‘Flying High’: Excitement soars for 2024 Vero Beach Air Show


VERO BEACH — Watching high-powered jets streak across the sky in formation at the Vero Beach Air Show will be a new, but already familiar experience for Lt. Connor O’Donnell and Lt. Cmdr. Brian Vaught. Both are part of the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, a world-renowned aerobatic flight demonstration team that is practicing for next year’s showcase.

“We’re flying two-to-three times a day, six days a week until our show season opens in early March. Training started in November and December,” O’Donnell said during a news conference held Friday at the Vero Beach Regional Airport. “Each pilot flies about 140 sorties (missions) before our first flight demonstration. To be able to apply what you’ve been training is a really special experience. We get to do that all over the country representing our Navy and Marine Corps.”

U.S. Navy Blue Angels officers Lt. Connor O’Donnell (left) and Lt. Cmdr. Brian Vaught speak to media during a news conference Dec. 15, 2023, at the Vero Beach Regional Airport. PHOTO BY NICK SAMUEL

This will be O’Donnell and Vaught’s first time participating at the Vero Beach Air Show that will be held May 3 through May 5, 2024, at the airport located in the 3400 block of Cherokee Drive. O’Donnell will be the show’s narrator, officials said.

Vaught, event coordinator, helps plan the shows, but does not perform in them.

The Blue Angels will headline the event on Saturday and Sunday. The goal is to have a fun, but safe air show, Vaught said.

“It’s a beautiful spot,” Vaught, a Colorado native, said when asked about Vero Beach. “We’re excited to be back.”

O’Donnell, number 7 with the Blue Angels, and Vaught, number 8, flew in from Kentucky and landed on the runway just before 12:30 p.m. at the airport, where they spoke with reporters. Despite heavy winds pounding Florida over the weekend, the two had no issues with their trip to the small beachside town.

“The weather was pretty nice,” Vaught said.

O’Donnell and Vaught said they have built a comradery amongst the flight demonstration team.

“We’re a very close team. We’re on the road about 250-to-300 days a year,” Vaught said. “What we’re most proud about is that we represent the Navy and Marine Corps, about 800,000 men and women around the world. We get to put on these fun blue suits and put on flight demonstrations so that we represent our brothers and sisters in arms.”

The Blue Angels will fly six blue and yellow Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet jets during their performance at the show. Attendees can also expect to see the Delta 1-6 aircraft performing a diamond precision formation and the fan favorite C-130J Super Hercules, also known as “Fat Albert,” manufactured by Lockheed Martin.

O’Donnell and Vaught said they are most excited to see the thrill amongst the youth watching in amazement.

“Seeing the smiles on the children’s faces sticks with you,” Vaught said. “The flying is amazing, but we were all that kid one day who saw something that inspired us to do something with our lives. That’s what we really like to see.”

O’Donnell, a Maine native, said he first saw the Blue Angels – also called the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron – perform when he was 10 years old at an air show. It was then that O’Donnell’s dream to become a pilot – zooming across the sky in formation with other jets – began to manifest.

“That was the start of it for me,” O’Donnell said. “It’s always been a dream of mine. It’s a real honor to be on the team. I’m excited to do it.”

The Blue Angels, created in 1946, consists of 145 sailors and marines, along with 17 officers, Vaught said. The Vero Beach Air Show, held every two years, serves as a community service event focused on honoring those who served in the armed forces, offering aviation education and encouraging volunteerism and support.

For more information on showtimes and tickets, visit the VeroBeachAirShow website.

Photos by Joshua Kodis

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