JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The U.S. Navy Blue Angels brought smiles and cheers as they flew over greater Jacksonville Friday as part of its nationwide flights to salute health care workers, first responders and other essential workers on the front lines of America’s battle against coronavirus.
The flyover, part of Operation ‘America Strong,’ covered parts of Duval, St. Johns and Clay counties. With military precision started right on time at 11:40 a.m. near the beaches and continued for about 20 minutes.
“I feel really appreciated that they’re coming over and doing this special flyover for us,” said UF Health Jacksonville nurse Erika Holmes, who watched from the Springfield hospital.
“It just means the world to me,” added Clara Jackson, also from UF Health. “I’ve been a nurse here for 30 years. I’ve never seen anything like this.”
The F/A-18 Hornets flew over Naval Station Mayport and skirt the beaches all the way down to Palm Valley. They pivoted and flew over Mayo Clinic, St. Vincent’s South, over Memorial Hospital, then made a loop over downtown, where they could be seen from the riverfront and the COVID-19 testing site at Lot J as they saluted Baptist Medical Center, Wolfson Children’s Hospital and UF Health’s locations both on 8th Street and in Oceanway before flying south over Orange Park Medical Center.
Masked health care heroes gathered outside each of the hospitals to get a glimpse and cheer on the Navy aviators.
"This was perfect this was exactly what we needed to boost our morale,” said Memorial Hospital nurse Amy Davidson.
"It was absolutely amazing. Our nurses needed this,” Memorial nurse Adam Copher added.
“It just means the world to me. I’ve been a nurse here for 30 years. I’ve never seen anything like this,” nurse Clara Jackson said.
These frontline workers have been serving the community around the clock since March; they’re committed but they’ll admit they’re wearing out. So they said even a brief flyover is a big deal.
Downtown at Lot J, Northeast Florida’s largest and busiest testing site, nurses, firefighters, police and the National Guard enjoyed the change of pace.
“To get off of the lane for a little bit and watch blue jets flyover is a really nice day,” said Sgt. Britton Mahoney, a combat medic with the Florida Army National Guard.
“It brings chills,” Lot J nurse Elaine Miller said. “They’re so beautiful and controlled. I love it.”
Jacksonville Fire and Rescue returning the love using a fireboat in the St. Johns River to create a water display and ladder trucks flying the American flag over the Acosta Bridge.
“We are America strong, we’re a team, we’re out to do this and we’ll be here as long as they need us,” said Deena Crawford, a nurse at Lot J.
Did you see the @BlueAngels over Jax this morning??✈️🇺🇸— Danielle Uliano (@DanielleUliano) May 8, 2020
It was beautiful and a simple reminder that we are all in this together and a special thank you to all of you who are fighting the virus on the front lines!💕 @wjxt4 pic.twitter.com/yD4yI7fgM1
While capable of flying well above the sound barrier, they slowed down to the Hornets’ minimum speed -- 120 mph -- so as many people as possible could watch them pass by. At times the precision team was in their diamond formation, their wingtips only 1½ feet apart.
The Navy asked that everyone maintain all social distancing guidelines during the event and refrain from gathering at landmarks or hospitals. From the places News4Jax had cameras, people were complying.
The Pensacola-based precision flying squadron as spotted refueling over St. Augustine before flying to Miami for a salute to healthcare workers there.
The Blue Angels, along with Air Force Thunderbirds, are on a series of multi-city flyovers that began last month over News York City. They performed their precision flying routine over Atlanta last Friday and flew over Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston in Texas and New Orleans in Louisiana on Wednesday.
“The America Strong initiative is a way for the Blue Angels to show appreciation to the thousands of nurses, doctors, firefighters, grocery store employees, military personnel and others who are at the front line of the pandemic response,” said Cmdr. Brian Kesselring, U.S. Navy Blue Angels commanding officer and flight leader for the flyover. “This is our opportunity to salute each American in the fight against COVID-19.”
The teams welcome and encourage viewers to tag the team at @USNavyBlueAngels on Facebook and Instagram, and @BlueAngels on Twitter. You can also post photos and videos of the flyover on social media with the hashtag #AmericaStrong and #Inthistogether.
For more information on the Blue Angels, visit www.blueangels.navy.mil.