Story and photos by Scott Jankowski
This past July the 128th Air Refueling Wing hosted participating military aircraft, pilots, and crews of the 2022 Milwaukee Air and Water Show. This included the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels with their Boeing FA-18 E/F Super Hornets and “Fat Albert” their support Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules as well as the U.S Air Force F-22 Raptor Demo Team. The 128th also hosted several other U.S. Air Force, Navy and Air National Guard units for last year’s airshow.
Milwaukee Air and Water Show organizer Paul Rodgers arranged a special media event on the Thursday before the airshow which included an opportunity to meet and interview members of the Blue Angels as well as the F-22 Raptor Demo Team. The focus of this article will be on the Blue Angels visit, with part two focusing on the F-22 Raptor Demo Team. We assembled in one the 128th’s ready rooms and received our briefing from the Blue Angels Public Affairs Officer, Cody Hendrix on what to expect during our visit with the team. The media members in attendance were each assigned a specific team member and maintainer we would get to spend some time with. I was assigned Blue Angel #7 and Madison Wisconsin native Lieutenant Commander Griffin Stangel. The Maintainer we had assigned with Lieutenant Stangel was Moline Illinois native Aviation Machinist’s Mate First Class Cathleen Henry. Our interviews would be conducted by the respective pilot’s aircraft, my case it would the two seat Boeing FA-18F Super Hornet better known as Blue Angel #7.
The weather was perfect for a late July day as we walked out to the 128th ramp to the row of neatly parked Super Hornets with Fat Albert parked close by. We were given time to get some close-up photos of the Super Hornets before our team members arrived. The Blue Angels just transitioned to the Super Hornet in 2021 and offered the team improved performance, reliability and efficiency over the Legacy Hornets (A and B models) which joined the team in 1986 with newer models (C and D models) coming onboard in 2010. The Super Hornet shares the same name and design lineage as the Legacy Hornet, but that is where the similarities end. The Super Hornet is 20 percent larger and carries 30 percent more fuel internally with increased range and mission endurance. The Super Hornet is also 3 to 8 tons heavier, has larger more powerful engines, square air intakes and very noticeable wing leading edge extensions to improve maneuverability.
As the team members made there way to their respective jets, we made the best use of our short time as we could. Lieutenant Commander Griffin Stangel graduated from Madison West High School in 2008 and attended the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks graduating in in 2012. Later that year he began his pilot training in the Textron Aviation T-6 Texan II and later the Boeing T-45 Goshawk earning his Naval Aviator Wings of Gold in 2014. After earning his wings Griffin would receive his initial training on the Super Hornet with VFA-122 “The Flying Eagles” after his training he would serve with VFA-192 “World Famous Golden Dragons” for three years. In 2019 Griffin would rejoin VFA-122 as an Instructor Pilot before joining the Blue Angels in 2021 as the Team Narrator. Griffin will be assuming the role of Blue Angel# 6, the Opposing Solo Pilot for the 2023 season.
Lieutenant Commander Stangel offered these comments to our group “It is absolutely incredible to be back in Wisconsin, when I was flying in, I got a peak of Madison on the horizon. It is good to be back in this Midwest Summer.” Griffin added “Being able to fly over the Great Lakes again , it’s everything I remember. It’s gorgeous, it’s just so good to be home.” Griffin also commented on the special challenges and considerations that go into flying a demonstration at a location like Milwaukee. “Since most of our shows take place over airfields our pilots need to prepare and think a little differently when flying over water. Flying in the city with towers and buildings presents other challenges.” Safety is always the top priority when it comes to any Blue Angels Aerial Demonstration, bringing you’re A-game, 100% effort every day is what it takes” Griffin continued “The energy and enthusiasm, the pilots bring to each show is infectious, the flight itself is a roller coaster ride. Being able to fly in any direction, upside down loops, pulling G’s it’s a sensation unlike anything else.” Speaking of flying and his love for it, when asked about what aircraft he wished he could fly, he offered this” While the Super Hornet has been good to me, I would have loved the chance to fly the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom.” Lieutenant Commander Stangel wrapped up his time with us by adding these parting comments” It’s so good once again to be home, my mom and dad are driving over today. I’ve got some aunts, uncles, and cousins coming from all corners to the state”
We also had the opportunity to speak with AD1 Cathleen “Cat” Henry who has been in the U.S. Navy for 16 years and with the Blue Angels for 2 years. AD1 Henry like Lieutenant Commander Stengel is also a Midwest native and is from Moline Illinois. AD1 Henry is part of the Blue Angels Quality Assurance Team and specializes in engine maintenance, fuel systems and smoke systems maintenance. “It’s like a car mechanic on the jets, if anything breaks down or needs an oil change, we make sure the jets are safe and ready to go for the demo.” Asked where she will be during the performance AD1 Henry remarked “I will be on standby in the runway truck, which is an actual named vehicle, if a jet comes back, we will be ready to fix it quick and get it back in the air.” When asked what her favorite type of aircraft to work on has been, “I have worked on a lot of aircraft in my 16-year career, but the Super Hornet has been the best.” Cathleen like Griffin being from the Midwest was also glad to be back and offered these final comments “I get excited about any Midwest show. All the fans get all crazy. Even going out to dinner or breakfast, meeting everybody, they’re like ‘Oh your part of the Blue Angels!”
Our time with the team went quickly as they had a practice performance a short time later and it was time for their prefight briefing. The Blue Angels flew two flawless performances during the 2022 Milwaukee Air and Water Show, and as of the writing of this article will be headlining the 2023 Milwaukee Air and Water Show. It was then time to make the short walk over to the area of the ramp that contained the recently arrived 5th generation Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptors belonging to the Raptor Demo Team. More on our time with the Raptor Demo Team in part 2 of this article. I would like to sincerely thank Paul Rodgers, Organizer of the Milwaukee Air and Water Show as well as the entire Public Relations team of the 128th Air Refueling Wing for organizing this event. Until next time, “Blue Skies to All!”