Blue Angels arrive in St. George to plan upcoming air show; STGnews Videocast

A F/A-18 Hornet used by the Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Squadron parked at the St. George Municipal Airport, St. George, Utah, Feb. 28, 2014 | Photo by John Teas, St. George News

ST. GEORGE —  Two members of the U.S. Navy Blue Angel’s arrived at the St. George Municipal Airport, Friday, flying their Boeing F/A-18 Hornet aircraft. Lt. Ryan Chamberlain and Lt. Cmdr. Michael Cheng arrived to meet with show officials to plan the upcoming Thunder Over Utah air show.

As the Hornet cruised down the runway you could hear the “oohs and ahs” from the crowd, with the American flag waving in the background, there was a feeling of patriotism and pride as the two pilots disembarked and greeted everyone.

They flew in Friday to conduct their pre-season briefing for the air show that is scheduled for July 25-27 at the St. George Municipal Airport. St. George is one of only 34 show sites that has been selected by the famed Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Squadron this year.

“For St. George to get the show two years later is unprecedented,” U.S. Navy Public Relations Officer Dan Puleio said. “It’s a testimony first of all to how professional the support staff was here, that they -the Blue Angels – would know it would be another smooth operation; safety is paramount, the other is how warmly they were received by the citizens,” he said.

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Videocast by John Teas, St. George News

The Blue Angels were established in 1946 and are based at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida. While planning a show in New York, a squadron member came across the name of the city’s famous Blue Angel nightclub in the New Yorker magazine and the team adopted it.

The squadron is comprised of 110 members and the pilot’s fly six powerful Boeing F/A-18 Hornets in tightly choreographed demonstrations, sometimes flying only 18 inches apart from each other. Their performances draw more than 11 million spectators over a typical air show season.

“It’s very exciting welcoming the Blue Angels back to St. George for the 2014 show,” Event director Kevin Walsh  said. “We are ecstatic to host another Blue Angel performance and we have been successful in securing other top attractions for the event as well.” he said.

“We had a great time in 2012, the team cannot say enough good things about St. George and the community and how you really made us feel at home … you guys treated us very, very well and we can’t wait to come back,” Chamberlain said.

As impressive as the Blue Angels are to the spectators in St. George, they are also impressed with the St. George area. That is why their 2013 lithograph, which is a print they make each year, is of Zion National Park.

“That’s how special it was for us,” Chamberlain said. “This is some of the most beautiful countryside you can get in America.”

The 2012 show was one of the more difficult shows because of the wind, but that is the reason they practice at least 120 times prior to their first flight, he said. The Blues can perform at lower altitudes if necessary, depending upon the weather conditions, so even on a day like today, the pilot’s focus would be a little more intense, but they could still put on a good show.

Chamberlain is a native of Bloomington, Ill., and after graduating from Southern Illinois University he was commissioned an Ensign in the Navy in 2006. He completed primary flight training in 2008 and served deployments in the Western Pacific and Middle East while aboard the USS Nimitz and USS John C. Stennis in support of operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

For Chamberlain, the dream come true was not becoming a Blue Angel, but being selected to be in the military and pursue his passion of flying off of aircraft carriers, becoming a Blue Angel team member is just icing on the cake, he said.

“This is the opportunity to tell my story about what it’s like to fly off an aircraft carrier, to go into Afghanistan, support our troops on the ground…that teamwork is unlike anything you can experience in the civilian world,” Chamberlain said.

Cheng is a native of San Francisco, Calif., and was commissioned in the Navy in 2001 through the officer candidate school. He completed his flight training in 2002 and then served three deployments with the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower flying 73 combat missions totaling more than 425 hours in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

To become a Blue Angel, applicants apply and go through a screening process and are then interviewed by the team, Puleio said. If selected, the recruit would then shadow the Blue Angels for the last few months of the season to see if this is something they really want to do and to also give the team a chance to view the new recruit and decide if he fits in well with them.

“It is basically sea duty, they are gone 300 days a year,” Puleio said.

Puleio, who retired after serving 20 years in the Navy, is astounded at how young the face of the Navy is.

“The average age on an aircraft carrier I think is 21 years,” he said. “So many people here in America haven’t even quite found themselves, yet here they are operating these multi-billion dollar machines internationally, being ambassadors of the United States. It’s really inspirational, it’s a lot of fun, it’s not just a job.”

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A F/A-18 Hornet used by the Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Squadron parked at the St. George Municipal Airport, St. George, Utah, Feb. 28, 2014 | Photo by John Teas, St. George News

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