And G forces are something the Blue Angels train to very seriously. In the spring of 2007 Lieutenant Commander Kevin Davis, then Blue Angel No. 6, was killed after he put himself out while attempting a high G rendezvous towards the end of a show over MCAS Beaufort, SC. He was unable to recover the jet before hitting the tree line.
Now the Blue Angel pilots go through centrifuge training on an annual basis to ensure their anti-G techniques are sound and their G tolerance is the best it can be. The Loop Break Cross is followed by a couple other high G maneuvers – the Delta Break Out, and the Delta Pitch Up Break.
After that the jets land in order. The precision continues as the jets park. The Hornets shut down and open their canopies simultaneously. The crowd cheers as the Blue Angels dismount their fighters and march back to where they started about 45 minutes earlier.
They finish with handshakes all 'round. Another successful show in the books.
After some photos in front of one of the jets with fans, the Blue Angels are back in the ready room for the debrief. The flight may be over, but the Blue Angels aren't done working.
The pilots hold a kangaroo court of sorts, calling themselves on their transgressions during the event, starting with the Boss. The tone is at once serious and lighthearted. A video review follows, starting with the pilots marching to their jets. They freeze the playback, critiquing minor synchronization flaws as the team went from parade rest to attention or saluted a plane captain as they passed each jet.
The attention to detail grows as the playback rolls to the airborne portion of the show. They run the tape back and forth like a football coach working the clicker. Most of the dings involve discrepancies that are invisible to the untrained (read "average air show attendee") eye – a hair early on a roll or barely off on a crossing move. The focus is amazing considering these guys have been flying the exact same show for nine months, literally hundreds of times, but they still seem to share a concern that it isn't quite right.
The conduct of the debrief is the answer – beyond what it takes to fly the jet – to why it's so hard to be a Blue Angel. Anyone who's spent time in the carrier aviation world probably knows someone who's rushed the Blues – someone who seemed perfect for the Team in terms of stick and rudder skills, demeanor, and personal appearance – but who ultimately didn't get the nod. But watching these guys interact is a study in zero ego in spite of pointed criticism, even that that could have been interpreted as a less-than-totally-positive view of piloting ability. They are earnest to a man. They all want to get better, and they see the next show as an opportunity to do just that.
And maybe that's the lesson of the Blue Angels: It's not enough to get it right most of the time; it needs to be all the time.