Former A.C. Jones High School student Manuel “Manny” Sanchez, who is now a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, will be the announcer at the popular air show this weekend.
Sanchez, who is the chief maintenance officer for the Blue Angels, will stand in the center of the airfield and explain to spectators what the daring pilots are doing.
The Bee-Picayune talked to Sanchez earlier this week about his career in the Navy and his duties as chief maintenance officer for the Blue Angels.
Here’s what he had to say:
Q: What will be your duties at this weekend’s air show in Corpus Christi?
A: As the maintenance officer, I supervise 124 mechanics; however, I only take about 40 on the road. I’m responsible for them in regards to ensuring they have all the hangar space needed, tools, support equipment, jet fuel provided and most importantly of all, hotel rooms. All this is pre-staged by our events coordinator during winter visits; however, I must follow-up upon our arrival. During the actual air show I am the safety observer. I have a communications cart that sits in the middle of the airfield and I talk to the pilots informing them that we own the airfield and airspace. We have a 5-mile bubble that is restricted to any other air traffic. At times we may have someone interfere with our airspace and it is my job to keep the pilots safe and inform them as soon as possible.
Q: How many air shows do the Blue Angels do a year? Where?
A: We will perform over 35 cities nationwide and Toronto, Canada, this year.
Q: What are your duties leading up to each air show?
A: Practice, practice, practice. We practice two days before we get to a show site and practice Thursdays and Fridays at the show site. Of course, my main objective and my main responsibility are to ensure all the aircraft are up and ready for the show. For 63 years, a show has never been canceled due to maintenance so I have big shoes to fill.
Q: Air shows are really fun, but after a while don’t they get kind of old?
A: Air shows never get old. I watch the jets fly six days a week and they give me goosebumps every time. The best part about it is when we bring it to the public. To see the looks on their faces on how amazed and amused they are brings us back to reality of why we’re really there. It’s not about us and the blue suits; it’s about those who have gone before us and our brothers and sisters who are in harm’s way defending our liberty.
Q: How is it that you became the U.S. Navy Blue Angels maintenance officer? Is it something you set out to do or something that was thrust upon you?
A: Every year the Blue Angels go out with a Navy and Marine Corps wide messages advertising an opening position. At that time anyone interested will send in a package. The package consists of experience, reason for wanting to become a Blue Angel along with attributes that you can bring to the team. Endorsements from high ranking officials are always a plus due to the fact that it’s another person’s opinion of you and why they think you should be on the team. Once the package is in, you visit three to four air shows where you get to watch the briefs and duties of the position you’re applying. The year I applied there were seven overall applicants for the “MO” — maintenance officer — position. If they like you they call you back for “Finalist Week,” which is during the Beach Show in Pensacola. They bring back two folks from each position. During that week you go through interviews, measurements, meet the families and a few social activities. At the end of the week you find out if you made the team or not.
Q: Do you ever get to fly in the jets or other aircraft involved in the shows? Tell our readers what that’s like. Put them in your seat from takeoff to landing.
A: I do get to fly quite a bit. I explain to my kids that it’s like a roller coaster times 20! Being on the ground chatting with my pilot buddy in the back seat and about a minute and a half, I’m 6,000 feet above the earth just like that. What a rush and it never gets old. The pilots have the best office in the world. You take the formation flying for granted until you’re actually in the back seat and see how close they really are to each other; however, that’s where all their training and physical readiness come in. It’s a sight that nearly brings a tear of joy to your eye.
Q: What do you actually do as maintenance officer? Do you get your hands dirty and fix jet engines? Or is your job more administrative?
A: My job is definitely more administrative than anything. Everything gets routed through me from shop inspection, leave or liberty requests, maintenance qualifications, etc... I have final approval on 99 percent of the maintenance department’s requests. As the maintenance officer, I hold a lot of responsibilities; however, I have a great maintenance master chief who backs me up and holds the fort when I’m not around.
Q: A lot of kids will read this story; what would you like to tell them? What would you like them to know about the Blue Angels?
A: I tell kids to always stay humble and follow your dreams. I didn’t make the Blue Angels the first time and yes, I was disappointed; however, it was not the end of the world. I lived up to the motto of “It’s never to late to become what you could have been.” The Blue Angels are representatives of the Navy and Marine Corps Fleet. We came from the fleet and will return back to our normal duties after this tour. The pilots are phenomenal and hand selected. They dedicate numerous hours practicing and learning the job in El Centro, Calif., from Jan. 3 to mid March. Once they complete that training, they still practice Tuesday through Fridays to put on a good show for the public.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: The Corpus Christi Show is going to be awesome and I would like to invite all of Beeville to come out and take advantage of the free show.
Arrive early to beat traffic! If you decide to go you’ll hear me over the loud public address system launching Fat Albert and the jets during the demonstration. To get a sample of that go to www.blueangels.navy.mil.
Best part of the show though is my maintenance team launching the jets with a crisp demonstration of military bearing. The ground launch steals the show!