Blue Angels return for air show
By Christin Nance Lazerus firstname.lastname@example.org August 14, 2014 5:42PM
2014 Chicago Water & Air Show, Blue Angels Team Member Phil Harper at the Gary/Chicago Airport. Thursday, August 14, 2014 | Brian Jackson/Sun-Times
Updated: September 16, 2014 6:27AM
GARY — The U.S. Navy Blue Angels are back for the 2014 Chicago Air and Water Show.
And if their appearance at Thursday’s media day was any indication, they’ll be a big hit with thousands of fans this weekend.
One of the newest Blue Angels — Navy Lt. j.g. Phil Harper — hails from Chicago and is in his first season on the team as a support officer. The 1997 graduate of Roberto Clemente High School calls it a “dream job” and is excited to perform before a large number of family and friends. It’s his 22nd show this year.
“There’s a ton of excitement, and I’m definitely proud to perform for them,” said Harper, who now lives in Pensacola, Florida. “I went to the air show a few times when I was very young.”
The air show runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday along the Chicago lakefront. It will feature the Blue Angels, the U.S. Army Parachute Golden Knights, U.S. Navy Leap Frogs, AeroShell Aerobatic Team, Aerostars, the Red Bull Helicopter, Team AeroDynamix and many others.
In 2013, the Blue Angels — who fly F-18s and the C-130 “Fat Albert” — and other military flight teams were prevented from flying in air shows in Chicago and across the country due to federal sequestration.
Though the Chicago Air and Water Show went off without a hitch, several smaller air shows — such as the South Shore Air Show in Gary — were canceled.
During the sequester, Harper said military flight teams engaged in community outreach, such as reading with kids at schools or volunteering at local humane society. But he realized its impact on the air show industry at a December conference in Las Vegas.
“Folks suffered some when they didn’t have the military acts,” Harper said. “For some of these guys, it’s their livelihoods.”
AeroDynamix pilot Ken Rieder said the sequester impacted the entire industry.
“A lot of the air shows depend on the military for overall interest,” Rieder said. “Several places canceled or had to rearrange their shows, and we became the big team. It takes sponsors away from the industry.”
Even 22 shows into its 2014 season, The Blue Angels show no lack of enthusiasm.
“They can’t keep the smiles of their faces,” Harper said. “They love what they do.”
The Blue Angels were happy to fulfill a wish of Chicago residents Ida Settle, 78, and her sister, 96-year-old Isabelle Hobbs.
During World War II, Hobbs was a riveter on C-54 Skywalkers at Douglas Aircraft Co. in Chicago. Her 4-foot-10 frame helped her to attach wings and other panels to tight spaces in the plane. “Who knew I would have to be 96 to get all this excitement?” Hobbs said.
When she was 4 years old, Settle’s father started taking her to an airfield near Springfield, Illinois, to watch the planes take off. She had aspirations of being a pilot, but a local flying school didn’t accept women at the time.
Settle and Hobbs have been attending local air shows since the 1980s and Wish of a Lifetime helped arrange their meeting with the Blue Angels.
Teen given his first flight
Chicago Military Academy senior Malik Baker, 17, couldn’t stop smiling as the time neared for him to fly with pilot Sean D. Tucker.
In a Extra 300L Team Oracle plane, they would be joined by two of the Blue Angel F-18s for maneuvers along the Lake Michigan shoreline.
“I’m excited,” Baker said. “I’ve never been on a plane before.”
Tucker is chairman of the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Young Eagles program, which helps introduce kids to flight. He gave Baker an impromptu lesson on how the plane works as well as how to operate his parachute and floation device.
“Believe me, we’re not going to let anything happen to you,” Tucker said.
Baker met the Blue Angels prior to his flight and he was surprised to find that he’s the first student who’s flown with them.
“I’m an honorary Blue Angel and they trust me to do it correctly,” Tucker said. “We’re going to have fun but with respect.”
The flight went off without a hitch — Baker even got to pilot for a stretch — and Baker raised an empty plastic bag to cheers upon landing.
He compared the ride — with deep dives and barrel rolls — to a ride at Six Flags Great America “except smoother.”
Tucker presented him with a certificate, log book and free flight lessons.
“I have a lot of friends in the Chicago area, so you’re going to be flying again real soon.”
Baker simply said, “Oh wow, Oh wow!”