By Thomas Sellers Jr.
The gray and damp skies over the Millington Regional Jetport still had a touch of blue this morning.
With a new year started, the officials at the Jetport were excited to invite city leaders, dignitaries and media to greet two of the Navy’s Blue Angels into town. Blue Angel No. 7 Lt. Brandon Hempler of Wamego, Kan., and Blue Angel No. 8 Lt. Dave Steppe of Birmingham, Ala., flew into Flag City to promote the upcoming Memphis Air Show May 13-14 to be held to the Millington Jetport.
When word leaked that the Blue Angels were returning to the Memphis Air Show during the last week of 2016, there were thousands of hits on www.millington-news.com
“We do it for the people,” Steppe said. “That’s sort of our game plan. It’s not because we want to make ourselves look great. It’s for the community. It’s for those people out there who want to see us fly. And that’s what keeps us motivated.”
The Blue Angels are known around the world as an elite flying unit performing in precision formations. The pilots fly in their six distinctive blue and gold F-18 Hornets and are accompanied by their C-130 support aircraft “Fat Albert.”
The Blue Angels demonstration squadron are aviators from the Navy and Marines. The Blue Angels team was formed in 1946, making it the second oldest formal flying aerobatic team after the French Patrouille de France formed in 1931.
Steppe said the Blue Angels are compiled of elite pilots from the Navy and Marines.
“It’s like a job process for us,” he noted. “Everybody comes from a fleet. Everybody is very experienced. So the odds are stacked. We have a minimal of qualifications just to apply for the team.
“The application process is really like a job interview,” Steppe continued. “It’s like trying to get a job. It’s a volunteer basis. You’re not assigned to it but it’s a huge honor.”
A part of that honor is community outreach. In previous visits to Millington, Blue Angels have stopped by local businesses and schools.
“It’s a huge part of making it a successful weekend for us,” Steppe said. “Traveling and trying to meet as many people as we can especially the kids to adults. The kids make it really special because it’s good to get out and interact with them. They get to know us and maybe one day they could become one of us.”
Area children’s next chance to see the elite squadron in action will be in May. Steppe encourages all to come out to the Millington Jetport this spring to enjoy all the acts.
“It’s going to be a great show,” he concluded. “It’s going to be live and plus you get to see some great jets fly really fast. It’s all about our professionalism. That’s what we’re here to also showcase not just from the Navy side by the Marine Corps. side. We get to act as a team. That’s huge for us as Blue Angels.”
Tickets are on sale now at www.MemphisAirShow.com. A range of options for every budget are available from general admission to a Flight Line Club where spectators enjoy the most exclusive seating, private amenities and the best view of the show.
By Thomas Sellers Jr.