Blue Angels, what it takes to pilot and manage an aircraft that can reach speeds of 1,190 MPH

The Blue Angels are headlining the 2022 Ellsworth AFB Air Show
The late evening news on KEVN Black Hills Fox Sunday
Published: May. 12, 2022 at 5:51 PM MDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KEVN) - The Ellsworth 2022 Air Show is just a couple of days away, and this year the Blue Angels are headlining the show. However, behind every aerial maneuvers is a pilot.

“I like flying planes,” says Frank Zastoupil, Blue Angels Pilot #4, “I like hanging out with my family, going and riding on bikes and hanging out at the beach.” A beach trip that’s not so likely at Ellsworth. However, there’s other things around Rapid City that were worth while for the team to stop by and grab some photos. Like, at Mount Rushmore and Devil’s Tower. “We were looking over this morning about how beautiful the country is up here.”

The Blue Angels, or known on base as ‘the Blues,’ are on the road for anywhere between 250 and 300 days flying shows at cities across the nation, but Zastoupil says, “we also have a work, life, family balance that we’re able to achieve here.” Though family may be bound by blood and trust, he says their team of 154 operates just the same. “That trust is not just between the pilots in the air flying 18 inches apart, but it’s between the pilots and maintainers as well. It’s between every single person on this team.”

Maintainers like Mike Donaldson, who says, “this is a very dangerous job. You’re working around aircrafts and engines.” An aircraft called a Boeing F-18 Super Hornet, the team’s second year flying them and featuring two bigger motors, which he says, “produce about 22,000 pounds of thrust per motor.”

Top speeds at the show of 700 Miles Per Hour. Zastoupil says, “it feels like you are strapped in with a 30-thousand plus pound aircraft on your back.” Generating a feeling in the cockpit easily described by an experienced pilot, “it feels like a standard fight aircraft.” Or, to put it in words for someone who’s never been in one of those and flying at 7 and a half G’s can understand, “that feels like a baby rhinoceros just sitting on your chest.”

Barreling around, hand in hand with that baby rhinoceros, flying close to the ground and in tight formation, and “in ways that other aircraft can’t do in that situation,” says Zastoupil.

Of the six pilots, Zastoupil’s the only Marine, which he says occasionally the others will kindly remind him of. “It’s a give and take, and it’s a great place to be.”

He says a lot of people don’t seem to know that the Navy and Marine Corps even have fighter aircraft, which is part of the reason they’re at the show this year, “and this is just to showcase what we can do as the military.”

A showcase some Blue’s, like Donaldson, have marveled at for a while, because “I watched the Blue Angels growing up as a kid.” Now, he gets to make sure other kids do too. “You get to come out here, fix airplanes, watch them fly. Then, see the faces of the crowd and the kids running around and super excited to see airplanes flying.”

The Blue Angels act will be at 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

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