Monday, May 23, 2011

The Blue Angels - Navy, Blue and Flying!

It's Commissioning Week at the Naval Academy, a week that those of us in Cape St. Claire look forward to almost as much as the graduating class of midshipmen. For the graduating middies, it is the culmination of four years of a college education unlike any other in the country. Our new Navy officers will move on from the hard work of training and learning here at the Academy to the hard work of serving their country. We have shared our city, and even our Cape homes as sponsor families to some of these kids. They are the pride of Annapolis, and we like to send them off in style with a heartfelt congratulations.

As host city to this fine Academy and home to a significant population of USNA alum, Annapolis and the Cape are fortunate to enjoy a few perks of proximity. Each year as the third week of May rolls around, we are treated to the thrilling roar of F/A-18 Hornets buzzing through our skies. The Blue Angels precision flying team pays us a string of visits during Commissioning Week, first during a training run on Tuesday, then for the actual precision flying demonstration on Wednesday, and finally for the graduation ceremony flyby on Friday. It is a fitting tribute to the best and brightest that the Naval Academy has to offer who will take up the important work of defending our nation.

Next year's Class of 2012 will unfortunately be deprived of this tribute as a result of some poor planning on the part of the previous Academy Superintendent which I ranted about incoherently in a prior post:

Commissioning Week Without the Blue Angels?

It appears that other than the irreversible disappointment of missing them next year, sanity has prevailed, and the Blue Angels will return to our skies in 2013. All the more reason not to miss them this year, though. I know a lot of Capers and their hooky-playing kids would have been crushed to permanently lose the yearly Blue Angels show that we've come to know and celebrate. It's an integral part of the bond our community shares with the Naval Academy.

I always find the juxtaposition of 21st century technology skimming the tops of 18th century steeples and domes to be awe inspiring. Within one field of view, a glimpse of the continuum of our country's history from our past to our present.  How did we get from the Liberty Tree to supersonic jets?

The story of the Blue Angels dates back to the mid-1940s. Following WWII, the Navy was looking for a way to showcase their air capability by creating a flight exhibition team. They needed a name for this team of pilots in blue planes (not jets at that point but Grumman F8F-1 Bearcats which were state of the art for their time). The following is an excerpt from the book: Blue Angels: 50 years of precision flight by Nicholas Veronico and Marga R. Fritze:

How the Blues Got Their Name
Let's face it, "The Flight Exhibition Team" is not a very catchy name. To find a new name, the team ran a contest throughout the training command, and (Thea) Voris described how the winner was picked:
We were getting hundreds of names back, but not one grabbed us like we wanted to be grabbed. I got a call to go up to the staff, this time to meet with the chief of staff, Capt. Bill Gentner. He asked how the name contest was coming. I told him that we were just not finding anything right yet, but that I was sure we would get something soon. Gentner told me he had one for me to consider, the Navy's "Blue Lancers." Something rung a bell:  I remembered that his son had submitted this one. I said, "Yeah, it's got a ring to it, hasn't it, Captain." He asked me to give it serious thought, and I knew what he meant.
We were going to go to New York for a show, and Wickendoll, who was my No. 2 man, was looking through the New Yorker Magazine. We were sitting having a scotch in my room at the BOQ (bachelor officers quarters), and he said, "I've got it, Boss." I asked what he meant. He was looking at a column called Goings On About Town, and the nightclubs were all listed. The Blue Angel nightclub was a big thing in its day. I think it took up a whole block. Four orchestras, eight or nine bars - it was massive. I said, "Gee, that sounds great!  The Blue Angels. Navy, blue and flying!"

With the help of the press at a subsequent airshow in Omaha, the pilots pulled an end around on Capt. Gentner, and the team became known as the Blue Angels instead of the Blue Lancers. The rest, as they say, is history (OK, that doesn't take us all the way back to the 18th century. You're on your own for that research).

Enjoy the shows wherever you are over the next couple of days. If you're driving, please try to keep your eyes on the road or pull over if you just can't resist looking out the sunroof. I've been there and nearly driven off the Severn River Bridge at the excitement of being buzzed by the Blue Angels in formation. My kids tell me Magothy River Middle is planning "field days" this week in anticipation of mass absences. Most schools in the area don't force us to come up with lame lies like "dentist appointment" anymore. They just acknowledge that a significant number of kids will be absent and even provide instructions on how to minimize the disruption to the school day with early dismissals. If you can't beat them...

Here's the link to the schedule of events for this year's Commissioning Week. Weather permitting, I expect to be on the water to see the Blue Angels on Tuesday, but I'm not sure about Wednesday. What is your favorite place to watch the show? Let me know, and feel free to send me pictures or post them on the Cape Blogger Facebook page. Congratulations to the USNA Class of 2011!

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