Angels draw crowds, roar over Jackson Hole
By Angus M. Thuermer Jr.
July 26, 2007
The Blue Angels may have been late, but the squadron of U.S. Navy F/A-18 Hornet jet fighters was anything but boring when it buzzed Jackson Hole at 2:20 p.m. on Wednesday.
Roaring in from the north, the famous flight of blue and yellow twin-engine, twin-tail jets flew at altitude past the Tetons, made a turn over the southern valley, zoomed north toward Moran, returned for another pass in front of the peaks, turned north again and dropped to within 600 feet of the valley floor before flying over Jackson Hole Airport and exiting to the north.
For many, it was virtually impossible to watch the seven jets bank a turn over Jackson and arc north in a tight, unwavering formation without exclaiming awe.
The squad had been scheduled to fly over the valley at 11:50 a.m. but weather delayed the visit. Clouds shrouded the mountains, which the Navy hoped to use as a backdrop for a promotional photograph. A photography jet accompanied the squadron.
Hundreds of cars surrounded Jackson Hole Airport just before noon, with the occupants hoping for a view of the jets, said Ray Bishop, airport manager. He said operators at the traffic control tower counted the vehicles on the access route to the airport and on nearby subdivision roads.
“They said there were well over 500 cars,” Bishop said. “I was surprised at the magnitude of interest.”
For Keith Benefiel, whose father was killed flying as an Air Force navigator in 1949, the sight above Wilson was impressive and moving.
“For people into sophisticated toys, as those in the valley tend to be, it doesn’t get any better than that,” he said.
The fly-by reminded him of a time he visited his father’s grave when, coincidently, the squadron flew by in the tribute “lost man” formation, he said.
“My father’s always the lost man,” Benefiel said, “even though I never knew him.”
Some had worried the squad would be an unnecessary intrusion over Grand Teton National Park, where regulations recommend no flying within 2,000 feet of the ground.
Bishop said he didn’t think the jets were offensive and the pilots did not push the throttles on their 16,000-pound-thrust engines.
He said they created less noise than a passenger jet on takeoff. “They were very quiet,” he said.
The Blue Angels may return at 8 a.m. on Monday for another chance at a photograph, depending on how Wednesday’s shoot went, Bishop said.