- Barrie Barber Staff Writer
The Navy’s Blue Angels F/A-18 Hornet fighter jets are set to soar into the Vectren Dayton Air Show for the first time in four years next June, and mark the return of a crowd-drawing military jet team for the first time since 2015.
A two-seat blue and yellow jet painted with the number 7 on its tail landed at Dayton International Airport on Monday, flying in from the team’s home in Pensacola, Florida, as the naval aviators prepare for a nationwide tour and stop at the Dayton Air Show on June 23 -24, 2018.
Becoming a Blue Angel was not something Lt. Andre Webb, 32, who piloted the fighter jet to Dayton, expected when he graduated from the Naval Academy in 2008, he said.
“It’s not something I ever thought I would want to do until I decided I was going to do it,” said Webb, who will serve as narrator this year before joining the famous six-jet delta formation in 2019. “Then it took a little encouragement from my friends and obviously a lot of want-to-do from myself. I thought, ‘Why not join the coolest team there is in the Navy that also gets to do a pretty awesome mission?’”
Air show announcer Rob Reider flew in his private plane from an airport near Cincinnati, just before the F/A-18 landed to welcome Webb and team events coordinator Lt. Dave Steppe, 32, of Birmingham, Ala. The Blue Angels met with air show organizers in advance of the event that attracts tens of thousands of spectators.
Named an honorary Blue Angel, Reider works with the team narrator as the Navy flight team trains during the winter at Naval Air Facility El Centro, California.
“When I’ve got friends coming in the neighborhood, I want to see them,” said Reider, 69, who lives in Loveland, Ohio. “I’m the oldest 10-year-old kid in the air show business.”
The Dayton Air Show has been without a headline military jet team the past two seasons after incidents grounded both the Blue Angels and the Air Force Thunderbirds from performing in Dayton.
“We’ve pulled it off without a jet team and still had a quality show, but it’s the centerpiece” of the aerial event, said Scott Buchanan, air show chairman. “It will be very good to have a jet team back.”
Last June, the Thunderbirds canceled appearances in Dayton after a two-seat Thunderbirds F-16D jet slid off a wet runway and flipped over in a grassy area at Dayton International Airport, trapping the narrator/pilot and a crew member a day before the weekend show was set to begin. The pilot, who suffered leg injuries, was hospitalized for several days at Miami Valley Hospital. In an accident investigation report released this month, the Air Force said excessive speed and landing too far down the runway contributed to the mishap.
In 2016, the Blue Angels canceled several performances, including in Dayton, after a fatal crash killed a pilot during a practice air show in Tennessee.
Years the renowned jet teams do not appear tend to push attendance lower, organizers have said. The air show drew an estimated 44,000 spectators this year and 51,000 in 2016.