“It’s gorgeous here.” There’s a tone of amazement in his voice as Commander Alex Armatas describes flying over Grand Traverse Bay on his first approach to the area.

With over 4,500 flight hours, Armatas, has seen most of the country from very high levels at very fast speeds. He’s the Commander, Boss, and pilot of #1 of the Navy Blue Angels flight team that came to perform for the National Cherry Festival Airshow.

Traverse City is one of 32 stops for the precision team this year. At least one estimate has 400,000 people will take in the Traverse City show and be dazzled by the mind-numbing performance of the F/A-18 Super Hornet.

Blue Angels

But the pilots and crew are known to be dazzled by their stay in Traverse City. It’s a popular location to bring their spouses and kids while they perform for the crowds. This was Commander Armatas’ first visit to Traverse City. “Prior to coming to this show, the people who had been here before me told me a couple of things. One they said it was a beautiful show site, a beautiful scene,” said Armatas. “Having flown today I totally agree with that.”

Traverse City is also challenging for Armatas and his team. He acknowledges that each of their show sites is different and has its challenges. “This show site is certainly challenging from a technical, from a flying perspective,” he said. “It’s a little more challenging than some others, and things to look out for. Nothing that’s outside the capability of the team.”

Blue Angels

It’s not the challenge of flying over the waters of Grand Traverse Bay. The challenge comes from the fact that the show’s center point, in the middle of West Bay, sits in a bowl with hills surrounding the primary flight path. “The bowl piece is challenging for sure. Having terrain and certainly all the radio towers and cell towers around the center point, it can be challenging. So, we have to scout it out to make sure we are flying good safe profiles.”

When the last rumble of the jets exits the show, Armatas hopes he and his team leave a lasting impact on the crowd. “I hope they recognize that we are not a special one-off group of the Navy and Marine Corps.” He wants the crowd to recognize they represent the professionalism of hundreds of thousands of people who serve with the Navy and Marines. He has an additional hope that he can impact the young people who are watching. “I hope that this inspires the kids.”