Thursday, August 14, 2008

Working The Blues

I worked the Blue Angels for the first time yesterday. They were heading off to Illinois for an air show run up in the Chicago area.

Nothing overly special about it. You just treat them like any other military flight. Radar identify, climb them, turn them, hand them off, and switch 'em.

They all take off at once in formation and, as with most military flights, the only one squawking a transponder code is the leader. Even though it's a formation of multiple F/A-18s - six single seaters plus a two seater used for media flights - it only appears as a single datablock on your scope with the call sign VVBA01. The only extra thing you need to do with them is provide an extra mile of separation on account of them being a formation.

Needless to say, they like to hotdog it when they can get away with it. Hell, if I had myself strapped to a Navy jet fighter I'd make the most of it too.

When they're inbound to the field, a lot of times they'll cancel IFR way out, 30 or 40 miles away from Pensacola NAS. Once they're VFR, they'll drop down to wavetop height and fly the entire length of the beach all the way to the base. They'll get so low that we'll often lose radar and radio contact with them. It must be a sight to watch them go ripping by along the white sandy beaches on a nice day. On the flip side, I've seen them do that at 7am before; good luck trying to sleep with the sound of fourteen GE F404 engines screaming along! Once they're done saying "We're here!", they do a rapid recovery into the NAS.

It's funny how much of a big deal they are around here. Their blue and gold F/A-18s are on the covers of phone books, street names, and area maps, immortalized in street names, and depicted in models throughout the city. Touristy shops are filled with Blues paraphernalia like T-shirts and mugs. An older Blue Angel A-4 Skyhawk greats you at the entrance of Pensacola Regional Airport. It's nuts.

There's even multiple formations of Blues F/A-18 models nailed to the underside of our I-10 overpasses; below is the architectural plan for them:

I tell ya, Pensacolians are hardcore about their Blue Angels. With no major national sports like football, baseball, hockey, or basketball, the Blues are about the closest we have around here to a "home team".

They do put on a great show. If you're ever in the Pensacola area, be sure to catch one of their practices during the week at Pensacola NAS. Just park at the Naval Aviation Museum on the base and walk out to the flight line. They're typically done early in the morning and are free for everyone. The lighting is beautiful at that time of day and, since it's just them, you don't have to sit through 5 hours of "opening acts" to get to the main event. You can check out the show and practice schedule here (PDF).

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