TOP STORY >>Blue Angels to perform
By SARA GREENE
Leader staff writer
Even if the weather is less than perfect for part of this weekend’s air show at Little Rock Air Force Base, all the pilots need is a 1,000-foot cloud ceiling and five miles of visibility, according to Lt. Commander Tom Winkler, a pilot with the Navy Blue Angels aerial demonstration team.
“We can put on a show in weather a lot of people probably wouldn’t want to stand out in,” Winkler said Thursday afternoonafter the team rehearsed over Jacksonville.
“If there was bad weather we’d shorten the show by about 20 minutes by not doing some of the higher altitude maneuvers like the big loops,” Winkler said.
The Navy Blue Angels flight team has been entertaining audiences for 60 years before more than 414 million fans.
The $21 million F-18s flown by the Blue Angels are just like the ones on Navy aircraft carriers stationed in the Persian Gulf.
“In a war situation, an F-18 can be used for reconnaissance or air-to-air or air-to-ground combat,” Winkler said, standing beside the No. 3 Blue Angels plane.
Nine of the Blue Angels planes will be on the ground, but only six performing about mid-afternoon today and Sunday.
The three extra planes are used for media flights before each air show and if need be, a spare plane. A flock of spooked sparrows fled the airfield as the F-18 engines roared to life in stark contrast to the steady hum of LRAFB’s C-130 cargo planes.
“If we hit a bird while performing, depending on how much damage is done to the plane, we might keep performing, put the plane down and take one of the spares up or stop the show altogether,” Winkler said.
The Blue Angels planes are capable of reaching speeds of 1,500 mph. For the air show, the planes will fly at 700 mph and at the slowest speed they can manage, 100 mph.
Spectators don’t need to worry about missing one of the jets. Biodegradable paraffin oil is pumped into the exhaust nozzles of each plane and instantly becomes a smoke plume. The smoke provides a traceable path for spectators, so they can see the path of the planes.
It also enhances safety of flight by providing a valuable means by which the solo pilots can see each other during opposing maneuvers and conditions of lowered visibility or haze.
“All parts of being a Blue Angel and representing the Navy are good. The worst part I guess would be being away from home so much,” Winkler said. Most of the Blue Angels are in the program for two to three year stints.
“When I’m done doing this, I’ll go back to training F-18 pilots on aircraft carriers,” Winkler said.
Born in London, England, Winkler grew up in Washington and first entered the Navy in 1997. He has logged more than 1,800 flight hours and 302 carrier landings.
The Blue Angels team is stationed at Forrest Sherman Field, Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla. most of the year.
The group spends January through March training pilots and new team members at Naval Air Facility El Centro, Calif.