Blue Angels' Homecoming This Weekend
The Blue Angels will celebrate homecoming and the end of the 2014 performance season this weekend, with a first-ever three-day event at Sherman Field aboard NAS Pensacola.
This is the first homecoming in two years, thanks to sequester – the across-the-board federal budget cuts that grounded the Navy flight squadron. Blue Angels commander, Capt. Tom Frosch says the biggest challenge was how to keep the team intact for 2014.
“So we ended up freezing the team, which was a tremendous help for us,” said Frosch. “We went into winter training this year and started fresh. This team has overcome so many obstacles. I’m so proud of this time for getting where we are today.”
Although the blue and gold FA-18 Hornets were not used for performances during the majority of the 2013 season, no dust gathered on them or the team. The pilots still flew to maintain proficiency in the air, then focused on community outreach in the Pensacola area when on the ground.
The 2014 schedule began in the Blues’ winter home of El Centro, California. At the end of this weekend, they will have flown 67 performances in places such as Louisville, St. Louis, the U-S Naval Academy, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Baltimore, and Houston, among many others. Frosch says the welcome back they received has topped their expectations.
“I think the biggest thing we’ve noticed is the crowds, the record crowds,” said Frosch. “The amount of folks that have come out has just been remarkable. And I think last year made them realize that, ‘You know, it’s almost something we take for granted.’ The fact that we lost a season like that really struck a nerve.”
This summer, a Navy investigation found that former Blue Angels Commander Greg McWhorter and three current pilots -- Lt. Commander John Hiltz; Maj. Brandon Cordill (cor-DILL), and Lt. Commander David Tickle – were among those circulating pornographic messages and photographs among themselves and to other team members. Frosch – who initially was implicated – was later cleared of any wrongdoing. He praised the team for how it handled the controversy.
“Anything that doesn’t focus on flying is a distraction,” Frosch said. “This team takes a lot of pride in being able to compartmentalize whatever the hurdle is we face. I’m proud of how every member of this team can compartmentalize any adversity at all.”
McWherter – who left the Blues in 2012 -- was removed as second in command at Coronado Naval Base in California. Hiltz, Cordill and Tickle – who fly their final performance this weekend before returning to the fleet – were given "non-punitive administrative" disciplinary measures.
Capt. Tom Frosch will fly the Blue Angels’ Number-1 jet for one more season. When the team goes to El Centro for the off-season they’ll have six support personnel, and three new aviators: Navy Lts. Matt Suyderhoud and Andrew Talbott, and Marine Corps Capt. Jeff Kuss.
Attendance at past air shows have averaged around 50,000 on Fridays and about double that on Saturday. A spokesman at the base’s Public Information Office says the first-ever Sunday performance will boost those numbers significantly.