"I grew up playing sports," says Cordill, a carrier-qualified pilot who has flown in Iraq and Afghanistan, "and [the Blue Angels] stay in excellent condition, but I've never had a harder workout than these demonstrations. At the end of 45 minutes, I'm physically and mentally spent."

But Cordill and the crew aboard Ernie have no complaints. Among other things, they say it has been a thrill to come to Baltimore, a place the Blue Angels haven't visited since 1959.

"The scenery is spectacular up there," says Cordill shortly after his first foray into the skies above the city. "And Fort McHenry is such an important historical site. "The Star-Spangled Banner" was written here. It's very special for us to be part of this bicentennial."

But his words about exhaustion might come as a comfort to Mannion and the others who rode on Ernie.

Take Jennifer Baatstad, an aviation electronics technician second class in the Navy who was just assigned to the Ernie crew.

Thursday's rehearsal was her first time in the aircraft. She nearly got sick. Friday, though, she was whooping and laughing along with longtime crew members as the plane roared through its maneuvers.

After Ernie came down, she already had a veteran's perspective.

"Yesterday was nauseating," she said. "Today was a blast."


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