Navy's Blue Angels team turns 60

Sunday, November 5, 2006

The Associated Press

PENSACOLA, Fla. -- Touring with the Blue Angels was supposed to give Ernie Christensen a respite between deployments as a combat pilot in Vietnam.

But Christensen, a retired rear admiral who went on to command the Navy's Top Gun fighter school, said flying with the Blue Angels was sometimes more demanding than combat.

"In your last 30 seconds coming aboard a carrier, you have levels of concentration, and in combat there are those few moments of stark terror when you have intense concentration, but with the Blues you have intense concentration the entire time," he said.

Christensen and dozens of other former Blue Angels will gather for a reunion and air show Friday and Saturday to mark the 60th anniversary of the Navy's elite aerial-demonstration team at its home base of Pensacola Naval Air Station.

Altogether, 223 aviators have served on the team since it was formed by Adm. Chester Nimitz in 1946.

"We were a hit, oh yes, gee whiz, we were," said Raleigh "Dusty" Rhodes, 88, who joined the Blue Angels in their second year.

While the planes and pilots have changed, the Blue Angels' mission hasn't, said Marine Maj. Matthew Shortal, a member of this year's squadron.

"Our mission is to enhance the Navy and Marine Corps recruiting. That worked on me, and it worked on the rest of these guys," he said.

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