Cameras and phones turned toward the sky, and social media lit up as our favorite VIP guests made another memorable entrance. The Blue Angels landed Thursday morning, March 28, at the NAS airfield Key West, and no one missed it. Doing their signature diamond formation flyover, the famed F/A 18 hornets blazed down Duval Street before heading north to their Boca Chica home for the next three days. Leading the field in jet number one was Captain Eric Doyle who has been flying with the Angels for the past one and a half years while still serving in the naval services.
Captain Doyle, flight leader, has served 23 years with the Navy. His roots were always with service aviation as his father was in the Air Force and, Doyle said, he wanted to be a pilot since he knew what flying was. Now Doyle lives in and raises his two boys in Pensacola. Not as a Blue Angel, Doyle has flown in Key West before and looks forward to the clear blue skies this weekend.
“We get to represent the 800,000 men and women who are in active service today, so it’s an honor,” said the Captain.
He explained the Angels have over 30 variations of different formations and cater each show to the area depending on factors like weather. They could be high looping, creating the Diamond 360 or the Fan, or flying solo as low as 1000 feet- basically anything can happen. The average speed of a Blue Angel is 350-400 mph but faster for solo or low passes, up to 700 mph. The F-18’s use up to 8000 lbs. of fuel an hour. Can they break the speed of sound yes, will they? No, not at an airshow, although, Captain Doyle has admitted to breaking it himself.
“I’ve wanted to be a pilot since I knew what flying was.” —Capt. Eric Doyle
What’s it like up there in the air? Doyle said that it’s all about focus, and while it may seem dramatic from below, the pilots are nearly meditative. He says that each flight leader has his or her own cadence, and he likens it to the rhythm of a march. He acknowledged that flying takes a physical toll: that tensing one’s body prevents physical distress or worse, loss of consciousness. Doyle doesn’t like to emphasize the danger, though maneuvers take him up to 700 mph and into loops taking him a dramatic—and fast—1000 feet up.
It’s an extensive process picking a Blue Angel pilot. Only those with lengthy service history and countless hours of flying make it, making it a true honor. However, when pilots command a 56 million dollar jet 18 inches from another 56 million jet, Doyle says it boils down to “Everyone has to trust you as a person and how you fly.
—with contributions by Sarah Thomas