U.S. Navy Blue Angels prep for Fort Worth Air Show

By Joe Snell | DFW Newsflash | February 2017

Representatives of the world-famous U.S. Navy Blue Angels, one of only two flight demonstration squadrons in the American military, met for a winter visit in preparation for the Bell Helicopter Fort Worth Alliance Air show planned for October.

Lt. Brandon Hempler, Blue Angel no. 7, and Lt. Dave Steppe, Blue Angel no. 8, arrived early Thursday morning, Dec. 29, for a day filled with meetings, visiting facilities, and talking to the media.

“We’re here basically to look at the air field, look at the hotel, look at the gym, the workout facility, and make sure we’re on the same page,” Lt. Steppe said.

Lt. Steppe, an Alabama native, is the team’s events coordinator and responsible for future site planning for all of the Angels’ show locations.

“When 7 arrives Wednesday prior to the team getting here on Thursday, I can give him the packet that says, ‘Everything’s planned, ready to go,’” he said.

As narrator for the flight demonstration as well as the pilot for key influencers and media personnel, one of Lt. Hempler’s responsibilities during the show is to narrate the performance from the announcer’s stand. The mission of the Angels is to showcase the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps through flight demonstrations and to reach the younger generation.

“The airplanes and the demonstration are just a vehicle for us to interact with the community,” he said. “Our goal is to be as professional as possible and hopefully inspire that young individual who may not have the best life at home but comes out and watches a Blue Angels show.”

The Blue Angels were formed in 1946 and perform from March until November. This year the squadron will fly in over 30 shows across the country. The selection process involves an application that begins in March and includes a personal statement, flight records, and letters of recommendation. A total of 17 officers voluntarily serve and typically serve terms of two to three years.

In 2015, the Navy started a process to replace the Blue Angel’s F/A-18A/B Hornets with a squadron of Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornets, a plane that is 25 percent larger and has 40 percent more range. The planes are scheduled to be completed in September 2017, although no timeline has been given as to when the Angels will begin flying them.

“They’re going to be a welcome addition to the team,” Lt. Hempler said. “These are great jets that we have here, but the newer Super Hornets are going to be even better.”

In order to perform the Blue Angels stunts, the traditional Hornet design undergoes a series of changes, namely removing the fighter’s gun and missile launchers, installing flight auxiliary fuel pumps, inserting an oil pump in the tail to emit blue smoke, and adding a spring to the control stick for better handling. The Hornets officially replaced the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk in 1986.

October’s air show was founded in 1993 as the Fort Worth International Air Show. Alliance Air Services took over production in 2006. This year’s show will run over two days, on Saturday, Oct. 15 and Sunday, Oct. 16. General admission is free and early bird specials for parking are available now through the end of May. Featured performers include the Shockwave Jet Truck, the Cavanaugh Warbirds, the Liberty Jump Team, and Greg Shelton and Wing Walker Ashley Key among others.

After the pre-site event, the Blue Angels are headed to their winter home of El Centro, Calif. to train for the upcoming show circuit.

“We’re going to head to El Centro, and then we’ll put everything together,” Lt. Steppe said. “We’ll be there for about three months, getting the main hangars up to speed and then off to the races in March.”