Visitors to the National Cherry Festival will see an elite group of pilots taking to the sky at this year’s air show. Among them, the U.S. Navy Blue Angels.
9&10 News had the honor of an exclusive one-one-one interview with the Flight Leader – the pilot of Blue Angels jet Number One.
Capt. Brian Kesselring is the Blue Angels Flight Leader and Commanding Officer. He says, “Like everybody else on our team, both the Navy and Marine Corps, we’re from the fleet and we’re going back to the fleet. This is a short tour for us, whether it be two or three years.”
A Blue Angels assignment is voluntary. A total of 17 officers serve with the Blue Angels, a two-to-three year tour that comes with a rigorous training process, resulting in the best of the best. Capt. Kesselring says they “have the opportunity to represent over 800,000 active duty, reserve, and civilian support personnel and everybody who’s went before us.”
Capt. Kesselring is piloting Jet Number 1. , the Blue Angels Commanding Officer is known as “Boss” – and whoever is selected for that position has a minimum of 3,000 tactical jet-flight hours and has commanded a tactical jet squadron. “The thing that I take away from this tour is the quality of the people. Everybody is hand-selected from their area of expertise. (There are) 144 personnel, both maintenance and pilots. We’ve got flight engineers, logisticians, public affairs reps, medical personnel, administrative folks who are all the top notch folks in their field.”
But the Blue Angels are much more than just the fighter jets and their pilots. “All too often we focus simply on the jets that are out there. And it’s cool to watch some jets and our C130-J, our Fat Albert flying around. But it takes every one of our 144 personnel to make it happen,” Capt. Kesselring says. It’s his third and final year with the Blue Angels, and his 22nd year with the Navy.
There are six jets in the air show, and a seventh on standby just in case it’s needed. This year each of the will be a little easier to see than ever before. “They’re 33% bigger and I tell you what, they’ve got a whole lot more power. They’ve got more redundancy, they’re just a sweet-flying aircraft. These are the aircraft that are out there on the aircraft carriers on the decks right now today.”
And it’s a treat for Traverse City, which hasn’t hosted the Blue Angels since 2018, missing out on the planned air show in 2020 due to the pandemic. “It’s a cool show site, right? There’s a reason people come up here from all over the nation to visit during the Cherry Festival. This has been on my to-do list to come here during the Cherry Festival for years and to get to do it in a Blue Angels jet is even cooler,” Capt. Kesselring says. “This is one of those shows we talk about and we usually come here every couple of years. We haven’t been here for four years. A lot of folks on this team didn’t know if they were going to be able to make it back and get one of these Traverse City shows in.”
He says Traverse City is a favorite spot for the Blue Angels, in part because of the topography and the scenery; but mostly because of the people. “You travel around the nation and the welcome that we get here from the get-go…. It’s absolutely fantastic.”
Look – and listen – for these jets this weekend over Traverse City. But by the time you hear them – they’ll already have passed you by.
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