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Atsugi aviator savors role as commander of Blue Angels

By JULIANA GITTLER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 5, 2006

Navy Cmdr. Kevin Mannix didn’t expect to lead one of the most popular and recognizable Navy symbols, the Blue Angels flight demonstration team.

But then, he really didn’t expect to do a few things in his career.

In 1986, Mannix graduated from a Merchant Marine Academy in Bronx, N.Y., with a computer science degree and little knowledge about Navy assets above the waterline.

“I wanted to go drive boats,” he said.

He soon realized that job wasn’t exactly what he was looking for.

The same year, the world was treated to one of the most significant cinematic achievements yet, at least in the eyes of naval aviators: Tom Cruise’s classic flying movie “Top Gun.” It would influence hundreds of future pilots of the time, Mannix said.

Himself included.

“I thought, ‘That looks like a good way to spend a couple of years until I figure out what I want to do,’” he said.

Off to flight school he went, expecting to be a helicopter pilot. But his scores were high enough to join the ranks of the most prestigious fliers, and he soon found himself in the cockpit of the high-flying A-7 Corsair attack jet.

Mannix stayed with the Corsair — including flying combat missions in the Gulf War — until 1991 when he retrained on the F/A-18 Hornet. With the Hornet, he later came to Naval Air Facility Atsugi as first the executive officer and later the commanding officer of the Royal Maces. In the fall of 2003, the entire squadron transitioned to the Super Hornet and became VFA-27.

It was there that Mannix saw the Blue Angels were looking for a new face to lead the group. They were seeking pilots with command experience from the 1986-88 flight group.

He initially didn’t even plan to apply. His wife persuaded him to try, suggesting he didn’t have anything to lose.

“This is something I thought would be totally unattainable,” he said. “They don’t pick guys like me — average, run-of-the-mill, not a pretty boy.”

But there he was with the finalists, most of whom he knew from flight training.

“Everybody thinks the other guy would make the best Blue Angel,” he said.

But he had the right background and under his leadership his squadron had a very good year. They told him on the spot he would be the next person to lead the famous group, which includes about 120 people.

Mannix said he was just numb upon hearing the news.

The new job carries many new challenges. Besides basic command and flight pressures, the team is always in the spotlight.

“You let the public see what the F-18 can do,” he said. “After a flight, you actually get to meet the public and see their smiling faces.”

Attached to the USS Kitty Hawk with Carrier Air Wing 5 there have been few opportunities to show people what you do, he said.

The Blue Angels unit was formed to demonstrate top flying skills. Its primary objective today is recruitment — showing people the fun side of the Navy.

Mannix said he loves to fly but loves the Navy and its sailors more. He’s happy to have a chance to show people the nicer side.

Still, the flight training and practice is extremely rigorous. And being such a public figure will be unusual.

“To be in the public eye is probably something I’ll have to get used to,” he said. “There’s an awful lot of responsibility being the CO of the Blue Angels.”


Best of the Best

His squadron’s achievements are part of the reason Cmdr. Kevin Mannix believes he was selected to lead the Blue Angels flight demonstration team.

“The squadron, they’re the driving force behind me,” he said. “To be a [commanding officer] of a squadron like that is an honor.”

And the unit has the honors to prove it. In the past few weeks, the Naval Air Facility Atsugi squadron, part of Carrier Air Wing 5, has earned:

Commander Naval Operations Safety “S” award for safety in calendar 2005; a Battle “E” for safety, efficiency and readiness; Association of Naval Aviation McClusky Award for Operational and Tactical Excellence; and the Golden Anchor for Retention Excellence.

On a personal level, Mannix also received the Navy and Marine Association Strike Fighter Wing Pacific Leadership Award for 2005.

— Juliana Gittler

Aerial acrobatics

According to the squadron’s Web site: A Blue Angels flight demonstration exhibits choreographed refinements of skills possessed by all naval aviators. It includes the graceful aerobatic maneuvers of the four-plane Diamond Formation, in concert with the fast-paced, high-performance maneuvers of its two Solo Pilots. Finally, the team illustrates the pinnacle of precision flying, performing maneuvers locked as a unit in the renowned, six-jet Delta Formation.

The Blue Angels are scheduled to fly almost 68 air shows at 35 locations in the United States during the 2006 season. Last season brought out more than 17 million spectators. Since its inception in 1946, the Blue Angels team has performed for more than 414 million fans.

— Source: blueangels.navy.mil

Cmdr. Kevin Mannix
PAT HALTON / COURTESY OF U.S. NAVY

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