An afternoon with the
As the six F-18's taxi to their assigned spots, the technical crews begin their post-flight tasks with the ritual precision that this team is famous for. Standing in front of the seven magnificent Blue and Yellow Hornets, we get a close up view of the action.
Grouped in front of "Hornet One", the Angels discuss their last routine. Debriefing is just minutes away and I know I will only have a few moments to talk with Lieutenant Scholl. Looking around, I realize that my photographer and I are the only civilians present near the Blue Angels. When I first received confirmation of the interview a few weeks earlier, I thought that I would have to struggle to get to these great Naval Aviators. But there I was, all alone under the pouring rain They say luck is the coming together of preparation and perseverance, I will learn on the Media Day that I was the only one to follow the proper chain of command to get interview authorization.....we are indeed lucky today.
Momentarily distracted, testing my tape recorder, I am surprised by a very warm "Hello, Sir!". There in front of me, looking like a living recruiting poster, hands clasped behind his back, eyes riveted on mine, stands "Blue Five"; Lieutenant Ryan Scholl! I'm remembering the characters of the movie "Wayne's World" when confronted with their idol.... "WE'RE NOT WORTHY!!" ....This feeling subsides quickly as we begin our conversation. LT. Ryan Scholl is very congenial, I'm immediately comfortable. I congratulate him for his tremendous performance and apologize for the typical Canadian weather (at least, it was not snowing!).
Lieutenant Scholl is from Beltsville, Maryland, and graduated from Princeton University with a bachelors degree in electrical engineering and computer science. He became part of the US Navy Flight Demonstration Team in October 1995. I begin the interview by asking him how he become part of the Blue Angels:
"I joined the Navy and have been flying F/18s. When I achieved certain steps in my career, I was then able to apply to the team. The year I applied to the Blue Angels, there were about 65 five applicants for two Navy pilots jobs and I was lucky enough to be part of those two."
In fact, Lieutenant Scholl's naval career is quite impressive. After completing Aviation Officer Candidate School, he was commissioned an ensign in March 1988. Earning his wings in February 1990, he then served with attack Squadron 122 (VA-122), the "Gunslingers" of VA-105, Strike Fighter Squadron 105 (VFA-105). Lt. Scholl then made the transition from the A-7E, to the F/A-18C Hornet. He then completed two sets of work-ups, followed by a mini-deployment, then an extended deployment aboard the aircraft carriers USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63), USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67) and USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69).
In light of his career path, I was curious to know if Lieutenant Scholl had the goal of being part of the Blue Angels early on. His answer stresses the importance of the training Naval Aviators receive:
"When I joined the Navy, I wasnt thinking I could be part of the Blue Angels. I was thinking the Blue Angels were the "Be all, End all" of the Naval Aviation and that you had to be a superb pilot of just incredible skills that I didnt possess. As I grew in my flying ability and my flying skills, I found out that just about any Naval aviator could do this job. And once I got on the Team, I realized that that was the truth. We, on the Team, and especially because they picked me because I am certainly not the best Naval aviator, possess certain skills, certain abilities to talk to the kids. We really love being here and represent the Navy, the Marine Corps and the US Government. And thats why we are here. With the training that is involved in being a Navy pilot, to be able to land aboard a ship and do all the other tactical flying skills that we have, with our training, just about any other Naval aviator can do the same flying that we, in the Blue Angels, do. Its very tough, the toughest flying I have ever done, but we receive training above all training that Ive ever had in the Navy. Thats how we are able to do this, to make it look so exciting, and also yet have it be so completely safe."
I immediately notice some key words Lieutenant Scholl is using: Skills, Team, Training Obviously, being the Blue Angels Lead Solo has not made Lieutenant Scholl loose the sense of being part of a team. In fact, the Blue Angels success relies on this team effort, from the support/maintenance and administrative crew to the seven Naval Aviators. I also notice Lieutenant Scholl is showing a great deal of modesty! Having won the 1993, the strike-fighter communitys Scott Speicher Award for superior tactical weapon delivery. He was also named Carrier Air Wing Threes (CVW-3) Pilot of the Year. He certainly *is* one of the best!
Lieutenant Scholl is keenly aware of his, and his fellow Blue Angels role as representatives of the best the Navy, and America have to offer. In the following days, I will have the opportunity to witness the incredible attraction the Blue Angels exert over the kids and their parents. They are obviously role models for a lot of young people, and perhaps a few of us older "kids" as well!. I ask him what are the most rewarding aspects of being part of the Blue Angels, his answer reflects this fact :
"One of the greatest things is being able to walk out and see smiles on the kids faces. Even when you have a day when I didnt perform so well, I gave it all I had and it was just not coming all together for me. But then I see the smiles on the kids faces. To know I am having an effect on what is going to happen in their lives is very rewarding. I may not recruit them to go in the Navy, but hopefully if they have a choice down the road somewhere to go the right way or the wrong way, maybe theyll have a look back and be influenced somewhat by what we do."
I immediately ask him if a young person would think of getting into Naval Aviation, what things might he consider doing now that would help him later to achieve their goals. Lieutenant Scholl's answer is very enlightening:
"I think that one of the greatest things that I talk about is making simple commitments. That you are going to get the job done and that you are going to work as hard as you can at everything you do. Once you have that simple commitment, whether its hanging up your clothes in your closet or even on your final exam, if you do the best you can at everything that you do, there is really nothing that you cannot achieve, whether you want to be a Blue Angel or if you want to be successful at whatever you do."
Simple statement but very true. These great Naval Aviators have all made simple commitments, they have committed to being the best they can, at everything they do...this has led them to the top of their profession.... they are the Blue Angels!
Lieutenant Scholl, very kindly, asks permission to leave for his debriefing. I could keep on listening to him for hours, but I know he is on a very tight schedule. We shake hands, I thank him and he joins the other Blue Angels
Floating on a cloud, Pierre-Mathieu, my photographer, and I dash to the car in a vain attempt to avoid the rain (which I hardly notice!) . He tells me he took some very interesting shots of the Hornets, I tell him I've just met one hell of a great person. I am so pumped by the meeting with Lieutenant Scholl, I'm almost ready to head to the nearest recruiter and sign up!
Sitting in the car, wet and cold, a wide grin on both our faces, we hear a knock on the window. Standing in the rain is a guy whose coat is bears the logo of a very big and well-known Montreal TV station.
"Where are the Blue Angels?"
I answered affirmatively and invited him to visit the FlightLine Online site. He looked at me as if I were the luckiest guy on Earth. Remembering the phrase about preparation.... I thought....Indeed, I was
This meeting was a dream come true and we thank the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Team, The Blue Angels, for allowing us to have this time with them!
By- Jean-François Laissus
Photography- Pierre-Mathieu Fortin