LOUISVILLE, Ky. - A U.S. Navy Blue Angels fighter jet streaked across the skies of Louisville on Thursday before landing at Louisville International Airport, giving local residents a taste of things to come at this year's Thunder Over Louisville air show.
The jet, a Navy F/A-18 Hornet, and two Blue Angels team members were in town as part of a "pre-season visit" to the Kentucky Air National Guard Base, where they will discuss preparations for the 25th anniversary of the show, according to Capt. Josh Ketterer, air show coordinator for the Kentucky Air Guard.
Ketterer said Kentucky Air Guard members will again be providing hundreds of hours of support to military aircraft flying in the April 12 event - a crucial factor in securing top acts like the Blue Angels.
"Because of the current budget climate, the Department of Defense has suspended a lot of the participation it historically provides to air shows, so we're fortunate to be one of just 34 sites that will feature the Blue Angels this year," Ketterer said.
Mike Berry, president and chief executive officer of the event's sponsor, the Kentucky Derby Festival, said he was pleased to be working with the Kentucky Air Guard, which has provided support for military aviation since the Derby festival added military aircraft to Thunder in 1992.
"Our air show wouldn't be one of the top events in the country without their support," Berry said. "With the return of the Blue Angels, the 25th Thunder will be one to remember."
Lt. Ryan Chamberlain, a Blue Angels pilot and air show narrator, promises an exciting display during the team's hour-long demonstration.
"We're going to fly the aircraft at minus three to positive seven-and-a-half Gs at airspeeds approaching just under Mach, which is basically about 700 miles per hour, at altitudes down to about 50 feet," he said. "During the formation flights, the pilots will be flying as close as 18 inches apart.
"You're going to see precision maneuvers, you're going to see solo crossing maneuvers at high speed - basically crossing rates at a little over 1,000 miles per hour. And everything's going to happen right there in front of you."
Chamberlain expects this year's show to be "the best (Thunder) yet" because of pent-up demand to see high-performance military aircraft. All but two of the Blue Angels' events were cancelled last year when sequestration hit in March, grounding all U.S. military aircraft from air show participation.
"I think people are excited for 2014," he said. "They've missed the military, and I think they're going to be very excited to come out. I think they're going to see a great demonstration, not just with us, but with all the performers that are going to be here."
The Kentucky Air Guard's Ketterer agreed.
"It shouldn't be lost on anyone that we're going to have (the Blue Angels) one year after sequestration, during our 25th anniversary show," he said. "It's going to be fantastic, and I could not be more excited."
The air show also is expected to feature Canadian CF-18 fighter jets and a German C-160 transport aircraft. Non-military acts slated for the event include an assortment of historic aircraft like the P-51 Mustang and F-86 Sabre, as well as Lima Lima, a six-aircraft civilian aerobatic team, and the Trojan Horsemen T-28 Demo Team.