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The Aero Experience is a celebration of Midwest aviation and aerospace achievement. We invite you to join us as we explore the treasures of Midwest aviation through first-hand experiences. Our contributors take turns flying lead, and we are always looking for new destinations. Check in with The Aero Experience frequently to see where we will land today, and then go out and have your own aero experiences!

Blue skies,

Carmelo Turdo, Mark Nankivil and Fred Harl - The Aero Experience Team

Friday, April 25, 2014

Blue Angels in the Spotlight at April Missouri Aviation Historical Society Meeting

By Carmelo Turdo
The U.S. Navy Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Squadron was the focus of the recent meeting of the Missouri Aviation Historical Society (MAHS) at Creve Coeur Airport.  The theme was even more appropriate in advance of the appearance of the Blue Angels at the Spirit of St. Louis Airshow next weekend (May 3-4).  MAHS member Joe Gurney, a noted speaker who gives presentations on the Blue Angels and the USAF Thunderbirds in the St. Louis area, gave an overview of the various aircraft flown by the Blue Angels since their inception in 1946.  Gurney also arranged to have several Blue Angels alumni informally relate their experiences during their tours. 

Navy Captain (Ret.) Bill Switzer flew the F-4J Phantom II during the 1971-72 seasons in the No. 6 Opposing Solo and No. 4 Slot positions.  Switzer vividly described flying the Phantom in airshows in all types of weather and how flying aerobatics in high-performance jets takes a physical toll on pilots.  Flying the Phantom required continuous mental calculations and outside references to maintain proper position and safety margins all while not wearing an anti-g suite and maintaining 45 pounds of back pressure on the control stick to overcome the full-nose down trim set for each performance.  The quick onset of positive and negative g-forces can leave a pilot looking and feeling as if he went twelve rounds with the heavyweight boxing champ.  Captain Switzer later commanded a squadron of F-14 Tomcats, surviving an ejection from the aircraft following an arrested landing when the cable mechanism failed.  His squadron provided the four aircraft and crews used for the aerial sequences in the movie, "Top Gun."

Rob Wunderlich, Blue Angels "Fat Albert" KC-130 Hercules pilot during the 1997-98 seasons, provided the unique perspective of support aircraft operations.  The Hercules,  flown by a U.S. Marine Corps crew, transports the support team, spare parts and tools to each performance site.  The aircraft and crew remains on alert for special missions during each event, such as delivering a new engine for one of the F/A-18 Hornet jets.  The KC-130 is also part of the airshow performance, flying several passes over the crowds.  Wunderlich recalled the days during his tour when the Hercules would demonstrate the JATO takeoff using eight solid rockets to increase the climb performance of the aircraft.  The JATO takeoff is no longer performed due to lack of rocket supply and better performance of current models of the KC-130.  Wunderlich, now a USAF Lt. Colonel, flies KC-135 Stratotankers for the 126th ARW at Scott AFB and also works at the family business, Wunderlich Fiber Box Company.

Another guest speaker at the April MAHS meeting was Mark Sutherland, Chief Communications Officer of Elasticity and President of Dunrobin Publishing Company.  Sutherland is also on the Public Relations team for the Spirit of St. Louis Airshow, which will host the Blue Angels next weekend.  He showed the group a video of his flight in Blue Angel No. 7 at Scott AFB in 2010, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that contributed to the production of his current book, Being a Blue Angel: Every Kid's Guide to the Blue Angels.  

Missouri Aviation Historical Society meetings feature lively and informative programs every third Thursday at Creve Coeur Airport.  Special thanks to President Dan O'Hara who devotes much of his time to making the MAHS a great Midwest Aviation resource!             

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