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The long road to become a U.S. Navy Blue Angel pilot

by 2nd Lt. Erin Dorrance
Chief of Internal Information Affairs
photo by Staff Sgt. Randy Redman
The Blue Angels wow the crowd at MacDill's AirFest 2004. The Angels train as soon as the last air show of the season occurs until the beginning of their season.

Kids, parents and senior citizens stared into the skies over MacDill April 3 and 4 as six Navy Blue Angels F-18 Hornets performed close flight formations and aerobatics.

As several thousand crowd members watched the Blue Angels in awe, many surely wondered what it takes to become one. Each Blue Angel must have at least 1,200 flying hours and have a qualification to land on aircraft carriers, said Navy Lt. Mike Blankenship, Blue Angels public affairs officer. Each Blue Angel applicant auditions and is then selected by the current Blue Angels team.

Although the Blue Angels have never had a female pilot, they have their first applicant this year. The selections for the next team will occur in July.

Once the team is chosen, intense training begins.

"The Angels train as soon as the last air show of the season occurs until the beginning of their season," said Lieutenant Blankenship. "They start practicing in mid November and start their winter training January through March in El Centro, Calif. The training is six days a week, two to three times a day."

"Our job is to make our show look easy," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. David Varner, Blue Angels pilot. "However, to us in the air, it is 40 minutes of physical and mental concentration that make that happen."

Commander Varner, who tried out for the Blue Angles three times before making the elite team, said being a Blue Angel is even better than he imagined.

"The flying is work," he said. "You really feel like a Blue Angel when you have the chance to visit local schools and hospitals. That is the part I really enjoy."

Commander Varner grew up in El Reno, Okla., and liked aviation from the start.

"My dad got me started," he said. "We used to fly the remote control airplanes."

He graduated from the Naval Academy in 1992 and began pilot training in Pensacola, Florida, in 1993. He knew right away that he wanted to fly the F-18 Hornet.

Commander Varner, who leaves the Blue Angels in November after completing a two year tour, said the experience of being a Blue Angel will be one he will always remember.

 

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