The Blue Angels – Precision Flying With No Room for Error…or Ego

The Blue Angels – Precision Flying With No Room for Error…or Ego

If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend watching the 1993 documentary “Blue Angels: Around the World at the Speed of Sound.” It’s a documentary about Navy pilots and stunts they perform at aerial shows. Not only is it entertaining, but there are also some excellent safety lessons in these elite pilot’s pre- and post-flight briefings that we can apply to what we do today.

Like the Job Safety Analysis (JSA) process we use on our jobsites; the pilots meet before each show to talk through the flight plan. With a near real-time mental performance, each detail of the show is thought through. The flight commander calls out commands and the pilots visualize and concentrate on their individual tasks. Some of them even move their hands as if they are maneuvering their signature blue and yellow Navy jets with invisible controls.

Even with such a detailed pre-flight, the entire team will quickly point out they have never, in their history, flown ‘the perfect show.’ Just for a second, imagine a construction crew with that amount of focus and attention to detail on their task!

As the team strives for “the perfect show”, each pilot makes a mental note of their mistakes, large or small, during the show and talks about them with the team in a post-show debrief. This allows the team to see the whole picture and learn from each other’s experience.

From the stands, the performance looks perfectly executed. But these elites know better. After every flight, every flight, there is a post-flight debriefing where each pilot answers 3 questions.

  • What happened (both good and bad)?
  • Why did it happen?
  • What will we do differently next time?


There is a very good chance no singe pilot would know about a small mistake another pilot made were it not for this debrief.  This debrief is believed to be the most crucial task of the day.

This lesson isn’t from a debrief, but I believe it illustrates the importance of sharing information to prevent future events and injuries.

Roughly 15 years ago one of my HSE managers and I were going to lunch when we came upon a vehicle accident. A young man was struck by a drunk driver. Yes, at lunchtime! We blocked off traffic and I went to check on the drivers while my friend called 911.

Of course, the drunk driver was ok, but the young man was injured. I tried to keep him calm until the medics arrived. As they were removing him from the car, we discovered he had suffered a broken ankle, likely from applying the brake before the accident.

The medics told me they had seen this type of injury hundreds of times. When faced with an accident, the natural reaction is to ‘stand’ on the brakes. This action and the force of the collision do not bode well for an ankle, foot, or lower leg.

The debrief with the medic on the mechanism of injury stuck with me.

Fast forward 6 years, a vehicle pulled out in front of me while I was traveling ~40 miles-per-hour. My natural reaction was to hit the brakes, and I did. Quick side note, if you have never been in a situation like this, time seems to slow drastically. There was no place to turn to avoid and accident. All I could do is try to slow down as much as possible to minimize the impact.

In those few seconds, I remembered my conversation with the medic years earlier. Right before impact, I pulled my feet back toward the front seat and crossed my arms across my chest.

I crashed into an SUV with my full-sized truck. Both vehicles were totaled, but I walked away with nothing more than a bruised ego and some ringing in my ears. The passengers in the other vehicle were ok too.

Why do I tell this story? The keynote speaker at this year’s API conference was a retired fighter pilot and spoke about the importance of the debrief and how these lessons can save people from incidents and injuries. There is no doubt in my mind that recalling the debrief with the medic saved me from an ankle injury I witnessed 6 years prior. Not only that, but I could have injured my hands and arms by pushing on the steering wheel at the time of impact.

Becht employees have many decades of experience. How helpful would it be if we could gather that information and share it with others?

Do you have a story you would like to share?  Email it to We can learn from your personal experience or rewrite it to make it anonymous. The lessons are all important and can potentially prevent injury or save a life!


About The Author

David Troha has over 25 years of experience. David directs, develops, and oversees the general health, safety and environmental policies and procedures of Becht ensuring compliance with international and domestic governmental, and industry specific regulations. David joined the Becht team supporting the ExxonMobil Campus Project in the Woodlands, Texas, as a SSHE lead and data analyst. His experience includes the North American Growth (NAG) project and an Ethane Cracker Project at the Total Petrochemicals Refinery. Becht is a recognized leader in safety.

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The Blue Angels – Precision Flying With No Room for Error…or Ego

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