As school assemblies go, this one was a winner.
Austin Machin listened to a Blue Angels pilot speak for an hour at the Dundalk and Sollers Point high schools Friday, walked out and said, "I am at a loss for words about how awesome that was."
The 16-year-old wants to join the Navy SEALs right out of high school, and for him, the pilot was about as good a recruitment tool as he could imagine.
Students from Dundalk and Sollers Point had dozens of predictable questions for Blue Angels pilot Lt. Mark Tedrow, who is in town for the Star-Spangled Spectacular, a celebration of the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Baltimore and the writing of what would become the national anthem. How long is the plane? How fast can you go? How do you fly so close together?
But there were also questions that could only have come from students who can see the Key Bridge from the upper floors of their school and could see the planes flying practice runs above their heads Thursday.
Can you fly under the Key Bridge? "Yes, but it would be the last time," said Tedrow, adding that the Federal Aviation Administration frowns upon airplanes that try such daredevil tactics. "I wish we could, but we can't."
The six Blue Angel pilots practiced Thursday and Friday over the harbor. Two air shows featuring Navy fliers, including the Blue Angels, will be held over an hour and a half between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The show will be over the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River.
Tedrow, a native of Western Pennsylvania, told students he was similar to them when he was in high school. He didn't know what job or career he wanted, but he was working hard to get to college.
"I wasn't the smartest guy in the world," he said, but he studied hard, played football and managed to be recruited to play for the U.S. Naval Academy. He said he naively thought he was going to play ball, and all the military stuff would just take care of itself.
During his first year at the Naval Academy, he said, he felt as though he was underwater. He was studying until 1 a.m. and practicing football for long hours, but he knew he wanted to try to keep his grades high to be able to have a shot at becoming a pilot.
He was chosen, and after several years of flight training, served in Afghanistan, a duty he said was stressful.
"There are a lot of guys' lives on the line depending on what you do," Tedrow said.
For the past three years, he has traveled around the country as part of the Blue Angels. During the school assembly, he taught students the "Hick maneuver," a strategy pilots use to prevent them from passing out under 6 or 7 Gs of force. The force pulls the blood from their head to their feet unless they do the exercise, Tedrow said.
Three students came to the center of the stage and practiced curling their toes and flexing the muscles in their legs and their abdominal muscles. They then said "Hick," forcing the air out and holding their breath. Tedrow said it takes a lot of practice, but it is essential to his job.
One boy asked if he could go up in the air with Tedrow. (No, there's only one seat.)
Sarina Newlin, 14, doesn't have any interest in learning to fly, but she did want to know whether Tedrow was scared the first time he flew as a Blue Angel. He told her that he never felt scared, but he has had some nervous excitement.
"I learned a lot about what they do," Sarina said.