This summer, the Yellow Jacket Flying Club was invited to visit the Blue Angels Training Base in Pensacola, Florida. The Blue Angels are a flight demonstration squadron established in 1946 whom seek to inspire the next generation of naval pilots with their public demonstrations.
The invitation the Yellow Jacket Flying Club (YJFC) received is a rare one. Former Blue Angel #8 Commander Todd Royles extended the invitation to Elliot Borenstein, a certified flying instructor for the club. Borenstein then organized for 15 members of YJFC to fly to Florida to tour the facilities and meet the Blue Angels.
YJFC has over 160 active members, including current students, alumni and faculty. Some members are pilots and others are simply aviation enthusiasts.
Members have the option to take flying lessons from flying instructors who are contracted by the organization.
The club owns four Cesna 172s and decided to fly three of their own planes to the event. On the morning of July 5, the crew headed to Pensacola. Seats for the once-in-a-lifetime trip filled up so quickly that the club had to ask one of their flight instructors to bring his own plane to accommodate more passengers.
Once they arrived in Pensacola, the group drove to the Pensacola Naval Air Station to meet Royles. There, they were treated to a tour of the National Naval Aviation Museum.
“Todd himself — an ex-Blue Angel — gave us a tour of the the museum,” said Vaibhav Kumar, current crew chief for the YJFC. Kumar earned a bachelors and master’s (AE ‘16, ‘18) from Tech. As a crew chief, he is in charge of making sure the planes are safe.
“We walked through the exhibits and saw the different models, and he told us the history behind some of the airplanes,” Kumar said.
After the museum tour, the group went to the hangar where the F18s flown by the Blue Angels are parked.
“We were so close to the airplanes. We were right on the flight line and the Angels walked right in front of us before the demonstration,” Kumar said.
While the demonstration was open to the public, members of YJFC were invited to a special guest area to watch the demonstration from a closer vantage point.
“Throughout the training show, Todd gave us live commentary of what was happening. He was walking us through what mistakes the Angels were making, although to us, it looked perfect!” Kumar said.
“The F18s were literally 18 inches away from each other in the sky,” he said. “That’s crazy. To give a comparison, when you get your [pilot’s] license, certification standards require you to be within plus or minus 100 feet.”
Following the demonstration, Royles introduced the group to the Blue Angels pilots, an honor rarely bestowed.
“The Angels were so welcoming,” Kumar said. “They know most of us are aerospace engineers, and most of us are pilots, so they wanted to inspire us to go a step above and become naval aviators.”
As they talked, one of the Blue Angels said that the thing he enjoys most after every show is seeing the excited faces of children on the flight line and knowing that he might be inspiring them to pursue a pilot’s license.
The group also had the opportunity to speak to Blue Angels mechanics before the YJFC returned to Atlanta at the end of the day. They were invited to go inside some of the training planes.
This experience had special significance to Kumar, who has published three research papers about the wing fence of the F18. For the first time, he was able to see the fence he studied in person.
YJFC noted how welcoming and enthusiastic the Blue Angels were and how fortunate they were to receive this rare opportunity.
“This event really illustrated the level of passion for learning and the stewardship that is present in the aviation community,” said student Weston Landis, ARCH and CE ‘15. “There aren’t many cooler examples of the benefits of being a part of a strong community like YJFC than being able to fly in and meet and greet with some of the most accomplished aviators in the world.”
For more information about YJFC, visit yjfc.org.