EL CENTRO — Soaring with the majestic grace of raptors yet maintaining the precision formation for which they are renowned, the Blue Angels arrived at the Naval Air Facility El Centro just before noon on Jan. 3 to begin winter training.
U.S. Navy flight demonstration team came from its home base, Naval Air Station
Pensacola, Fla., for a 10-week stay in Imperial County. The training will
culminate with the premier air show of the 2020 season at NAF El Centro on
March 14, explained Lizeth Perez, E7 maintenance chief.
This year will
mark the 50th annual local air show for the Blue Angels. Afterward, the team
will move on to Lancaster a week later for the Los Angeles County Air Show and
eventually perform 55 shows in 29 cities ending with a homecoming performance in
Pensacola Oct. 16-17, noted Perez.
this is our home away from home,” she said. “We spend so much time
here we enjoy engaging with the community–schools, hospitals and civic events.
The community really takes care of us.”
As an E6
logistics specialist crew coordinator, Derrious Austin keeps an inventory of
all the gear the team needs at every air show and is certain it is all safely
transferred from site to site.
in charge of our enlisted team, 127 Navy and Marine Corps personnel,” he
directs two technical support representatives, two financial support members
and one logistics support staffer. What Austin said he enjoys best is the
impact of meeting people around the world as he engages in the performance of
not many opportunities in the military to meet and influence so many people in
which I have the chance, serving in the capacity I do,” he said.
commanding officer and flight leader flying the No. 1 jet is Navy Cmdr. Brian
Kesselring a native of Fargo, N.D. He joined the Blue Angels after serving as
the commanding officer of Strike Fighter Squadron 81.
Cmdr. James Cox, who flies the No. 4 jet, noted he is afforded the slot
position within the formation in his status as a second-year demonstration
View From The Slot Pilot
flight out was fantastic,” said Cox. “We had some clouds in Louisiana
and Texas but other than that it was smooth sailing. I love it out here in
Imperial Valley. Beautiful weather, calm winds and smooth air helps us train
admitted the team will hit some turbulence during the training but that the
skies around El Centro are the best place to prepare for the air show schedule.
secluded aids the dynamic of training and helps us get together as a
team,” he said.
of the team is new and those members will use their time here to get to know
each other and gain one another’s trust, which is critical when flying in such
tight formation, sometimes just inches apart.
pilots in the team are No. 2 jet, Navy Lt. Cmdr. James Haley; No. 3 jet, Marine
Corps Maj. Frank Zastoupil; No. 5 jet, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Brandon Hempler; No. 6
jet, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Cary Rickoff; No. 7, Navy Lt. Julius Bratton; and No. 8,
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Adam Kerrick.
his favorite maneuver is the “loop brick cross,” performed next to last in the
takes team work to make it look good,” said Cox. “All of us need to
be on our game.”
Flight in His
Cox said he
grew up in a military family that is home ported in Hampton Roads, Va. His
father was a Navy helicopter pilot. The younger Cox has flown fixed-wing
aircraft ever since joining the navy in 2009.
will start off with two flights a day accelerating to three times a day for one
can be exhausting but we mitigate fatigue with a proper diet and maintaining
good hydration,” he said. “It’s challenging but we rise to the
forward to interacting with the community, Cox said he especially likes meeting
with students. He explained whether a young person aspires to enlist in the
military or not, their preparation for their life’s journey begins now.
best training is be the best you can be today,” he said. “That sets
you up for tomorrow. What I like is inspiring the next generation, whether they
become fliers or whatever profession they choose, be determined.”