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Blue Angels, You’re Good People

"Good News & Good People" is a column by Local Pulse Lifestyle Editor, Dana Hairston Hof.

Lieutenant Commander Julius Bratton, United States Blue Angels.

I write a fairly regular column called “Good News and Good People.” Well, the news and the people don’t get better than an F/A-18 fighter pilot flying upside down so we can remember how great this country can be.


It gives me goosebumps every time I see them fly, but as it turns out, no jet fuel is needed for the Blue Angels to give you chills. 

This morning the hair on the back of my neck was electric as I walked through the restricted area where the Blue Angels practice their perfection. There is something extraordinarily cool about mingling with fighter pilots in the hours before they will rip and roar over your neighborhood and community. 

One moment, they are sharing their experiences in the navy with us at Naval Air Station Pensacola, and the next moment they are upside down over Little Sabine at 7.5 G’s. For us regular folks that’s seven times the force of gravity. Most people would be nauseous, vomiting, and even pass out. But these superstars rock, roll, flip, and zip – then get out, take pictures, and sign autographs.

The F/A-18 can reach speeds just under Mach 2, almost twice the speed of sound or about 1,400 mph. The maximum rate of climb of the F/A-18 is 30,000 feet per minute.

Just another day at the airplane hangar. 

I am typically in awe over anyone who is fearless, but I have nothing but complete respect and admiration for those who exhibit genuine humility in spite of their absolute domination at something so dangerous and precise. 

Today, when I met Blue Angel pilot number 5, Lieutenant Commander Julius Bratton, I wanted to hear the description of his emotions the day he was chosen to be on the Blue Angels.

I expected to hear a jubilant tale of excitement, but instead, his response was that he was “humbled and appreciative.” He recounted that while it was an honor to be chosen, it was bittersweet because he had just been with a group of people who also heard a “no”. 

This is why most Pensacolians would fight you behind a Circle K over the greatness of the Blue Angels. Because four years later his first sentiment is that he is “humbled and appreciative.” 

Did Lieutenant Commander Bratton just summarize what we all need more of? Humility and gratitude?

He kept wanting to make sure the team member responsible for all the parts of his jet was in the photo, too. He is thoughtful and friendly. In fact, they all are. 

I suppose it’s an absolute necessity to have these character qualities in an occupation where team participation and synchrony draw a thin line between life and death. 

Lieutenant Commander Bratton is a native of Woodlawn, Tennessee, population 3,909. It’s hard to imagine anyone prouder than the people of Pensacola, but don’t you know they sure are proud of him? 

He attended the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Oceanography in 2011, and was commissioned as an Ensign in the United States Navy. Like so many aspiring pilots, he reported to Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, for aviation indoctrination training in June 2011. 

He completed primary flight training in the T-34C Turbo Mentor at NAS Corpus Christi, Texas in June 2012. He subsequently completed intermediate and advanced flight training in the T-45C Goshawk at NAS Meridian, Mississippi, and received his wings of gold in June 2013. 

He joined the Blue Angels in 2019 and has accumulated over 2,500 flight hours. When you’re out at the show this weekend and the sneak pass knocks you out of your beach chair, you’ll know Lead Solo “Whiskers” Bratton is the one who just jump-started your heart. 

His Instagram says that while he is currently a Blue Angel, he is always a “Brother, Son, Uncle, Friend, Pilot” and aspires to be better at it all. 

Commander Alexander P. Armatas, thank you for giving us a behind-the-scenes look at being a Blue Angel, and for the rest of the team, pilots, maintenance officers and team, flight surgeon, supply officer and team: 

“Blue of the mighty deep: Gold of God’s great sun,” Pensacola is proud of you…each and every one.

Click here to meet the entire Blue Angels team.

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Dana is an Arkansas native and a seasonal resident of the Gulf Coast since childhood. She was a Pensacola resident for 13 years, before moving to Gulf Breeze. Dana attributes her Mayberry-esque childhood in Warren, Arkansas, as enormously influential in honing her definitely Southern style of storytelling. She earned a degree in Journalism, Advertising/Public Relations from the University of Arkansas (Woo Pig Sooie!). In addition to writing, she loves photography, art, adventures in the great outdoors, and spending time with her three children.