Air Show Season Starts Early in Maine This Year

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The next Great State of Maine Air Show (GSMAS) will occur at Brunswick Executive Airport on August 26th and 27th, 2017. Believe it or not, the show production has already begun, some nine months before the big summer weekend. Part of the Blue Angels Team made a “winter visit” to Brunswick on December 1st, 2016 to begin their pre-show planning and initial media announcements. Covered heavily by local television and radio stations, a short Blue Angels press conference hinted at what the team will bring to the show at the Mid-Coast Maine airport later next year. That visit has already paid dividends, “spreading the word” about the GSMAS in 2017, about the service of the Navy and Marines and their Flight Demonstration Squadron, and in another “behind the scenes” way too.

According to the team, “the mission of the Blue Angels is to showcase the pride and professionalism of the United States Navy and Marine Corps by inspiring a culture of excellence and service to country through flight demonstrations and community outreach.” Through their highly visible flying displays and personal appearances on the ground before their shows, the Blue Angels exude confidence and commitment to their mission.

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On this winter visit, the team’s Narrator – Blue Angel #7 Lieutenant Brandon Hempler and the team’s Events Coordinator – Blue Angel #8 Lieutenant Dave Steppe, mirrored these qualities after arriving in the clear, crisp Maine skies in a pristine F/A-18D Hornet. Following their afternoon arrival, a short plane-side press conference was begun by air show media contact Herb Gillen, and both of the Blue Angels spoke a little about their careers. Lt. Hempler had visited Maine once, during Navy SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) school… but this trip was Lt. Steppe’s first time in the Pine Tree State. A longer, individualized question and answer session followed the introductory remarks.

Later, the real purpose for the visit took place – a closed meeting with key air show officials to discuss what was needed for the team’s 2017 Great State of Maine Air Show appearance. In order to be able to perform in front of the thousands of fans at air shows, the team requires a certain amount of equipment and logistical support be in place before they arrive at each venue. During this winter visit, initial information was reviewed – from broad views of the geographical layout of the airfield and surrounding area, to details down to how the briefing room the team would use for their preflight and debriefing meetings was equipped.

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Behind the scenes, another interesting event unfolded. A young woman present during the press conference, Chiara Sabatini is studying at St. Joseph’s College in Maine, and plans to join the Navy as a Naval Aviator after graduation. Her dreams include flying F/A-18 Hornets off of aircraft carriers. Her story about how she caught the aviation bug begins as a youngster, when her uncle (an airline pilot) would take her flying in general aviation craft. In first grade, when her teacher asked her class to draw a picture of what the students wanted to do when they grew up, she naturally drew an airplane, showing her desire to be a pilot. Later, at the retirement of the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy, a group of Sea Cadets in uniform drew her attention, and soon she had joined the Navy’s Sea Cadet Corps. Now, she’s working on her Private Pilot’s License as she nears the end of her four years of college, and is readying herself to become a Naval Aviator.

Her interaction between Lieutenants Hempler and Steppe highlighted the Blue Angels officers’ enthusiasm for that “culture of excellence and service to country…”. When both Lieutenants heard that Chiara will be taking the Navy’s Aviation Selection Test Battery (ASTB) early next year (which constitutes an important part of being accepted as a student for flight training) they began to ask Chiara questions, which seemed to give them a sense as to how far along in the process she was, and what her plan to enter into their own career field looked like. Both of these Blue Angels have been Navy instructors and have extensive Hornet experience too. Interestingly, neither Blue Angel “coached” her to do things a certain way in specific situations (like how to take the ASTB), but just offered their experiences for her to learn from.

Chiara wasn’t the only one in attendance pursuing a military aviation career either. Another spectator, who works at Brunswick, is already slated to begin his flight training for the Marine Corps in a few weeks; during the twenty minutes or so while planeside, the two Blue Angels offered some first class mentoring and interesting first-hand accounts for these prospective aviators. Who knows if their paths will cross again while they serve America? As it turns out, the Navy is a small world… Chiara’s fiancé (a Navy ordnanceman) had served with Lieutenant Steppe a few years earlier, in a squadron at NAS Whidbey Island!

The 2017 Great of Maine Air Show is off to a flying start, as a main attraction has already begun preparations for their performances. Although the main goal of the Blue Angels winter visit to Brunswick was to prepare for the upcoming air show, Lts. Hempler and Steppe also showed their pride as they serve their country – as they performed a bit of community outreach and even recruiting too.

For more information about the Great State of Maine Air Show, go to: http://greatstateofmaineairshow.us

Special thanks go out to Herb Gillen for providing the press conference, Lieutenants Hempler and Steppe for showing their enthusiasm and pride for their mission and careers, and Chiara Sabatini, for sharing her dream.

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Ken Kula

Assignment and Content Editor, writer and photographer A New Englander all of my life, I've lived in New Hampshire since 1981. My passion for all things aviation began at a very early age, and I coupled this with my interest of photography during college in the late 1970s. I spent 32 years in the air traffic control industry, and concurrently, enjoyed my aviation photography and writing adventures, which continue today. I've been quite fortunate to have been mentored by some generous and gifted individuals. I enjoy contributing to this great site, and working with some very knowledgeable and equally passionate aviation followers.

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