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FHS grad touches the sky

U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Brent Stevens, a 1994 Farragut High School graduate, stands by his training jet in California where he serves as a flight instructor.- Photo submitted
For one Farragut High School graduate with a lifelong dream to fly the sky is the limit.

The U.S. Navy Blue Angels air show team welcomes U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Brent Stevens, a Class of 1994 graduate, to its 2011 team.

As next year’s only Marine pilot, he’ll be flying F/A 18 Hornet jets with six other pilots for next season’s air shows.

The Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron’s Blue Angels team flies Hornets with extreme precision and accuracy as they perform tricky maneuvers above thousands of people at its air shows. One of the most recognizable formations is the diamond formation; Blue Angels fly just 18 inches apart while normally Marine Corps pilots fly 10 feet apart.

Stevens said, “It’s absolutely an honor. I can’t believe I was selected. It hasn’t sunk in yet. I very much look forward to representing the Marine Corps. I’m looking forward to all of it.

“Flying with the Blue Angels is really completely unlike flying you’d do otherwise. The obvious difference is they’re not a tactical squadron; they’re not there to go out and drop bombs and do air-to-air dogfighting. Their job is to support the recruiting efforts of the Navy and Marine Corps.”

For the past seven years, Stevens has taught recent flight school graduates how to fly a Hornet, preparing them for the front lines.

He saw joining Blue

Angels as a once in a life-time opportunity.

“It’s so different than what I was used to doing. It really appealed to me. I figured if I had a chance I would be crazy not give it a try ’cause you don’t want to look back 10 years from now and say, ‘I wish I had given it a try,’” Stevens said.

The close-knit team spends about 300 days traveling each season. Assignments last two to seven years, depending on placement within the team. Character and compatibility with team members is essential for team building, Stevens said.

“You have to rush the team… similar to a fraternity. You go to different air shows and you more or less hang out with the team, go to their show briefs, social commitments,” he said. “They’re looking for someone they can gel with.”

Six pilots are chosen as demo pilots; the seventh pilot is the VIP, narrating during the air shows, giving demonstration rides and performing maintenance flights.

Stevens plans to receive his assignment within the Blue Angels later this year.

Aside from the shows, the pilots visit schools and hospitals, promoting the Navy and Marine Corps recruiting efforts.

They travel to air shows at about the same speed as a commercial airplane, though they can travel faster. Hornets are refueled while in flight through air-to-air refueling.

Stevens’ passion to fly was sparked as a child — a lifelong dream. Since age 6, “all I wanted to do was to be a pilot.”

Though there are no pilots in his family and no one serving in the military, he found a book as a third-grade student about how to become a pilot. It opened his mind to whole new world.

“I read it cover to cover probably 10 times and I fantasized about going to flight school,” he said.

As a teenager, Stevens remembers seeing Blue Angels during a local festival.

“I’d go to the air shows and … I was really in awe of what those pilots are able to do, what the airplanes are able to do and it just gave me that drive to never give up on that dream. I said, ‘At some point I’m going to do that.’”

Stevens begins training in a Boeing F/A-18 Hornet in January 2011; air shows begin in mid-March and run through mid-November across the United States.

He enlisted with the Marine Corps in 1996 and was a reservist while attending college at The University of Tennessee. Upon graduation in 1999, he was commissioned as an officer.

His wife, Lindsey, and daughter, Riley, 18 months, will make a permanent move with him to Pensacola, Fla., as the Blue Angels air show season begins.

Stevens is the son of Debbie Bruce of Knoxville and Rick Stevens of Tampa, Fla.


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