Blue Angels Ready to Fly After Sequestration

NBC 7 anchor Mark Mullen took a ride in a F/A-18 Hornet before the Angels air show this weekend

It's before dawn at Naval Air Facility El Centro, and most of the Blue Angels 100-person support team is already on the flight line.

They are inspecting every inch of the familiar blue F/A-18 Hornet jets, which the elite squadron of pilots will fly in this weekend's air show.

There seems to be urgency and anticipation among the team this year as it prepares for the air show at its winter training headquarters.

Not only is it their first performance of the season, it's also the first show since the automatic federal budget cuts known as sequestration grounded the planes for much of 2013, cancelling most of the Blue's performances.

"It’s exciting for us to get back," Pilot Ryan Chamberlain told NBC 7. "We missed the opportunity to connect with the American public. The Department of Defense saw that Americans like their military. They like to know what their military is doing and connect with their military. We lost that in 2013".

The Navy and Marine Corps have used the Blue Angels as its most glamorous recruiting tool since 1946. But it is pricey public relations. So in 2013 when sequestration kicked in, mandatory cuts required the Navy to slash $4 billion from its budget.

The Blue Angels air shows became a casualty, though the team stayed together. Pilots and support staff continued to practice to remain proficient. Also, team members showed up at 500 public appearances trying to maintain the PR mission.

But it wasn't the same as flying for those who are hand-picked to serve on this elite team for a limited time. Enlisted team members stay with the Blues only three years. Officers must rotate out typically after two.

That is another reason everyone is glad to get back into the air for the public this weekend.

On the tarmac of El Centro’s military airfield, Crew Chief Jared Mann stood next to the aircraft he oversees saying, "To be out here, doing this. We are all ramped up ready to go"

The Naval Air Facility El Centro Air Show 2014 featuring the Blue Angels will take place Saturday, March 15. General admission and parking are free.

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