EL CENTRO, Calif. -- FOX 5's Tabitha Lipkin flew along with the US Navy Blue Angels ahead of a special event honoring an American WWII hero.
The 49th annual El Centro Airshow featuring the Blue Angels is scheduled to take place Saturday from Vraciu Field, an airfield that previously had no name. El Centro plays a central role in naval aviation with a history dating back to WWII. At that time, Alexander Vraciu was reigning as the Navy's top WWII Ace fighter.
"Naval avation has grown on the shoulders of pilots like him and his experiences getting naval aviation to where we are today," Blue Angels narrator Lt. Carry Rickoff said.
Vraciu was best known for shooting down six Japanese dive bombers in eight minutes. He also survived two of his aircraft carriers being torpedoed and was forced to parachute to safety twice when he had to ditch his "Grumman F6F Hellcat."
In 1946 the Blue Angels formed as a way to boost morale and raise the public interest in naval aviation, a tradition that continues today.
1946 is the same year NAF El Centro was taken over by the Navy. Vraciu trained in El Centro in the 50s after the war, winning the Fleet Air Gunnery Unit annual weapons meet with the highest aerial marksman score ever as a commanding officer.
"We come out here for a few reasons," Rickoff said of NAF El Centro. "The weather out here is ideal for us to train ... Pilots require 120 demonstration flights before a public demonstration. Additionally, (in this) air space we are kind of out of everyone's way and we can get the work done that we need."
F-18 hornets top out at about 12-hundred mph 3-times the speed of the F-6F Hellcat Vraciu often flew.
"I think he would be very excited. Going back to the F6F hellcat, that was our very first aircraft. The Blue Angels flew F6F Hellcats for the first couple of months when they first flew back in 1946, and I think he's be ecstatic to see his plane flying over his field 73 years later."
Vraciu was known as "indestructible," and his legacy undeniable. Now his contribution to naval aviation will live on through the air shows for years to come.
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An absolute dream come true! There are literally not words to describe how incredible my flight was with the @usnavyblueangels! Thank you @chewy1105 for being the best lead and taking me on the RIDE OF MY LIFE. I walked away blown away by the power of the F-18 Hornet, and the complexity of the job of a Blue Angel Pilot. (I also walked away with the call sign “G-Monster” for all the Gs we pulled!!!) more pics and videos coming soon! #BlueAngels #MediaRide #GMonster #Navy #USNavy 🚀💙📺