By LeAnn R. Ralph
ELK MOUND — Have you ever wondered what it would be like fly upside-down at 700 miles per hour?
United States Navy Blue Angels pilot Lt. Tyler Davies does not have to wonder — he knows firsthand.
“It’s pretty cool,” Lt. Davies said to a crowd of adults and children in the Elk Mound High School gymnasium Friday, June 15.
Lt. Davies flies No. 5, the lead solo airplane. The Blue Angels were in Eau Claire for the Chippewa Valley Air Show Saturday, June 16, and Sunday, June 17.
Formed in 1946, the mission of the United States Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron is to highlight the United States Navy and Marine Corps with flight demonstrations and community outreach.
At the beginning of his career, Davies enlisted in the Navy and was a radio technician. Later on, while serving in the Persian Gulf, he decided he wanted to be a pilot.
Lt. Davies said he was 33 years old when he became a pilot.
“This is a special moment to be able to talk to kids … (about) who I am and how I got here,” he said.
“Every single day, I put forth 110 percent,” Lt. Davies said.
“Sometimes ‘no’ is a good thing because it keeps you safe. But if someone tells you, ‘I don’t think you can do it,’ go prove (that you can),” he said.
“The biggest person who can tell you ‘no’ is you … this is America … the land of opportunity,” Lt. Davies said.
Crew Chief AF1 Tommy Tran spoke to the crowd in the Elk Mound High School gymnasium as well.
Crew Chief Tran is originally from Texas and graduated from high school in 2006. His first duty station was in San Diego.
When he decided to apply for the Blue Angels team, he said he was told “you won’t make it.”
Crew Chief Tran said he spoke with his supervisor about applying and was told he should apply because “the worst they can say is ‘no.’”
“When I got a call back (about the Blue Angels team) I felt a sense of pride and joy … never take ‘no’ for an answer,” he said.
“The first thing is to be smart,” was Crew Chief Tran’s advice to the students in the gymnasium.
Students should focus on their school work, do well in school and “learn everything you can from everybody. And if someone says you can’t do it, prove them wrong,” he said.
“Be good. Be a good person … and don’t let anybody ever tell you no,” Crew Chief Tran said.
The Blue Angels team arrived in Eau Claire Wednesday, June 13.
The Blue Angels flight demonstration squadron began practicing on Thursday, Lt. Davies said.
Although the F-18 Hornet flies as fast as 700 miles per hour during demonstrations, Lt. Davies said when he looks down, he sometimes sees “teeth and cell phones.”
The “teeth” is from people looking up and squinting at the sun. The cell phones are from people recording the flight maneuvers.
Lt. Davies said the day before he spoke at Elk Mound High School during a practice flight he had also noticed a little boy, who had just gotten out of a vehicle with his dad, yanking at his dad’s arm and pointing upward.
One person in the audience wanted to know what it is like to “pull G,” referring to the effects of gravitational force.
One G is one times the force of gravity, so a person who weighs 200 pounds will feel like he or she weighs 200 pounds. At 2G, a person who weighs 200 pounds will feel like he or she weighs 1,400 pounds, Lt. Davies explained.
The effects of “pulling G” on the human body are like squeezing a catsup bottle, and pilots have to do special breathing exercises to keep from passing out while in flight, he said.
Lt. Davies asked people in the crowd to squeeze the muscles in their legs, put their hands on their knees, take a deep breath and say “hik” without emphasizing the “k,” which serves to close off the throat, and then hold it for two seconds.
“Hik” – two – three. “Hik” two – three. “Hik” – two- three.
“If you feel light headed at the end, you are doing it right … when you watch the (air) show, know that’s what the pilots are doing,” Lt. Davies said.
A 40-pound spring also has been put on the controls of F-18s to eliminate accidentally making adjustments in flight that could prove disastrous since the planes fly so close together, he said.
“It’s like carrying a 40-pound dumbbell for an hour,” Lt. Davies said.
Flying upside-down at 700 mph at 3G is like having 600 pounds on your brain. The blood can fill up in your eyes, and everything turns a shade of red, he said.
One person in the audience wanted to know how fast the Blue Angels fly.
The faster the F-18s fly, the more fuel they use, Lt. Davies said.
The Blue Angels came to Eau Claire from Rhode Island, a journey of about 1,100 miles, in two hours, he said.
During the flight from Rhode Island, the airplanes had to be refueled in flight by an Air Force tanker. Fueling in flight is like trying to reach out the window of a car driving on an interstate highway and then reaching over to put a key in the trunk of the car next to you to open the trunk, Lt. Davies said.
Another person in the audience wanted to know how many “machs” the F-18 can do. (A “mach” refers to the speed of sound, so Mach 1 is the speed of sound and Mach 2 is twice the speed of sound.)
The Blue Angels are allowed to fly just below the sound barrier, otherwise the planes would be breaking windows and setting off car alarms, Lt. Davies said.
The fastest Lt. Davies said he has ever flown has been 1.58 Mach or about 1,600 miles per hour.
When you are flying faster than the speed of sound, everything goes silent and you hear nothing, he said.
Another person wanted to know how many “rolls” he has done in flight.
Lt. Davies said the most rolls he has ever done was five and a half.
Landing an F-18 on an aircraft carrier in the ocean at night is quite difficult. There is no outside light, and it is hard to see the deck of the carrier, he said.
The farthest place he has flown to was 2,000 miles from the aircraft carrier and 30 miles from Russia on a 9.5 hour flight, Lt. Davies said.
The Hornet can fly up to 50,000 feet in altitude, and at that height, it is very cold, somewhere around 75 degrees below zero to 90 degrees below zero. The horizon is completely black that high up, and you can see the curvature of the earth, Lt. Davies said.
One gentleman in the audience wanted to know how the “culture of respect” worked in the Blue Angels team across the ranks since the pilots are the stars of the show but everyone on the team is necessary for the success of the Blue Angels.
The Blue Angels team has 130 people.
What if all of the students in the Elk Mound school district always got 100 percent on every test and quiz. What would people think? Would they want their kids to go to Elk Mound? Lt. Davies asked.
What if all of the students at school were always 100 percent positive in their interactions with other students and supported each other completely in everything they did? Lt. Davies asked.
The positive nature of the culture under those circumstances requires a complete mind-set shift, he said.
If you genuinely care about the people you go to school with or work with, and if people believe in their success and in the success of everyone around them, then that is the formula for success, Lt. Davies said.
Lt. Davies noted he does not always know the rank of the people he works with, but he knows their names and the names of their children and their spouses.
“I genuinely care about the men and women I work with … (and being on the Blue Angels team) is awesome and amazing,” he said.
One young man in the audience asked a question that seemed to take Lt. Davies by surprise.
“Do you ever get to see your wife?” the young man asked in a wistful and concerned tone of voice.
Lt. Davies paused.
“That young man is going to go far,” he said.
Spending time with family is the biggest sacrifice made by the Blue Angels team and their families, Lt. Davies said.
The Blue Angels pilots fly different planes at different points in their careers. Lt. Davies said when he flew No. 7, he was gone for 334 days out of the year.
The spouses and children do not generally travel with the team, and if they want to go, they have to pay their own way, Lt. Davies said.
The Blue Angels pilots are on the team for two years, he said.
The physical stresses of the flights when “pulling G” and flying at upside-down at 700 miles per hour are hard on the body, and the pilots rotate in and out of the team fairly quickly, Lt. Davies said.