Blue Angels to undergo more rigorous training

The Navy hopes changes in the way Blue Angels train will help prevent crashes like the one that killed Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Davis in Burton two years ago.

Instituted in December, the new G-Tolerance Training Program is designed to help Blue Angel pilots withstand the physical and mental rigors of performing aerial maneuvers that can multiply normal gravitational forces.

Effects caused by those forces are believed to have caused the April 2007 crash that killed Davis.

In the last maneuver of the Blue Angels' performance at the 2007 Beaufort Air Show at the Marine Corps Air Station, Davis was trailing the other pilots and accelerated to more than 425 mph. Investigators say the sudden force caused him to lose awareness of his speed and altitude.

Davis' F/A-18 Hornet clipped several trees before crashing in a wooded neighborhood near the intersection of Shanklin and Pine Grove roads. The pilot was killed, eight people were injured and dozens of homes were damaged in the crash.

The Navy hopes the new physical training program will reduce the incidence of "G-LOC," when a pilot loses consciousness because of excessive gravitational forces.

Unlike Navy and Marine pilots, Blue Angel pilots are not required to wear G-suits. The suits use a compressed air and bladder system to restrict the amount of blood flowing from a pilot's brain, preventing blackouts, said Lt. j.g. Brett Dawson, spokesman for the Chief of Naval Air Training in Corpus Christi, Texas.

However, the suits are not conducive to the type of flying done by the team, Dawson said.

"Those guys are flying 18 inches apart, and their arms and legs and hands are extremely close to that stick during those maneuvers and if that suit inflates or deflates, it can move the stick," he said. "When we're flying 18 inches apart, we don't want that stick to move."

The Blue Angels annually submit a waiver to the Secretary of the Navy to exempt them from wearing G-suits, which are standard issue for Marine and Navy pilots. This year's waiver is making its way through the chain of command, Dawson said.

Naval investigators do not believe a G-suit would have prevented Davis' crash because he was experiencing G-forces exceeding the suit's capacity to prevent disorientation. New requirements are designed to train pilots' bodies to perform functions under high force that a G-suit would perform at lower forces.

"What we've done is mandated additional centrifuge training for the pilots and increased their physical fitness and their physical readiness," Dawson said.