MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. -- A pilot from Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron 1 here has been selected to fly with the best of the best – the Navy’s Blue Angels flight demonstration team.
Capt. Clint C. Harris, MAWTS-1 F/A-18 Hornet weapons and tactics instructor, was one of six new officers chosen July 14, for the team’s 2007 season.
Harris will begin shadowing the team in September and join the Blue Angels next year for their 61st touring season.
The application and selection process takes approximately five to six months, said Harris. There were about 35 to 40 applicants.
According to the official Web site of the Blue Angels, www.blueangels.navy.mil, each applicant must be career-oriented, carrier-qualified and an active duty Navy or Marine Corps tactical jet pilot with a minimum of 1,250 flight hours.
For a three-month period during the air-show season, applicants are required to attend between two and four air show performances, said Harris. While attending the shows, applicants get to know the team and figure out exactly what the Blue Angels do, because they have a very high operational tempo.
There are two cuts, Harris said. After the applicants visit the air shows, everyone is given a specific date and time when they are to call to see if they are a finalist.
The candidates who make it to the final cut go down to Forrest Sherman Field, Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., for a week, said Harris. During that week, the potential Blue Angels do strength tests, meet families of the team and other candidates and attend interviews.
“I enjoyed meeting the team,” said Harris. “They were very normal, hospitable officers, and very willing to get to know me and my family.”
The day after returning from Florida, the candidates were all given times to call to see if they made the team, Harris said.
“There was a brief time period that I don’t remember that day,” said Harris. “I made the call and found out I had made the team and my wife was screaming in the background. It was an unbelievable feeling to have been chosen.”
“Everybody grows up knowing who the Blue Angels are,” said Harris. “Although I didn’t join the Marine Corps with the idea that I would be a pilot for the Blue Angels; it’s definitely something I’ve always wanted to be a part of.”
“I had a lot of help and support from the Marines at MAWTS-1,” said Harris. “My wife is also very supportive and excited. Yuma is the best place we’ve lived in the Marine Corps and we are sad to leave the friends we’ve made here. But we are looking forward to starting a new life in Florida.”
As stated on the official Web site, the Blue Angels are considered to be the best of the best, because they are representatives of the excellence and professionalism found throughout the fleet.
“I’m looking forward to the challenges of flying with the Blue Angels,” Harris said. “It will definitely be some of the most difficult flying I’ve executed up to this point – a lot different from the tactical flying I have been doing.
Harris’s advice to Marines and sailors who would like to join the Blue Angels is make sure to have all the prerequisites, be yourself and have fun with it.
“What I am looking forward to the most about flying with the Blue Angels is to be able to be a role model for children, adolescences and young adults, and show them what the Navy-Marine Corps team is all about,” said Harris.
Col. Ben D. Hancock, station commanding officer, flew with the Blue Angels in 1993.
“My advice to Capt. Harris is to enjoy every day with the Blue Angels because it goes by quickly,” said Hancock. “Give as much time as possible to people, especially kids, who are interested in talking to a team member about flying or the Navy-Marine Corps team.”
The best part about being a member of the Blue Angels was meeting and sharing time with people on the ground, said Hancock. The flying was certainly challenging and rewarding, but the best part was going to schools and hospitals and meeting with children from organizations such as Make-a-Wish Foundation. The impact that the team can have on children is tremendous.
The enthusiasm adults have for the flying and the professionalism of the Blue Angels is also contagious for the team members, Hancock said.
“You realize how blessed and lucky you are when you travel all over this country every weekend and see first-hand how great this nation is and the people who make it that way,” Hancock said. “The dedication to the flight demonstration and the aircraft maintenance by team members, the incredible attention to detail and minutia is something that you also take with you for the rest of your life.”
A Senath, Mo., native, and a graduate of the University of Arkansas, Harris has been on three combat tours in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom so far in his nine-year career in the Marine Corps. He has been with MAWTS-1 for the past year and a half.
Harris will leave in September for Forrest Sherman Field, Naval Air Station Pensacola Fla., but may not be flying right away. After the unit change of command in November, he will either be designated as the team’s narrator or a demo F/A-18 Hornet pilot.
If chosen to become the narrator, Harris will be the voice of the Blue Angels for a year and then finish as a demo pilot for his last two years. Members of the Blue Angels serve a minimum of two years and a maximum of three years on the team, and then return to the fleet.
As stated on the Blue Angels Web site, their flight demonstration exhibits choreographed refinements of skills possessed by all naval aviators.
“The team has never flown a ‘perfect’ air show, in their opinion,” said Hancock. “But they are always striving for perfection and never accept anything but the very best efforts and performance by each team member every single day. You realize what people can achieve with focus, determination, dedication and team work. The team and the mission were always first.”