Flying Over CSU

The Blue Angels Bring Annual Air Show to Cleveland

Photo Credit: Diana Schoder The Blue Angels fly over Cleveland on Sept 3rd, 2022.

Cleveland State University’s Veteran and Military Success Center hosted an event with the United States Navy Blue Angels in the Student Center Atrium on September 2nd. These are the pilots that perform in the Cleveland Air Show throughout Labor Day weekend.

After a brief address from the Veteran and Military Success Center, the majority of the event consisted of a presentation from Blue Angels pilot, Lieutenant Commander Cary Rickoff, also known as “Five.”

The Blue Angels were established for flight demonstration and community outreach in 1946 to showcase teamwork and professionalism in the Navy. The group flies at shows in cities across the nation, though the majority of their practice flights take place in Pensacola, Florida. Equipment and personnel travel on “Fat Albert,” the Lockheed C-130J Super Hercules plane. The Blue Angels practice extreme attention to detail during flight demonstrations, routinely flying shows that involve stretches where there are just 18 inches between jets flying hundreds of miles per hour.

As lead soloist, Lieutenant Commander Rickoff flies the fastest and slowest speeds of the six Blue Angels jets throughout each show. The slowest speed is approximately 120 miles per hour, while the fastest is 700 miles per hour.

No one is perfect, but the Blue Angels strive for excellence. After each practice flight session, the team reviews their mistakes. There is approximately an hour of discussion for a 40-minute flight. With over seventy-five years of history, the Blue Angels can also look to past teams when working through their own mistakes.

Teamwork and trust are vital to the Blue Angels. Pilots must trust the ground crew to check every inch of their jets; generally, the pilots do not even do a walk-through before starting the engine and taking off. Additionally, flying at speeds of hundreds of miles per hour within 2 feet of another jet involves copious amounts of trust.

The Blue Angels fly Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet jets, recently upgraded from F/A-18 Hornet jets. The F/A-18 Super Hornets are 30% bigger, so while the F/A-18 Hornets were more nimble, the F/A-18 Super Hornets have more power. Blue Angels pilots experience 7.5 G’s while they fly, but they have G-suits to help minimize the impact of that force. Still, 7.5 G’s is equivalent to 7.5 times a pilot’s bodyweight. Lieutenant Commander Rickoff explains, “that experiencing the force is similar to running- the more you do it, the easier it gets.”

The Blue Angels have a yearlong season, and each November, the 6 jets receive new pilots- which remain the same for the entire year. Throughout November and December, the new team works their way through takeoffs, landings, and basic maneuvers. During the upcoming season, the first female pilot will fly on the team. The new pilots work their way from flying far apart to flying 18 inches apart over time and with considerable hours of practice. While each pilot has their own preferences, every Blue Angels pilot has something unique to offer.

Pilots usually spend 2-3 years on the Blue Angels team before returning to the fleet. Although plans are different for every pilot, Lieutenant Commander Rickoff will return to being an instructor as part of the fleet after finishing this season on the team in November.

With the air show scheduled from September 3-5, the Blue Angels bring their air show to Cleveland this year as they alternate with United States Airforce Thunderbirds every year.