- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 15, 2002

It's all about the G's.
Weightlessness is cool. Cloud surfing is awesome, and accelerating from 125 mph to 600 mph in less than 30 seconds is definitely intense. But ask anyone who has flown with the Navy's elite Blue Angels and they will tell you: It's all about the G's.
When you are corkscrewing at 500 mph, you seriously need to be able to handle the G for gravity force. That's the secret of the Blue Angels pilots. They can handle the G's.
"Physical training, like weight training is a big part of it," says U.S. Marine Capt. Len Anderson, the only Marine pilot who flies with the Angels. "Really though, it's the centrifuge training we have to go through."
One G equals your body weight. Two G's is twice your body weight, and so on. At least once during the course of an average hourlong Blue Angels flight, a pilot and his co-pilot, if he has one, will "pull" in excess of seven G's.
For the reporter from The Washington Times, flying yesterday with Capt. Anderson on a practice run around Andrews Air Force Base in the cockpit of "Number 7 Hornet" of the Blue Angels squadron, seven G's would mean feeling seven times his body weight about 1,575 pounds.
But they never made it to seven G's on that flight because the reporter lost his lunch shortly after the pilot pulled six G's. Capt. Anderson had rolled the jet swiftly to the left, and it was then, soaring upside down at 500 mph a few thousand feet above the Patuxent River that air sickness took hold.
The Blue Angels fly without oxygen or uniforms called G-suits lined with air bags that inflate and force blood to remain in your head during G-force maneuvers. Instead the elite pilots, and those lucky enough to get a ride on the "Number 7 Hornet," rely on something called the "hook maneuver."
Before yesterday's flight, the Hornet's crew chief, John E. Shaw, explained that the hook maneuver consists of gripping the straps holding your legs in place, bearing down and flexing every muscle in your body while you grunt the word "hook." But Capt. Anderson doesn't need the "hook maneuver."
In fact, he says the F/A-18 "handles like a Cadillac."
The only time he uttered the word "hook" during yesterday's practice run was when he reminded the reporter to grunt it as the jet roared back toward Earth as it completed a 4,000-foot loop, crossing through the stream of engine smoke left in the sky seconds earlier when the jet was heading into the loop.
There are seven F/A-18 Hornets, each with a slick coat of paint in blue and gold U.S. Navy colors that fly with the Blue Angels. Six of the jets perform fighter ballet at 35 or so air shows across the country each year. The "Number 7 Hornet" arrives at the shows a few days ahead of the team of six to give rides to VIPs and the media.
The F/A-18 weighs about 24,500 pounds without fuel or aircrew in it and is capable of reaching speeds just below Mach 2, about twice the speed of sound or about 1,400 mph. The maximum rate of climb for the jets is 30,000 feet per minute.
Such statistical supremacy is not attained cheaply, though. On average, during a single flight, an F/A-18 uses approximately 1,300 gallons of jet fuel roughly at a cost of a little more than a dollar a gallon. During the course of a year the Blue Angels burn about 3.1 million gallons per year. A single jet, made by Boeing, costs about $28 million.
The central differences between fleet-model jets currently supporting the U.S. armed forces around the globe and the Blue Angels' F/A-18 is that Angels jet has its nose cannon removed, a smoke-oil tank installed, and a spring installed on the stick, which applies pressure for better formation and inverted flying.
Otherwise, the aircraft are identical and Navy officials are serious when they say each Blue Angel aircraft is "fleet capable" and able to return to "combat duty" aboard an aircraft carrier within 72 hours. Navy officials point out that F/A-18 Hornets have played an integral role in defeating the Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.
The Blue Angels perform annually at Annapolis during Naval Academy Commissioning Week and alternate years at Andrews Air Force Base. This Saturday they will perform at Andrews . On May 22 and 24, they will perform at Annapolis. Since 1946 the Blue Angels have performed for more than 350 million people.
The 2001 show season brought out more than 15 million spectators. The Angels are stationed at Sherman Field, Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla.


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