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Young and old

March 11, 2001

alike plug their

ears and gaze

in wonder at

six sleek jets

By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

NAVAL AIR FACILITY EL CENTRO — Thousands of eyes gazed in the same direction as streaks of blue and gold soared overhead in a ballet of grace and power.

Then the streaks were gone — seemingly transparent against the blue sky. But they were still out there. The distant cry of the six jets revealed that much.

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"There," a father pointed out to his son. "Here they come."

From out of nowhere two jets appeared and barely missed each other as they crossed paths and then, with thunderous screams, flew toward the horizon.

In unison, the thousands at the Blue Angels Air Show on Saturday at NAF El Centro let out a cheer and then waited quietly for the next fly-by.

Eight-year-old Rosa "Kika" Schiebelhut of San Diego said she liked seeing the jets but said she could feel the power of jets in her chest.

She added, "I was plugging my ears at the loud part."

Kika was not alone. Everywhere you looked kids and adults were gazing in wonder at the Blue Angels' F/A-18 Hornets, but they were plugging their ears.

Despite the noise, people said the air show is a great way to spend a day with family and friends.

They added while the Angels are the big draw, there is much more to see and do throughout the day-long event.

People said they were relieved predicted rain never came. Early in the day heavy clouds hung to the east, but they seemed to break up before reaching the Navy base.

A cool breeze and spotty cloud covering actually added to the enjoyment of the day.

Decked out for the air show, the Navy base was filled with military jets. Children had the chance to climb into cockpits and see how it feels to sit at the controls of such jets.

Kids and adults looked in awe at the largest aircraft in use by the military, the C-5 Galaxy, a transport that looks like a large unpenetrable fortress.

The craft has a wingspan of more than 222 feet, its length is greater than 247 feet and its height is more than 65 feet.

U.S. Air Force Maj. Rich Beale, of the 312th Airlift Squadron, is the commander of the craft. He said he enjoys attending air shows because it gives people a chance to see what the military does and the tools it uses.

"This is fun," he said. "I always like answering questions and I like when they (the public) takes an interest in what we do."

Jets were not the only aircraft to thrill the crowds.

Stunt pilots flying in the skies of the Valley brought cheers from those gathered.

Performing flips and dives, the pilots flew perilously close to the ground, sometimes upside down, before racing back into the sky.

And what air show would be complete without a wingwalker?

In one of the first performances of the day, Margaret Stivers, a pilot herself, stood on the wing of a plane piloted by Hartley Folstad. Stivers hung under the plane at times.

She said she enjoys taking part in air shows, adding she has been a wingwalker for 10 years.

"It is the energy of the crowd," she said after her performance. "There is an energy that you feel. It is always exciting."

Despite the years she has been performing, she said she still gets nervous, but added that is the way it should be. She said one needs to be aware of everything that could happen during such a performance.

"There is a feeling of great relief when it's over," she said.

World War II-style planes did mock bombing runs over the Navy base. Over a loudspeaker the crowd could hear pilots talking to each other as if they were on a real bombing mission.

The mock bombing runs were followed by explosions, which sent fireballs and black smoke rising into sky as if the planes had dropped bombs over some enemy stronghold.

The bombings were part of pre-set explosives, which went off as the planes performed their bombing runs.

This year's air show included a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Korean War.

Veterans from that war stood in front of a MASH unit and told their stories to crowds that stopped.

"People get to know our history," said Joaquin Reclosado Jr., a Korean War veteran. "They get to know the history of how we served our country."

Reclosado had a table covered with Tootsie Rolls and told a story of how units would use chewed Tootsie Rolls to patch holes in gas tanks and other equipment. He then gave Tootsie Rolls to all the children who listened to his story.

By 2 p.m. Saturday the crowd was ready to see the Angels. First, the team's C-130 lifted off and performed maneuvers, and then it was time for the six blue and gold Hornets to take to the sky.

Charlie Zittle, 6, of Borrego Springs watched in wonder as the Blue Angels performed flips and loops and seemed to fly on a collision course only to break away at the last moment.

"I like the jets because they go fast," Zittle said.

Shelton Waters, 10, of San Diego said he just likes coming to the air show.

"I take pictures of the airplanes and its like fun. You get to buy stuff and see the planes. You see stuff you wouldn't see on TV."

Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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