NAS Pensacola reopens to the public for Blue Angels Homecoming

Avatar for Todd and Kelley WhitakerBy Todd and Kelley Whitaker | November 14, 2022

Estimated reading time 8 minutes, 6 seconds.

During Veterans Day Weekend 2022, Blue Angels fans converged on Naval Air Station Pensacola for the first time since December 2019 to see the team’s season-ending homecoming show. The station has been closed to everyone except Department of Defense ID card holders since Dec. 6. That tragic day, a Saudi Air student killed three military personnel and wounded eight others before being killed by Escambia County sheriff’s deputies. 

The theme of this year’s show was “100 Years of Carrier Aviation,” and was open to the public. Crowds were estimated to be from 150,000-180,000 spectators for the two-day event. The show had multiple stunt planes, a jet truck, the USAF A-10 Thunderbolt II Demo Team, the F-35 Demo Team, the Air Force Heritage Flight, and the grand finale with the U.S. Navy Blue Angels flying their blue-and-yellow F/A-18 Super Hornets. 

The Blue Angels lead and opposing solos #5 and #6 performed high-speed passes within 50 feet of each other. Todd and Kelley Whitaker Photo

During a media break, Blue Angel #5 — lead solo pilot LCdr Cary Rickoff — provided some background on becoming a Blue Angel pilot.

“Growing up and coming to the National Naval Aviation Museum during summers, watching the Blue Angels fly over Pensacola Beach, lit a spark inside me and I just chased that dream,” he said.

Rickoff is rotating off the team at the end of the season, but will remain in Pensacola in a training capacity.

Blue Angels Crew Chief, A01 Charone Gatlin, shared, “This is my last show; it will be bittersweet. It’s the best job ever.” Gatlin plans to move back into the Fleet for active duty.

The first day of the show began with the SOCOM Para-Commandos dropping from Fat Albert — the Blue Angels’ C-130J Super Hercules — flying the Stars & Stripes, as Ken Rieder of Redline Air Shows circled with rings of white smoke. Next up was the parade of trainers that the Navy uses to teach its pilots the fundamentals of flying. Then, a Stearman Model 75 flight showcased six vintage aircraft that brought spectators back to the early days of flight. Slow, steady, and open cockpits. 

The Flash Fire Jet Truck was a crowd favorite — with flame bursts, exhaust pops, and endless clouds of smoke. Fans were thrilled to see the Dodge Ram accelerate down the runway and pop the chute to slow down after reaching speeds in excess of 260 miles per hour.

The Redline Airshow team of Adam Baker and Ken Rieder. Todd and Kelley Whitaker Photo

High performance aerobatics filled the next portion of the show, featuring RAD Aerosports; the Redline Air Show team; Jeff Boerboon and his Yak-110; and Brian Correll with his high-performance bi-wing show stunner.

A memorable and touching moment came when Base Commander Capt Terrence M. Shashaty escorted 97-year-old Capt Royce E. Williams in front of the crowd to show center. Williams’ story of heroism — going above and beyond the call of duty during the Korean War — was announced after years of military secrecy. Williams fought with seven MIG 15s and single handily shot down four enemy jets during a 35-minute dogfight. His exploits have been kept secret for years due to efforts at the time to delay any further action from the Soviet Union during the Korean War. He is currently up for the Medal of Honor before Congress.

Base Commander Capt Terrence M. Shashaty escorts 97-year-old Capt Royce E. Williams in front of the crowd to show center. Todd and Kelley Whitaker Photo

The show excitement continued with demonstrations by the USAF A-10 Demo Team. Their displays of low and tight maneuvers in support of ground troops in hostile environments is essential. The F-35 Demo Team displayed air superiority in advanced technology that the United States possesses. Its speed and agility, along with stealth capabilities, make the F-35 one of the most advanced aircraft in the world today.

Next up, Fat Albert took to the skies to raise the excitement levels in the crowd. After a few high-speed passes and a quick stop on a dime, Fat Albert turned the show over to the headliners.

The F-35 Demo Team displayed air superiority in advanced technology. Todd and Kelley Whitaker Photo

The incredible U.S. Navy Blue Angels Demonstration Team took control of the airspace for an action-packed show of skill and precision. The team showed off all kinds of maneuvers, from high-speed passes within 50 feet of each other — performed by lead and opposing solos #5 and #6 — to tight diamond formations, with just 18 inches between wing tips. These precision maneuvers are completed at speeds in excess of 500 mph. The roar of the jet engines combine to what most call the “Sound of Freedom” — loud, proud, and strong. 

The Blue Angels’ 2022 season is now complete. Pilots and crews will change, but next year will bring new excitement with the first female Blue Angel.

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5 Comments

  1. Fantastic article!! All the details made me feel like I was there watching!! #gottalovetheblues

    1. Great Article, learned some very interesting facts ✈️ Saw the Blue Angels in May 1997 at MCAS El Toro, Irvine, California flying F-18s back then✈️

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