NEW WINDSOR -- Roaring, soaring, looping, rolling, passing, banking, turning, weaving, splitting the gray-cream sky.
The U.S. Navy Blue Angels jet team delighted the thousands on-hand Saturday for day one of two at the third annual New York Air Show at Stewart International Airport.
"The best part is just to feel the power of the planes as they go by us," said Mark Alley, 50, of Monroe. "They represent everything America stands for -- freedom and the right to do what you want. (The message is), 'Here are our Blue Angels. Do you really want to go to war with the U.S.?'"
The team's pilots log at least 10 years of flight time before applying for an elite two-year stint to man F/A-18 Hornet jets that charge past 60 air show crowds per year at 300 mph to 700 mph.
For the pilots, it was 40 minutes of skillful flying -- head-on passes, sneak passes, vertical pitches, Diamond 360s, inverted rolls, dirty rolls and delta rolls.
"It just never gets old," said Rebecca Bernacchi, whose husband, Ryan, is a commander and the team's flight leader. "It's a humbling, unfathomable privilege each and every time he flies."
The Blue Angels strive to inspire more than new recruits and reflexive rah-rah American patriotism, said Mass Communication Specialist Daniel Young, the jet team's spokesman.
Sure, of course, they want to show "the pride and professionalism of the U.S. Marine Corps and the Navy," Young said.
But when onlookers see the precision it takes to fly six jets 13 inches apart in a Diamond 360 formation, Young hopes they're also motivated to become the best versions of themselves.
"Maybe your mission is to be a doctor or a firefighter," said Young. "Whatever it is, the Blue Angels' biggest thing is to inspire a culture of excellence" in Americans.
The Blue Angels weren't the only attractions for an air show crowd that might total 20,000 between Saturday and Sunday. Last year, 15,000 attended, and the inaugural 2015 show drew 13,000.
A dozen aerial acts were hired by B. Lilley Productions, which also stages air shows in Melbourne and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Ocean City, Md.; and Atlanta.
Crop dusters tumbled and turned on Saturday afternoon. Stalling stunt planes popped and puffed, as they spat gray smoke with each engine choke.
And a sleek, gray F-16 Viper sliced the sky with a 1,500 mph maximum speed that whipped bystanders' heads around as it whooshed past tiny tots with open mouths and "Oh my" faces.
Over at a dark, air-conditioned Navy trailer, the public affairs officer, Chief Kurt Anderson, beamed as flight show attendees lined up 20-deep to strap on a virtual reality headset to navigate a big, fast riverboat on a simulated SEAL team rescue mission.
Anderson would like women to consider the competencies they can build through military service.
And he wanted all those in line to ponder the possibilities of unique Navy careers, like training dolphins to find underwater mines and nuclear engineering.
Yet, he also realizes there's no competing with the Blue Angels.
"Fighter jets, bright colors and loud noises, that's the sound of freedom," said a smiling Anderson.
This article is written by Daniel Axelrod from The Times Herald-Record, Middletown, N.Y. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.