LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) – In just 79 days, the 25th Thunder Over Louisville will kick off the Kentucky Derby Festival. Today, some the headliners for the show graced the tarmac at Louisville International Airport.
Lt. Ryan Chamberlain and Lt. Commander Michael Cheng are members of the Blue Angels, U.S. Navy's Flight Demonstration Squadron. The squadron will take to the skies over the Ohio River.
"We want to make sure that the air show has everything in place, that we have everything in place," said Chamberlain. "So that when the six demonstration pilots come here, they will have an experience as close have as possible as the last place we were."
Without question, Thunder Over Louisville is an atypical venue.
When the Blue Angels last appeared at Thunder in 2006, Jackie Hays, who at that time was a WAVE 3 News anchor, climbed into the cockpit one of the F/A-18 Hornet's for a one-hour thrill ride of G-forces, deep dives, and speeds that approached breaking the sound barrier.
"They (the pilots) will have crossing speeds between 1,000 and 1,300 miles per hour," Chamberlain said.
The speeds are not unusual, but Louisville's skyline creates certain obstacles. The Ohio River presents unusual vantage points and April's ever-so-difficult-to-predict weather could force the team to rewrite the script or go to Plan B at the last moment.
"We can start bringing down maneuvers, limiting some of the maneuvers to keep them from going too high," Chamberlain said.
The Kentucky Derby Festival and the Kentucky Air National Guard began courting the Blue Angels two years ago.
"Obviously, we're getting them their first year back, which is huge, " said Capt. Josh Ketterer of the Kentucky Air National Guard.
Ketterer was referring to the 2013 sequestration when the federal budget impasse clipped the wings for both the Blue Angels and their U.S. Air Force counterpart, the Thunderbirds.
"The people of the United States have missed out being to see their military," said Cheng. "Being able to interact, and see what their tax dollars are paying for, basically."
Part of that connection is recruitment; selling the Navy as a career opportunity for younger generations interested in aviation and/or military service. This year, the team has a Kentucky connection; Lt. Commander John Hiltz, the pilot of Angel #2, calls Fort Mitchell his hometown.
Airport-centered performances make one-to-one interaction easy. Thunder's river-based staging area presents more of a challenge.
"That opportunity will exist in some capacity," Ketterer said. "I'm not sure what that will look like, but it will exist in some capacity."