Editor's note: NBC 6 Investigator Willard Shepard spent years as an Air Force combat fighter pilot and shares his thoughts on where to see the fly-by and its message to those it honors.
The clock is ticking down for the excitement in the South Florida skies as the Navy Blue Angels will be in formation to honor our first responders and heath care workers who are on the front lines battling COVID-19. It’s a move by the fighter pilots and their team to also bring some joy as the days drag on with the pandemic.
The Navy team, along with the Air Force Thunderbirds, have been touring America to uplift spirits and say thanks to the men and women who know first hand what the deadly pandemic has done.
"We thought when we got together with the Thunderbirds it was a way we can reach out and maybe touch those lives," Blue Angels Commander Brian Kesselring said. "It’s nothing more than neighbors looking out through their window pane at each other and watching a couple of flight demonstration teams fly by and maybe increase morale and have a visible show of support."
The Blue Angels will have their smoke on and come by you at 1,000 to 1500 feet. Their route takes them over some of the area's biggest medical centers. At 1 p.m. Friday, they leave Boca Medical Center and come down Federal Highway in most of Broward, passing Broward General and Joe DiMaggio's Childrens Hospital.
In north Dade, they stay on U.S. 1, come down through Miami Beach over the intracoastal passing Mt. Sinai, and then it's on to downtown Miami, where they will make a loop over Jackson Memorial and head south to Homestead before heading north for Baptist in Kendall, Doctors in Coral Gables, Palmetto General and back into Broward, up Flamingo, past Memorial West and on north over Coral Springs.
The very best spots: near the Venetian Causeway and downtown near the AAA where you will see them pass not once — but twice.
Residents are being asked to observe the flyover from their homes and avoid traveling while practicing social distancing.
Here’s an inside tip: The jets are two to three feet from each other, but it's no stunt. It's a standard move you have to be able to do the pass the exams in pilot training to get assigned one of these jets.
What you will see Friday is never used in combat. The planes are too close together for a tactical attack. The formation is a way to stay together if one or more of them lose radio communication and the weather is bad. They simply follow the flight leader, who is in communication with air traffic control. The aircraft with the good radios gets them down out of the bad weather and to the runway for landing.
When it comes to why we will all be looking to the sky Friday, those of us who have had military careers generally associate terms like honor and courage with the combat we have experienced. Being shot at in many ways defines who you are and who you want to be. Those moments of learning not to panic and accomplish the task at hand no matter what is going on around you is always etched in your memory.
The difference with this pandemic is that in the military, we have a defined enemy— in my case, Iraq and the anti-aircraft weapons it had and the rockets it was firing at the US Army forces and Marines we were coming to help.
COVID-19 doesn’t work that way. It’s not something our doctors, nurses, police officers and firefighters can see, and by force, eliminate. I imagine that must be extremely frustrating, and day after day now, to lose patients to this disease when you are trying your best. Those who are in the health care profession at times are expressing those emotions. Being handed a multi-million dollar jet loaded with weapons carries a risk that you accept and are well aware of in advance.
I don’t think any doctor or nurse, or paramedic could have ever imagined they would be putting themselves and their families in danger simply by showing up for work. It's why its easy Friday to get wrapped up in the fanfare of the skill of these pilots and the firepower they bring, but for those of us who have served, the admiration we have for these professionals doing all they can to save lives in this pandemic goes beyond honor and courage.
We knew what may happen one day for us, these professionals didn’t sign up for this, yet they are still at it — something I am at a loss to describe in terms of admiration.