MILLVILLE — Everything the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels flight demonstration squadron does involves extensive planning and precision.
That’s because there’s a lot at stake for those in the air and on the ground. The pilots fly F-18 Hornets hundreds of miles per hour mere feet from each other. On the ground, the show has potential to boost Cumberland County’s economy, fill hotel rooms and keep the nonprofit Millville Army Air Field Museum in the black.
The Blue Angels will be the featured attraction at the Millville Army Air Field Museum’s annual Wheels and Wings Airshow Memorial Day weekend. Like the Atlantic City Airshow on Aug. 23, it brings big-name military acts with power to draw large crowds.
The Blue Angels flew into Millville last week, a promotional event that includes checking out area accommodations such as hotels and gyms for the 60-member Blue Angels entourage.
Organizers said the Blue Angels and the U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute team, which also is expected to participate in the airshow, could attract 40,000 people to the weekend’s events.
That’s about 30,000 more people than attend the airshow when it does not have a featured act, such as the Blue Angels, Golden Knights or the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds. The Knights, the Thunderbirds and the Geico Skytypers are confirmed for the Atlantic City show, said Joe Kelly, president of the Greater Atlantic City Chamber.
That could make the airshow one of the biggest economic boons for Cumberland County.
Millville museum President Chuck Wyble said event visitors likely will fill every hotel room in Cumberland County for Memorial Day weekend and eat an estimated 1,000 meals in restaurants. The event will require about 100 rental cars for participants. Gasoline sales to visitors will — as they did when the Thunderbirds performed at the 2015 show — skyrocket, he said.
About 400 vehicles coming for the car show will attract more visitors, Wyble said.
“It’s just a great attraction,” Mayor Michael Santiago said. “It will benefit Millville and all of Cumberland County.”
Organizers said they will have more economic numbers as the planning proceeds.
A successful show will pay the museum’s operating expenses for at least two years, Wyble said.
A lot of the planning involves the Blue Angels, who have requirements for where the crews will stay, the kind of workout facilities available, the event schedule, security for the F18s and even the escort vehicles that will shuttle them between the hotel and airshow site.
Those requirements have nothing to do with the Blue Angels being fussy, said Warren Schultz, who handles ground operations and is the jet team coordinator for David Schultz Airshows LLC. The Blue Angels want consistency in all their shows, he said.
The Blue Angels have 35 shows planned next year. About 400 shows requested their appearance, Schultz said.
The first Blue Angels jet will arrive the Wednesday before Memorial Day, Schultz said. The rest of the team will arrive Thursday and will do practices and flyovers to find ground-based landmarks, he said.
Museum Executive Director Lisa Jester said the organization is familiar with the Blue Angels’ requirements, because the squadron has performed at its airshows twice before. The museum is lining up volunteers, including some from the Civil Air Patrol, to help with duties, including directing on-site traffic, she said.
The Blue Angels were last scheduled to appear at an airshow here in 2011. The squadron was a last-minute cancellation after a lower-than-normal maneuver made at another airshow caused the squadron to remain in Pensacola, Florida, for additional training and practice.
The Blue Angels will do some public relations while at the airshow, Schultz said.
Pilots will meet with community members, visit schools and hospitals, and select people who can fly in the squadron’s two-seater jet or the accompanying C-130 transport aircraft called “Fat Albert,” he said.
Those selected to fly in the F-18s face a rather strenuous flight.
Schultz said the guest flyers will go through the Blue Angels’ show routine, which is a “hard action” routine based on actual combat maneuvers. The jets will reach speeds of up to 450 mph, and pilot and guests will at times face g-forces ranging from 6 to 8, he said.
Passengers first deemed healthy enough to make the flight will be taught how to breathe and “scrunch” their bodies so they don’t pass out during some of the maneuvers, he said.
“It usually doesn’t work,” Schultz said.