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Interview with a Blue Angel At The Air Show in Pensacola Beach Fl
Save yourself the traffic jam at the annual Pensacola Beach Air Show and book the best beachfront seat in the house at the Hilton Pensacola Beach Gulf Front Hotel, Holiday Inn Resort Hotel and Hampton Inn Hotel.
Lieutenant Simonsen is a pilot participating in the Blue Angels Air Show Pensacola Beach, Florida. We had the honor of meeting him at an air show celebration in the ballroom of the Hilton Beachfront Hotel.
Lieutenant Simonsen is one of those rare people who get to live their childhood fantasy while inspiring a new generation of kids to dream big. It all started with an ordinary American childhood in a suburb of Minneapolis called Coon Rapids. He enlisted in the Navy when he finished high school and soon after was accepted into the Naval Academy. He graduated in 2002 with a degree in Aerosmith Engineering.
After graduation, he was stationed in Pensacola and spent nine months in flight training at Whiting Field in Milton. He then went to Meridian, Mississippi to learn to fly jets. He was ‘winged’ in 2005 and then stationed in Lamoore, California where he was instructed on the Super Hornet FA18 E-F. After completing his training he spent three years on tour in Japan.
Lieutenant Simonsen was working as a flight instructor in Virginia when he decided to “rush” the Blue Angels. The Angels are a bit like a a high speed, fraternity defined by rigorous training and serious focus instead of keg parties. The application process is long and arduous. There’s only a brief window in a pilot’s career when they are allowed to apply. Lieutenant Simonsen says, “The Navy won’t let you ruin your career to be a Blue Angel.” Typically about forty applicants aspire to six positions.
Applications are submitted in early winter and then the aspiring pilots attend two or three air shows between March and June. In June, the team narrows the choices to approximately thirteen candidates whom they bring to the Pensacola Beach Air Show for ‘finalists week.’
The team spends four days before the Friday flight dress rehearsal with the new recruits in what Lieutenant Simonsen describes as a “pressure cooker situation.” On Monday, each candidate undergoes a long interview with all sixteen Blue Angel Officers. On Tuesday, they take a strength test to see if they can handle the forty pound stick that holds the planes in neutral. They observe a brief and a debrief. On Tuesday night they all have dinner.
The hopeful pilots leave Thursday morning and that afternoon, after practice, the Angels choose their new team. Lieutenant Simonsen says, “We’re very unique. All sixteen members must agree before someone is selected. Being an excellent pilot with a good reputation and adequate flight hours is just the starting point. We don’t test new recruits on their flight skills. We gotta like them. Their personality must mesh with the team because we’re together three hundred days a year.”
In 2010, he was the Pensacola Beach air show narrator and the advance pilot. In 2011 he was the Opposing Solo. He says, “We’re the ones that demonstrate the maximum performance of the F18 by flying right at each other and then making it look like we barely avoided hitting each other.” Next year he’ll do the diamond precision flying. He says, ‘You have to have good team work and a lot of trust to fly eighteen inches apart.”
The Pensacola Air Show is the most important date on the Blue Angel calendar and marks the culmination of very intense training. Between January and March they practice Monday through Saturday, two or three times a day. Lieutenant Simonsen’s says, “You live and breath the demo. When you’re new you start flying far apart and gradually get closer and closer. By the end of February you complete a full demonstration. It feels so good. Then it just gets better and better.”
The new Angels perform publicly for the first time every year in March. Lieutenant Simonsen’s says, “The first time you put on the blue suit and walk over to the blue jet is an unbelievable feeling. You realize you’re actually living your childhood dream. I was a nervous wreck but once you’re airborne you don’t have time to think how awesome your job is. There’s no time to day dream. I still feel nervous every time I fly and that’s good because it keeps me alive.”
Lieutenant Simonsen believes he’s one of the luckiest people in the world. He says, “Being a Navy Pilot is a completely humbling experience. When we fly we represent 540,000 sailors and marines. We may be the only military person a kid ever meets. In my opinion, this is a big responsibility. We represent the people providing America with the blanket of freedom, the guys that are right now in harms way. I just hope that I do a good job at it.”
The Navy’s flight demonstration squadron, popularly known as the Blue Angels, was formed in 1946 and is the oldest formal aerobatic team. The squad’s 6 demonstration pilots fly F/A-18 Hornets at 70 shows in 34 locations each year. The mission of the Blue Angels is to enhance Navy and Marine Corps recruiting, and credibly represent Navy and Marine Corps aviation to the United States and its Armed Forces to America and other countries as international ambassadors of good will.
While you’re here be sure to check out one of Pensacola’s most famous attractions, the National Museum Of Naval Aviation. With 300,000 square feet of displays, this is one of the world’s largest aviation museums. It’s located aboard Pensacola Naval Air Station which is s also home to the US Navy’s Blue Angel Flight Squadron. Check the website for their practice times! Entrance to the exhibits is Free.
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