Blue Angels’ pilot Lt. Andy Talbott has Pawhuska ties

Mike ErwinJournal-Capital
Blue Angels’ pilot Lt. Andy Talbott has Pawhuska ties

It was love at first flight for Andy Talbott, whose unwavering fascination with flying has lifted him to the pinnacle of heights for a United State Navy aviator.

Lt. Talbott is one of six specially-selected pilots in the elite flight demonstration squadron known as the Blue Angels. (Rather ironic, considering the 2002 graduate of Sedan, Kan., High School had played football for the Blue Devils.)

Since September of last year, Talbott has flown Blue Angels’ jet No. 3 — which is the Left Wing position in the unit’s formations. Sometimes, only inches will be separating the aircraft as the team pilots perform maneuver at speeds of 400 to 700 miles per hour while thousands of feet in the air.

Talbott’s two-year assignment with the legendary squadron is to continue run through most of 2016’s March-through-November air show season. During that time, his Blue Angels’ squadron is expected to have appeared at more than 150 shows and been watched by an estimated 25 million spectators. (Team members also visit hundreds of people each year at schools and in hospitals.)

The Oklahoma-born pilot lived in Perry until he was 11 or 12. His mother, Reda Townley Talbott, was raised in Pawhuska and his grandmother, Margaret Townley, and uncle Mike Townley are longtime local residents. Another uncle, Steve Townley, lives in Cushing.

Reda Talbott said her son wanted to fly since shortly after they’d moved to Kansas and he was taken on his first plane ride by a local pilot named Roger Floyd. By the time he was 17, Talbott had passed the tests at Bartlesville Airport for his private pilot’s license. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Airway Science from Kansas State University at Salina just 3 1/2 years after finishing high school, then served two years as a flight instructor at KSU.

“He joined the Navy as a pilot with the intention of making it a career,” his mother said. “It was a decision he probably had made years earlier.”

Talbott was commissioned as an Ensign after completing Officer Candidate School at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Fla. — which, coincidentally, is where the Blue Angels are stationed. His aviation indoctrination in April 2006 also took place at Pensacola. He completed primary flight training at Vance Air Force Base in Enid, followed by intermediate and advanced flight instruction in Meridian, Miss. Talbott earned his Navy wings of gold in February 2008.

Prior to being chosen for the Blue Angels, Talbott completed two deployments aboard the USS Enterprise during Operation New Dawn (August 2010 through 2011) and Operation Enduring Freedom (October 2001 through 2014). He has accumulated more than 1,800 flight hours and he’s made 335 carrier-arrested landings. His decorations include a Strike Flight Air Medal, three Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals.

Stated mission of the squadron 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.” Blue Angels’ veteran Roy Marlin “Butch” Voris expressed a more practical reason for the team’s daring and high-risk exhibitions, however.

“We come down to ground level so people can see the types of maneuvers fighters do in combat,” the founder of the unit once said. “I think the public deserves to see what their taxes are paying for.”

Formed in 1946, the Blue Angels is considered the second-oldest flying aerobatic team in the world behind the French Patrouille de France, which formed in 1931. While both Navy and Marine Corps aviators are eligible for the squadron, all six of the team’s current pilots are from the Navy. A Marine does currently serve as the show narrator, however. The narrator flies an F/A-18 that sometimes is needed as the team’s backup jet and will oftentimes be used to give demonstration rides to civilian VIPs and press members.

Talbot’s assigned spot on the Left Wing holds a certain significance. Blue Angel pilot No. 3 traditionally moves to the No. 4 (slot) position for his second year in the squadron. Pilot No. 4 serves as the team’s safety officer, due partly to the perspective the slot position is afforded within the formation.

Like its basketball counterpart, the Harlem Globetrotters, the Blue Angel performances include many techniques and formations which have been used throughout the team’s history. The McDonnell Douglas F-18 Hornet has been used by Angel squadrons since 1986, but it is the eighth different demonstration aircraft in the team’s history. Blue Angel F-18’s are former fleet aircraft and they remain nearly combat-ready.

One modification to the Angel units involves removal of the aircraft gun, which is replaced (for demonstration purposes) with a tank containing smoke-oil. Cockpits of Angel pilots are outfitted with spring-loaded control sticks to facilitate more precise pilot input. The standard configuration has 40 pounds of tension to allow “minimal room for uncommanded movement,” according to the Blue Angels’ website.

Blue Angel pilots refrain from wearing G-suits because continuous inflation/deflation of the air bladders inside them would interfere with control-stick operations. Instead, the demonstration pilots will tense their muscles to prevent a bloodrush from their heads which might render them unconscious.

Reda Talbott got to watch the elite team perform in August at the Kansas City Aviation Expo. Later this month, she has a trip planned to Hawaii for another Angels’ show. She said her entire family —Townleys and Talbotts alike — are proud of Andy’s status as a pilot.

“Watching one of the shows will just reinforce how special it is,” she said.

The final performance of the year will be Nov. 6-7 at the Blue Angels Homecoming Air Show in Pensacola.

“You fly as close together as a couple of feet…every once in a while you do a little bump and so forth,” team leader Voris once said. “People ask me, ‘How close do they fly?’ and I’ll say if we hit each other, it’s too close and if we don’t, we’re too far apart.”