Navy tent at the West Star Aviation Air Show?

“We get that question a lot: How can I become a pilot?” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Aubrie Blair, 25, a U.S. Navy recruiter in Grand Junction. “At an event like this, there’s lots of interest.”

In fact, all afternoon Saturday there was a steady stream of people through the tent, some wide-eyed from what they’d just witnessed in the sky overhead. It was, at the risk of overusing the word, cool — impossibly, mind-blowingly cool.

And not just the Blue Angels, a team of six U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps pilots. There was Steve Oliver flying a 1956 de Havilland Super Chipmunk in roller coaster loops, U.S. Navy Lt. Derek Corbett zooming and twisting shockingly close to the ground in an F-18 and a whimsical helicopter named OTTO.

Palpable in the air at Grand Junction Regional Airport was the love of flight, the awe and amazement of leaving the ground and soaring.

“I always wanted to do this,” said U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Kevin Sanchez, the flight engineer on Fat Albert Airlines.

Fat Albert Airlines? Military humor. It’s the C-130 Blue Angels support plane, transporting personnel and supplies to each show. On the ground, it looks, well, Fat Albert-ish, but in the air, it turns on a dime, making it vital in combat, said U.S. Marine Corps Capt. John Hecker.

Thursday afternoon, Hecker piloted it on a zig-zag of 60-degree turns, the kind where the stomach doesn’t realize it’s time to stop going left and start going right.

Levelling out of a 45-degree ascent for momentary zero gravity, Sanchez soared weightless to the roof of the cockpit.

That, among other reasons, is why he loves his job.

That, and the honor of representing the 540,000 sailors and marines currently serving, Hecker said.

And, of course, ability to fly.


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