Blue Angels crew prepares for Annapolis air show

By JACK LAMBERT | The Capital, Annapolis, Md. | Published: May 20, 2014

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Plebes no longer, Mark DeBuse and some classmates spent some well-earned free time on the balcony of Bancroft Hall.

The year was 1993, and hours earlier DeBuse’s freshman class had completed the ceremonial Herndon Monument Climb. As a reward of sorts, the no-longer plebes climbed to the top of the U.S. Naval Academy dormitory to see the jets.

More than 20 years later, DeBuse can remember the Blue Angels flying by the dormitory. The jets flew 100-150 feet off the ground, he said, almost at eye level.

“It was just amazing, the solos,” DeBuse said. “You can feel the power and the vibration.”

DeBuse, Naval Academy Class of 1996, returned to Annapolis Monday as part of the Navy flight demonstration squadron, the Blue Angels.

The team, world-renowned for its aerial displays, is scheduled to perform at the Naval Academy on Wednesday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. The show will be the first in Annapolis since 2010.

The lead-up to a visit from the Blue Angels resembles the days before a rock concert.

There are rehearsals, as the group arrives along the Severn River between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Tuesday before practicing the routine over Annapolis at 2 p.m.

There are fans, many of whom lined the streets of downtown Annapolis Monday afternoon. Some, like Annie and Ed Durkin of Germantown, were parents of graduating midshipmen. The Durkins are visiting Annapolis for their son Patrick’s graduation from the academy on Friday.

They arrived early, Annie Durkin said, in part for the Blue Angels show.

“You can see it year after year, and it’s like seeing it for the first time again,” she said.

Any event of Blue Angels-magnitude means there will be promotion. DeBuse and several other crew members attended a media event on the Naval Academy campus Monday morning.

After all, noted a Naval Academy spokeswoman, four years is a long wait between shows.

In 2011, the Annapolis show was canceled due to safety concerns, after an error during a previous performance in Virginia.

A year later, the Blue Angels performed a flyover during the academy’s commissioning but canceled their hour-long routine due to a scheduling conflict.

Federal budget sequestration grounded the Annapolis air show in 2013.

Not every question was allowed at the press conference. Kathryn Macdonald, a public affairs specialist for the Blue Angels, went over ground rules before the interviews.

Crew members, Macdonald said, are not to be asked about Navy policy. Interviews should focus on the academy show and returning to Annapolis, she said.

On April 18, the Navy relieved former Blue Angels commander Capt. Gregory McWherter of duty after initial findings of misconduct and inappropriate command climate. McWherter is accused of fostering a culture of sexual harassment and hazing among the Blue Angels.

Any interviewer posing a question about Navy policy will be asked to leave, Macdonald said. Questions about McWherter go unasked.

DeBuse explained his role on the team. A lieutenant commander, he is the Blue Angels’ flight surgeon (he is nicknamed “Doc).

The job is similar to training athletes. DeBuse is responsible for preventing wear-and-tear on the pilots and maintaining their health before and after flights.

The Blue Angels consist of 16 officers, not all of whom fly the six Navy F/A-18 Hornets during the air show. Other members, besides the flight surgeon, include an events coordinator and a maintenance officer.

The pilots have stand up to 7gs during the performance. The fastest maneuver — the sneak pass — occurs at close to 700 miles per hour. This takes its toll on the pilots, DeBuse said.

So do other aspects of the flying. Handling the control stick on the jet puts close to 40 pounds of pressure on the pilot, DeBuse said.

Pilots perform anti-g-straining maneuvers while flying to avoid losing consciousness, as the force of gravitation drains blood away from the brain, he said.

They continually flex their calf, quadriceps and abdominal muscles — while taking short, staccato breaths — to keep blood near their heart and lungs.

Flight surgeons serve two years with the Blue Angels before returning to the fleet, making Wednesday DeBuse’s last chance to take part in an Annapolis show. He joined the crew in November 2012 and will not be around for a possible 2015 show.

“I’m excited to be out there on the Severn with the crowd and watch them get excited about the Blues being back in Annapolis,” he said.

So too are Blue Angels fans. Jim Heasty of Sewell, N.J., traveled to Annapolis for Wednesday’s show, as well as his son Bryan’s graduation from the academy.

Heasty, a former Navy officer, enjoys the precision when the pilots fly in formation. But he said that his son may be thinking of things other than the air show.

“I think he’s more happy to be seeing his fiancee.”

The Blue Angels fly the diamond formation above Naval Air Station Kingsville, Texas, in March, 2014.


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