Rain or shine, the Atlanta Air Show will take place this weekend at Falcon Field in Peachtree City, featuring the Navy Blue Angels as the headliner.
But officials will monitor the weather for potential cloud cover.
“We don’t fly in clouds, we adjust our show. Because if we fly in clouds, we can’t be seen.”
Flight Command Officer Brian Kesselring says the F-18 Super Hornet pilots “actually have four different shows that we can do, we can vary those based on the ceiling of the clouds and the visibility.”
“As long as you can see us, we typically can fly. As long as it’s safe to be outside, we can put on a show.”
So what is the minimum height the Blue Angels can fly during an aerial demonstration?
“Well, VFR flying is what typically what we do,” Kesselring says.
“So if it’s VFR -- Visual Flight Rules for us, per the FAA -- that is our absolute minimums. And it depends on the show site whether we are willing to go down that low though.”
How low are they willing to go?
“A thousand feet, typically. At least three miles visibility, [we] would err towards five.”
Q&A with Flight Command Officer Captain Brian Kesselring
I spent a few minutes talking with Flight Command Officer Captain Brian Kesselring, learning about his background and how he was selected for the elite crew.
Christina Edwards (C.E.): When did you become a Blue Angel?
Brian Kessler (B.K.): “About three years ago, for me, and this is my third and final year. In fact, this is my second to last show. My last show on the road with the team, and then I go back to the Navy and continue my career there.”
C.E.: It’s bittersweet, isn’t it.
B.K.: It is, it’s been fantastic. But I signed up to fly strike fighters for Naval Aviation, and go and protect the freedoms that we hold dear. So that is my primary job, this has been a fun and absolutely rewarding gig for me, but I am looking forward to getting back to the fleet as well.
C.E.: How did you become a Blue Angel?
B.K.: Everybody has kind of a similar story, everybody is basically selected or hand selected from the fleet and they apply to be here, at some point in their career. Our junior members have six to eight years.
B.K.: In my case, I had about 20 years of service. I was a former commanding officer of a strike fighter squadrant, the F-18 Super Hornet you see behind me. And after that, I had 3,000 hours that I put in my application, and lucky enough, I was selected.
C.E.: Why are you here in Peachtree City? Why are you here in Atlanta?
B.K.: We are here, like we are all across America throughout our season. We represent over 800,000 active duty reserve and civilian support personnel, in our Navy and Marine Corp.
B.K.: One of the special things about our services, the Naval Services -- we are out of sight a lot of times. We are all across the world deployed right now. And for us to come here -- we don’t want to be out of the mind of the American public. We have these shiny blue and gold jets back here, but these are normally painted gray and they’re flying off aircraft carriers, and doing all the stuff that we do.”
B.K.: To come over here, and to represent our Brothers and Sisters in Arms, all across America and again in Peachtree City, it is super cool. And to show you what your Navy and your Marine Corp is.
B.K.: We’ll do some maneuvers out here, that the fleet is doing -- has some showmanship on it -- but it definitely is a representation of what our folks are doing all across the world.
C.E.: Which plane is behind you?
B.K.: This is the F-18 Super Hornet. These are the premiere strike fighter for the United States Navy, and if you were to look at the bulk of the strike fighters on any air craft carrier, this is what you would see. In fact, in a former life, this was flying off a former air craft carrier itself.
C.E.: How fast does it go?
B.K.: It can go darn near Mach 2, so almost twice the speed of sound. But we’re not going to do that here in Peachtree, that would be getting a little bit loud. So we keep it under that, but we’ll get out there and go pretty fast, 600 mph is kind our fastest that we will go.
C.E.: How much does it cost?
B.K.: Oh boy, that’s a great question. For me, it just -- it cost a lot of effort for our team out here. I don’t know what the price tag of a new Super Hornet is, you’ll have to Google that one. [Note: According to Aerocorner.com, the F 18 Super Hornet costs $67.4 million in 2021]
B.K.: But for me, and for everybody out here, they dedicate their lives. In my case, it’s been 22 years of service, about fours years at sea. And what you’ll see out here, is everybody else across the Navy and the Marine Corp has the same thing. Whether it be 6, 7, 8, 20 years -- have dedicated their life. And I can’t emphasize this enough, their families support us as we’re out there doing our Nation’s bidding.
C.E.: Is it scary flying it?
B.K.: We practice a lot so that it’s not scary. We don’t want it to be scary -- we like people to be impressed by the teamwork and precision you see out there. We’re not looking to really scare anybody. You might be startled if you haven’t seen one for a while because they are pretty impressive and a powerful machine.
B.K.: But it really isn’t. For us, we’re doing it. I’ve spent twenty-something years flying in the Navy, and this is a chance to showcase what we’re doing out there.
C.E.: And is that a one-seater or a two-seater?
B.K.: This is a one-seater. We have an F-18E, which is our single seat model. Predominantly, what you will see inside our flight demonstration is an F-18E Super Hornet.
C.E.: How do you stay safe out there? How do you avoid g-loc [g-force induced lack of consciousness]?
B.K.: Actually we don’t wear g-suits, believe it or not.
C.E.: You do not wear a g-suit.
B.K.: Yeah, we don’t. The reason we don’t do that is we train a lot, we go to the centrifuge which is something that swings you around and practice our g-strain and make sure it’s not a factor for us. We fly so precisely that a g-suit will interfere with how are flying. So it’s actually more dangerous to have one on.
C.E.: How does weather affect you? How do cloudy conditions impact you?
B.K.: If it’s safe to be outside, we normally fly. We don’t fly in clouds, it’s normally something we don’t do... what we do is we adjust our show -- if we are in a cloud, we can’t be seen, so we don’t want to do that.
B.K.: We actually have four different shows that we can do, we can vary those based on the ceiling of the clouds and the visibility. As long as you can see us, we typically can fly. As long as it’s safe to be outside, we can put on a show.
C.E.: What is the minimum that you can fly?
B.K.: Well, VFR flying is what typically what we do. So if it’s VFR -- Visual Flight Rules for us, per the FAA -- that is our absolute minimums. And it depends on the show site whether we are willing to go down that low though.”
C.E.: Putting some number values to those rules, what would you say?
B.K.: A thousand feet, typically. At least three miles visibility, [we] would err towards five.
Visit airshowatlanta.com for tickets and more information on this year’s show.
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