February 25, 2011 (by SSgt. Alice Moore) - The Thunderbirds hosted three members of the Navy Blue Angels team here February 23 as part of a traditional exchange program between the two units.
Capt. Ryan Riley (left) greets Lt. Cmdr. Jim Tomaszeski on February 23rd, 2011 at Nellis AFB. Captain Riley is the Thunderbirds left wing. Commander Tomaszeski is the Navy Blue Angels right wing. [USAF photo by SSgt. Larry E. Reid Jr.]
Blue Angel No. 2, Lt. Cmdr. Jim Tomaszeski, right wing; and Blue Angel No. 4, Lt. Rob Kurrle, slot; had the chance to fly in the back seat of a Thunderbirds F-16D Fighting Falcon model with Thunderbird No. 3, Maj. John Gallemore, right wing. Blue Angel No. 5, Lt. Ben Walborn, lead solo, flew with Thunderbird No. 5, Maj. Aaron Jelinek, lead solo.
The exchange program allows for both demonstration units with similar missions to have the opportunity to share ideas and learn from each other, Major Jelinek said.
"I can't tell you how many times on the road we get asked if we're better than the Blue Angels," Major Jelinek said. "To me, this (exchange program) is more (about) camaraderie between the two teams, rather than a chance to compete with one another. Bringing their jet here to Nellis (Air Force Base) and flying with us is awesome, because we learn from them. We can see firsthand the good things they're doing with their operation and implement them into our own Thunderbirds mission. And hopefully they can do the same, so both teams become better."
Prior to takeoff, the Blue Angels participated in a pre-flight briefing. From there, they took off into the air with the Thunderbirds and debriefed after the flight.
"It's always exciting to fly someone in the back seat and showcase what you're doing during the various maneuvers," Major Jelinek said. "The opportunity to fly the Blue Angels makes things a little more special, being that they're out accomplishing the same mission on a daily basis."
Majors Gallemore and Jelinek will head down to the Blue Angels' training base at Naval Air Facility El Centro, Calif., to shadow their counterparts for a day next week.
Lieutenant Walborn, who is in his third season with the Blue Angels, said the exchange program was definitely beneficial.
"It was really cool to see how you set up for a show and how it's different from the way we do it," Lieutenant Walborn said. "I think this experience will really come full-circle next week when we have (the Thunderbirds) come down to visit."
Both demonstration units are currently scheduled to begin their 2011 show seasons in March. The Thunderbirds will travel to perform at 39 show sites in the U.S. and Europe, and the Blue Angels will travel to 37 show sites in the U.S.