JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Every year, millions of people take in the world-famous Blue Angels spectacle. The air shows have become a thrilling American pastime. But when Jacksonville resident Lynne Kelly sees the Blue Angels, she sees her beloved grandfather.
“I look up in the sky and I see the No. 5 plane, which is what he flew,” Kelly said. “And I just think, ‘Wow, my grandfather did this.’”
Kelly’s grandfather is Capt. Chuck Hiett, the first Marine Corps pilot to join. According to Kelly, this all came about in 1954, when the Angels wanted to add a single first lieutenant Marine with 1,000 hours of jet time. At the time, Hiett was married, a soon-to-be father, and held the rank of captain. Either way, things worked out and Hiett signed on. Kelly says Hiett and the crew made great memories, even coming up with a new flight maneuver called the “solo loop to landing.”
“He just told me stories. He would laugh,” Kelly said. “And just the camaraderie that he said they had was just like brothers right away. They welcomed him even though he was a different rank, not the rank they wanted.”
Kelly says Hiett only performed with the group for one year after that, eventually moving on with his career and achieving the rank of lieutenant colonel.
“And in 1967, he was contacted again to be their flight leader,” Kelly said. “Unfortunately, the Marine Corps Commandant returned the decision and sent him to Vietnam.”
Kelly also told News4JAX that Hiett thought of himself as the father of the legendary Fat Albert, the large transport plane involved in the airshows. She said in the 1970s, Hiett was at the Marine Corps headquarters and saw the requests from the Blue Angels wanting a C-130.
“So, he looked into it and found in the Marine Corps inventory the only C-130 that wasn’t planned to be a tanker,” Kelly said. “And he said he approved the request and Fat Albert was born.”
Kelly said of everything her amazing grandfather did, his Blue Angels stories are her favorite.
“It’s really cool to have that kind of history in my family,” Kelly said. “And I just love the fact that I can say that not only did my grandfather fly, but he was the first Marine to do it.”
For his service and history-making stint with the Angels, Kelly said Hiett was awarded the Gray Award. Sadly, he wasn’t able to see it. He died this past March at age 93, joining his wife of nearly 70 years.
Their meeting was also marked by aviation.
“My grandparents actually met while she was strapping him into his plane,” Kelly said. “And it was love at first sight, I’m told. So that’s a cute memento, as well, to tell us how they met.”
With Jacksonville set to observe its bicentennial, Kelly honors the Blue Angels -- which got their start in Jacksonville -- and remembers her forever hero.
“It just brings a tear to my eye because, you know, I would have loved for him to have been able to tell the story,” Kelly said. “I love him, and we miss him a lot. He had a good life. Forever, he’ll be with us.”