- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 20, 2012

Mark Hatfield’s job is far from typical. Sure, he’s got co-workers, a uniform, and even an office with a view. But unlike other jobs that promise higher-level opportunities, the 30-year-old Annandale native’s career puts him near the ceiling of an airplane cabin during a zero-gravity maneuver.

“It’s pretty awesome,” he said with a grin.

The Virginia man is a petty officer second class with the U.S. Navy, and part of the flight control, radar and navigation team aboard Fat Albert Airlines, the official carrier of the Blue Angels - or at least the crew and equipment.

On Sunday, he was one of a dozen crew members and riders aboard “Fat Ernie,” a C-130 transport plane swerving, dipping, and climbing through the air above the Joint Base Andrews Naval Air Facility for the base’s open house.

The Joint Service Open House & Air Show started in the 1950s, and is an open invitation to the public and visiting military to come for a close-up view of aviation history and to watch skilled pilots push their planes and jets to their limits.

“I used to come to the show every year when I was younger. My mom and grandma are here today,” Petty Officer Hatfield said.

Capt. Benjamin Blanton, the aircraft commander for the Blue Angels’ C-130, said the team often appears at shows every other year and the separation can make the heart grow fonder.

The Blue Angels are normally heard before they’re seen. The six, blue and yellow F/A-18 Hornets scream through the air in formation or rocket past one another during demonstrations of the high-powered jets.

“Andrews is awesome, it’s a very impressive area of the country,” Capt. Blanton said.

Beautiful weather this weekend brought out capacity crowds eager to get up close and personal with aviation history.

Families towing strollers maneuvered around the propellers of vintage war planes, and massive helicopters sat poised on the tarmac like metal spiders.

In the air, death-defying pilots performed flips, spins, corkscrews and free falls to the delight of the gawking audience below.

As her 6-year-old son, Michael, and 5-year-old daughter, Katie, eagerly took in the Blue Angels’ performance, Baltimore resident Becky Kirvin said she and her husband and children had been coming almost every year since 2002.

“All three of them love airplanes, all kinds, commercial and military,” Mrs. Kirvin said. “It’s a great time and a nice way to show our support for the military.”

This is the first year of Petty Officer Hatfield’s three-year tour with the famous Blue Angels, but already it is bittersweet.

Officials with the air show announced that the annual event that brings tens of thousands of flight fans to the Maryland base is scheduled to become a biennial event to cut costs.

“The next time I’ll be back will be my last year,” Petty Officer Hatfield said.

The show spans three days and costs a little more than $2 million to put on, said Eric Sharman, who is a spokesman at Joint Base Andrews.

“It’s a balance,” Mr. Sharman said of the decision. “We need to do community outreach but also be good stewards with tax dollars.”

Most air bases do a biennial show, Mr. Sharman said, but Andrews has the distinction of being the location for the “Secretary of Defense’s open house.”

Ms. Kirvin said her family just found out Sunday that the show wouldn’t be back until 2014.

“We’re a little disappointed,” she said, but when asked whether the longer wait would deter the annual family tradition, she shook her head.

“We will come back. Absolutely.”