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Pensacola's Blue Angels

© By Mike Keenan

  After the recent crashes of a Blue Angel into a U. S. subdivision and a Canadian Snowbird while practicing, I question the value of air shows. It goes back a little further to witnessing the dramatic death of a pilot who crashed into Lake Erie at the Niagara River during an annual Friendship Festival celebration in Fort Erie and Buffalo.
     The place for aircraft exhibits is museums, and this winter I visited one of the finest in Pensacola, Florida, the National Museum of Naval Aviation, a must-see for snowbirds. They display aircraft from various eras - pre WWII, WWII, the Korean War era, the Vietnam War era, and the Modern era.
     The names alone instill a chill. Skyraider, Wildcat, Hellcat, Bearcat, Panther, Cougar (they were big on cats for a time), Banshee, Tomahawk, Vigilante (no longer politically correct, I suspect), Hornet, Viper, Phantom, Fury...the list goes on as there's 130 aircraft in and around the Museum but the prize display is dedicated to the Blue Angels.
     The aircraft attributes are myriad. There are speed kings, record breakers, U-Boat hunters, flying boats, and veterans of combat from Guadalcanal to Korea, Vietnam and Desert Storm on hand to spin intriguing tales of high-stakes aerial combat to visitors who meander through the huge display of planes covering floor and air space.
     I listened to one chap describe how George Bush was shot down by Japanese gunners just off the enemy coast, and how he narrowly avoided capture by a speedboat sent out to capture him, floating in the sea. Apparently, a U.S. aircraft took care of the speedboat and George was subsequently picked up by a submarine, eventually to change the course of U.S. history.
     In one area, there's an effective simulation of a flight deck of an aircraft carrier along with the appropriate planes and insignia on the craft indicating numbers of destroyed enemy aircraft.
     A display of full-sized U.S. Coast Guard helicopters was accompanied by video footage of daring rescues in New Orleans during Katrina. There were mock ups of prisoner of war camps for the likes of John McCain, a presidential contender for the Republican Party. And, there was a tribute to space exploration with craft and lunar rovers.
     Given current events, the display that stands out is that of the F/A-18 Hornet, used by Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Squadrons. The program says that it's capable of delivering ordnance (a scrubbed-up word for weapons) against land targets and engaging enemy aircraft in air-to-air combat. "A heads up display of information, provision for night-vision goggles, and the fact that all vital flight and weapons controls are located on the stick allow the pilot to concentrate on flying the aircraft without diverting his eyes to the instrument panel."
     It's "a pilot-friendly aircraft" but apparently not for all.

Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.

Photo Credits
Mike Keenan

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National Museum of Naval Aviation: http://www.navalaviationmuseum.org/
Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce: http://visitpensacola.com/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pensacola,_Florida
Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/Pensacola

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