Blue Angels Bring Winter Thrill To California City | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

Blue Angels Bring Winter Thrill To California City

Play associated audio

Fifteen miles from the border of Mexico, the city of El Centro in California's Imperial Valley has something most hard luck small towns don't: the Blue Angels.

For 45 years, the city has been the winter training home of the Navy's flight demonstration squadron. The "Blues," as the locals call them, have been an enduring source of pride for the desert community.

The "hay bales" is a dusty crop field a stone's throw from the runways of El Centro's Naval Air Facility. Lisa Gallinat has been watching the Blue Angels from here ever since she was a kid.

"Now they're going to clear the field," Gallinat says. "They'll make sure there [aren't] any other crop dusters or any other planes in the air."

It's early morning and a dozen or so people are perched alongside the irrigation ditches. The Blue Angels' training schedule is like a daily weather report here. The town's alarm clock is the sound of F/A-18 Hornets firing up their engines.

"Jets one, two, three and four will take off in their diamond," Gallinat explains.

Twelve-year-old Josh Barnes' neck is craned upward, his hands deep in the pockets of his hoodie. He's been coming here since he was 3, he says; he knows all the maneuvers.

"Let's see here, loop, break, cross," Josh says, identifying the planes' moves. "It's really thrilling and exciting to see them fly."

That's what Brad Luckey thought when he was Josh's age. Today at his home, the 57-year-old farmer is surrounded by Blue Angels memorabilia — model planes, photos, decades of memories.

"We had 'em at the house, you know, once a week," Luckey says. "And then in 1991, they afforded me the title of honorary Blue Angel because I tried to make them part of my family, and that was their way of saying thanks."

"For three months, it is absolutely a soundtrack of the city," Mayor Sedalia Sanders says.

"Do we get used to it?" she says. "We look forward to it. It would be similar, I would say, [to] Capistrano when they have the swallows come back. We're very excited when the Blues come back to town."

When their feet are on the ground, the Blue Angels visit hospitals and schools and attend parties in their honor.

"We actually spend more time in El Centro than we do in our home in Pensacola," says Capt. Greg McWherter, the team's flight leader.

"We show up with a rather large footprint," McWherter says. "We've got noisy aircraft, we've got a ton of sailors and Marines, we've got equipment, and we've got requirements, and you'd be amazed how welcome we are here."

In recent years, the Blue Angels have been a welcome distraction for a town dealing with an unemployment rate that hovers around 27 percent. There's a shared sense of pride as residents watch the team come together, perfecting those jaw-dropping maneuvers.

And when it's time for the Navy's flight demonstration squadron to take its show around the country, a little bit of the Imperial Valley goes along.

"It's a good feeling," Gallinat says. "They've done a fine job; they're ready to go and they're taking off." And then it will be a long, hot and quiet summer around this desert city.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

'Little House,' Big Demand: Never Underestimate Laura Ingalls Wilder

Wilder's memoir reveals that she witnessed more violence than you'd ever know from her children's books. The South Dakota State Historical Society can barely keep up with demand for the autobiography.
NPR

Live, From Iceland: It's A Hamburger

They call it "The last McDonald's hamburger in Iceland." Purchased more than five years ago, it has been displayed in the Na­tional Museum of Iceland. Now it has its own webcam.
WAMU 88.5

With Bill, Md. Senator Hopes To Combat Corporate Sway Over Elections

The Supreme Court's landmark Citizens United ruling turned five years old last week. One Maryland lawmaker says that ruling redefined what "citizen" means, and wants to fight fire with fire.
NPR

'Maker Space' Allows Kids To Innovate, Learn In The Hospital

At a children's hospital in Nashville, Tenn., a mobile maker space allows patients to share materials and tools to build new things, while also teaching them about math and science.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.