It was a gloomy day at Beaufort’s Marine Corps Air Station, but the rain cleared just in time to welcome the day’s special visitors — who made their entrance in a familiar bright blue aircraft.
Two Blue Angels pilots landed at the air station Wednesday to prepare for the air show’s long-awaited return to Beaufort. The 2023 show will be April 22-23.
Due to public health guidelines limiting large crowds during the COVID-19 pandemic, the last air show in Beaufort was held in 2019. Lowcountry residents also got a glimpse of the squadron in April 2021, when the iconic blue jets zipped by the Bay Street waterfront on their way to practice at MCAS Beaufort.
The two pilots visited for crucial “behind-the-scenes work” ahead of April’s event: laying out a “center point” for the show’s maneuvers, scoping the site as part of FAA safety procedures and working with the Marine Corps team in Beaufort to create a schedule of events for the weekend.
“Obviously the Marine Corps Air Station provides a whole lot of help, so it’s a big team effort,” said Lt. Cmdr. Brian Vaught, one of the Blue Angels pilots who visited Beaufort on Wednesday. “It’s pretty amazing.”
But it wasn’t all business in Beaufort. The pilots also hinted at what’s new for the April 2023 show.
The Blue Angels’ biggest recent update comes in the form of their shiny new steeds: the new F/A-18 Super Hornets, which are larger, louder and more powerful versions of the familiar F/A-18 “Legacy Hornets” used by the squadron since 1986.
With these new jets, attendees at the Beaufort event are in store for a brand-new air show experience. The engines will roar louder as the planes zip by faster, and the maneuvers might even seem closer to the crowd — but that’s only because the planes are about 33% larger, Lt. Cmdr. Thomas Zimmerman explained.
But some things never change. Longtime Blue Angels fans are sure to recognize some decades-old traditions during the show.
“You’ll see some of the staples that we’ve had in our air show,” Zimmerman added, “but we’ve also added some new flair with the Super Hornet and the flight control system and what that brings to the air show community.”
General admission to the April 22-23 air show is free, but paid seating areas are also offered. Beaufort’s Marine Corps Air Station is preparing to host up to 150,000 guests over the weekend.
“There’s something to be said about feeling the raw power of the demo,” Vaught said of the in-person air show experience. “We have some new tricks up our sleeve. We kept a lot of the good old stuff. So come on out — the weather will be beautiful in April.”
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