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    Blue Angels light up MacDill AirFest

    The renowned Navy precision flying team is one of the highlights at the annual open house at the Air Force base.

    By BABITA PERSAUD

    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 6, 2001


    TAMPA -- It's the best roller coaster ride you can ever have, says Lt. Cmdr. Chip Boogerd, pilot No. 4 for the Navy Blue Angels.

    He's talking about what he feels in the seat of his F/A-18 Hornet as part of the precision flying team that will perform at this weekend's AirFest 2001.

    In that seat -- which isn't that comfortable, by the way, -- he hears only the engine. No sonic boom, even though the jets go mach 1.8, or nearly twice the speed of sound.

    Constantly thinking about the next maneuver, the next radio call, Boogerd keeps his eyes on the No. 1 pilot, Cmdr. Robert A. Ffield, or "boss" as he's called.

    "I'm just looking straight up at the bottom of his airplane," Boogerd said.

    "Boss" makes a call and "we all go at the same time. That's why it all looks like one airplane."

    The Blue Angels flew into MacDill Air Force Base on Thursday from Pensacola, their home base, and went right to work, giving interviews and practicing near Hangar No. 5.

    Synchronized, they climbed into the cockpits of their slick jets, each with his name in yellow near the glass cockpit canopy. They gave the thumbs up to one another, just like in the movie Top Gun.

    "Take me to the max!" one yelled.

    "Lets go!" said another.

    Canopies down, the engines revved and the decibels rose. The six planes taxied down the runway and one by one, with white smoke trailing, pierced the blue sky.

    They flew upside down, made loops, and did what the Navy Blue Angels are known for: flying 18 inches apart in a diamond formation.

    AirFest is MacDill's annual open house, a time civilians can see F-16s, KC-10As and 70 other aircraft on display.

    There are opening ceremonies at 9 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

    The first fly-by Saturday, of KC 135s, is at 9:20 a.m. The popular Red Baron Squadron flies at 12:30 p.m., and at 1 p.m. the parachute team from MacDill's own U.S. Special Operations Command will drop from 12,500 feet.

    The Blue Angels perform at 2 p.m. both days.

    About 800,000 people came to last year's air show at MacDill, officials said.

    If you go

    • AirFest at MacDill Air Force Base takes place Saturday and Sunday. Here are some of the highlights.
    • Opening ceremonies are at 9 a.m. both days.
    • The first fly-by Saturday, of KC 135s, is at 9:20 a.m.
    • The Red Baron Squadron flies at 12:30 p.m.
    • A parachute demonstration takes place at 1 p.m.
    • The Blue Angels perform at 2 p.m. both days.
    • For more information, check out http://www.macdill.af.mil or call (813) 828-4163.

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