If you have ever seen the Navy’s Blue Angels high performance team in action, you have seen some of the world’s best pilots making aircraft do things you might not have thought possible. Taxing the limits of pilot and machine in high and low speed maneuvers, they are indeed a wonder to behold. Still, things can-and sometimes do, go wrong.
Early reports are that one of the F/A-18 Hornets went down into a residential area outside of Beaufort Marine Corps Air Station outside of Beaufort, South Carolina. At least part of the aircraft apparently hit at least one house. The only reported fatality is the pilot.
CNN reported that the plane might have hit the top of a tree, while FOX News reported it may have hit a power line. As of this writing neither report was confirmed. Whether it struck something like that or not isn’t going to be a cause for a crash like this, though. The Blue Angels advance teams thoroughly research the areas they will be flying in and are more than aware of any potential hazards. The most likely scenario to be considered has to be some type of mechanical error. Pilot error is a possibility too, or contact between the plane and one of the others. There could have even been an impact with a bird that set the crash into motion. It is far too early to do anything more than speculate about what might have gone wrong.
The official site for the Blue Angels defines the mission as one “to enhance Navy and Marine Corps recruiting efforts and to represent the naval service to the United States, its elected leadership, and foreign nations.” It is something they have been doing quite well for decades. And while many are steadfastly against what the United States military is doing in Iraq, they recognize that the war is a separate issue from the outstanding pilots that serve our nation.
The team is scheduled to preform 66 times this year at 35 sites. There is no indication yet whether any of these shows will have to be canceled or rescheduled due to today’s crash. Crowds for the air show in Beaufort were estimated to be near 100,000. More than 15 million people in all are expected to see them this year. I have had the opportunity to see them twice, and I can’t help but be amazed by the extraordinary interface between pilot and machine.
The first air show by the squadron was in June of 1946. Needless to say, they were not flying the same aircraft. This year is the 20th that they have been in the F//A-18 Hornet. The name “Blue Angels” came from a member of the original team who saw it in an issue of New Yorker Magazine. It was an article about the Blue Angel nightclub.
Blue Angel pilots have been called “the best of the best.” It’s hard for anyone who has seen them to argue. Especially considering they have been carrier pilots. Anyone who can pilot an aircraft that is catapulted into the air by high pressure steam and lands by snagging a cable on a pitching deck that is a hell of alot shorter than any runway definitely has a pretty high level of skill.
This past summer there was a crash at an air show about two miles from where I live in Hillsboro, Oregon. It was a solo crash, not involving an air team. There was some talk after the crash that maybe the show should be canceled. Not only was that soundly rejected, the show was actually expanded. The Blue Angels are expected to be here again this summer. They also are a big part of the Seafair summer festival in Seattle each summer. My hope is that they will continue to perform for many years to come. That would be the best tribute to the fallen pilot.
Sources: CNN, Fox News, offical Blue Angels website www.blueangels.navy.mil