OCEAN CITY – Two members with the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels team met with officials Tuesday in Ocean City to discuss plans for their appearance at the 2017 OC Air Show.
Lt. Brandon Hempler, Blue Angel 7, and airshow narrator, and Lt. Dave Steppe, Blue Angel 8 and events coordinator for the 2017 airshow, landed at NASA Wallops Flight Facility after surveying Ocean City’s beaches for next year’s show, scheduled June 17-18.
The meetings, held at both Wallops and the Public Safety Building of Ocean City, addressed plans such as airfield, lodging and safety accommodations, according to the pair. But the visit was also an opportunity for the Blue Angels to acquaint themselves with OC Air Show officials, first responders and the resort community.
Hempler of Kansas and Steppe of Alabama both said they have never visited Ocean City, but said the fly-by and meetings allowed them to scope the unfamiliar landscape and meet the townspeople.
“The city has opened its arms to us every year we have been here,” Steppe said.
This will be the Blue Angels’ second performance at the OC Air Show, according to Cathy Bassett, director of public relations for the event. The first appearance in the show was in 2015.
The fleet performs about 35 shows and 70 demonstrations each year, according to Steppe, and Bassett said OC Air Show officials have to request a booking long before the event itself. The Blue Angels, she said, usually announce their schedule two years in advance at the annual International Council of Airshows Convention in Las Vegas.
Bassett said the Blue Angels’ first performance in the 2015 OC Air Show drew record crowds to the beach, and Steppe said an average of two to three million public spectators see their maneuvers each year.
Their performances include an appearance by the fleet’s C-130 aircraft, named “Fat Albert,” and maneuvers from six F/A-18 Hornets.
“Fat Albert” is manned with three pilots, while the F/A-18 Hornets consist of four diamond pilots and two solo pilots, who all join to create “the delta,” a triangular formation of the fleet.
Hempler and Steppe assumed their roles on the Blue Angels team in September of this year, but will not partake in the flights.
Instead, Hempler and Steppe will take roles on the ground, monitoring the skies and what Bassett calls the “aerobatic box,” a portion of water and beach over which the team will fly.
Hempler said Tuesday’s meeting will ensure all supporting agencies know their duties for the June air show.
In the meantime, Hempler and Steppe will continue their training, which lasts from mid-November to March.
“We are strictly dedicated to get airshow ready, learning all the different maneuvers, and a lot of briefing and debriefing to make sure we are always trying to seek that perfection,” Hempler said.
He and Steppe said the Blue Angels try to visit each air show location before the event to view the area and peak peoples’ interests.
“We are there to do aerial demonstrations and show people the airplanes, but let’s not forget we are there to interact with the community and to do outreach events,” Hempler said. “No matter what the numbers of people are, we are really looking to inspire, especially the youth, to live a better life, to work harder for everything they do. So that’s really the root of why we are out there. We are showcasing the pride and professionalism of the United States Navy and Marine Corps …”
Air Show President Bryan Lilley said the Blue Angels performance is a great addition to the OC Air Show’s milestone anniversary.
“We are excited to get things kicked off for the planning of our 10th anniversary event with the Blue Angels,” he said. “This will be one of the best performer line ups we have ever assembled, and we’re looking forward to the return of the Blue Angels and their performance over the beach and Boardwalk on June 17-18.”
Bassett said the fleet’s maneuvers are awe-inspiring to many in the crowd.
“Everybody is so happy to see them when they are here that it’s a really great feeling for them,” she said. “A lot of these guys come off active duty, and they aren’t used to being treated like rock stars. So when they come here, it is a warm and welcoming audience for them and that’s what they love. They love to be able to showcase what they are doing around the world …”