If you have ever seen the Navy "Blue Angels" fly at an airshow, it is one of the most spectacular sights an aviation enthusiast can watch. The precision maneuvers, split-second timing, and high speed aerobatics that the team performs are proof that they are the finest aerial demonstration team in the world. It is estimated more than 11 million people watch the "Blue Angels" each year during an average of 70 shows across the United States.
But what looks so effortless from the ground requires tremendous amounts of skill and hours of practice by the Navy and Marine Corps pilots who make up the team. And unfortunately, sometimes something goes wrong. At those high speeds, there is little room for error and usually the results are catastrophic. During the 70 year history of the unit, 27 pilots have lost their lives in such accidents.
Lt. Commander Stuart "Stu" Powrie was a member of the team from Akron. He graduated from Firestone High School in 1966 and attended the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis where he graduated in 1970 with a degree in engineering. At Firestone, he was an All-American swimmer, which caught the eye of the Annapolis recruiter. At the academy he also swam, breaking several school records, and was even offered a position on the Olympic swim team. But he wanted to be a pilot and after graduating from Annapolis was sent to Pensacola, Fla., for flight school. Following flight school, he flew combat missions over Vietnam.
His love of flying eventually led him to apply for a prestigious position on the "Blue Angels," and in 1980 he was accepted. He performed throughout the 1981 show season in the "No. 6" position as solo pilot. As the 1982 season approached, Powrie and the rest of the team began their training. But on February 22, 1982, during a maneuver known as the "dirty loop," his A-4 Skyhawk crashed into the ground and he was killed. The Air Force Thunderbirds flight demonstration team lost four of their members in a similar crash just a month before Powrie was lost.
On Nov. 5, a special dedication was held at the Military Aviation Preservation Society (MAPS) Museum in honor of Powrie. The museum had acquired an A-4 in "Blue Angels" markings from the defunct Chanute Air Museum in Illinois this year. Though the team never flew this particular model of the A-4, it was still close enough to carry their markings. Through research MAPS discovered Powrie's connection with the "Blue Angels" and was able to contact his sister, Cynthia, who still lives in the area. Through her, the museum staff under the direction of Val Kinney were able to contact his widow, son and daughter and arrange to have them flown to the area. His wife, Linda, who never remarried, flew in from San Diego, while his daughter Elizebeth flew in from Santa Barbara, Calif.. His son Scott, came all the way from Hong Kong where he works.
The family was given a special tour of the plane and MAPS facility Nov. 3. Viewing the plane was an emotional experience for all of them. It brought back memories of a brother, husband and father who was taken so abruptly from his family 34 years ago.
"Stu was doing exactly what he wanted to do when he went down," said his widow, Linda. "Coming here and seeing this was hard for me. I have never watched the "Blue angels" ever since Stu was killed. But I did this for my children and grandchildren so they could see something about Stu. I am overwhelmed by all this. Val was just great. She is a real go-getter. This Museum is committed to remembering the past and its significance, bringing the past to life."
For his daughter, Beth, the experience was very revealing.
"I really don't have any memories of my dad; I was only two when he crashed," she said. "This is all pretty remarkable. It was so nice to see that so many others remembered him, that he was not forgotten, and they want to keep his memory alive. I was just blown away after all this time that people still thought about my dad."
"I have a few memories of my dad, but only a few," said his son Scott, who was three at the time of the crash. "This brought back glimpses of memories long suppressed. It is very flattering. We have never had something like this before. It is bittersweet. I hear things and piece together things about the kind of person my father was. Seeing this plane is above and beyond what I expected. The quality and craftsmanship is obvious. The people here at MAPS know about aviation - the attention to detail, matching the paint. You can't beat this for something to commemorate my father. There was so much effort put into this."
"The plane looks exactly like I remember it," said his sister, Cynthia, who had seen her brother perform at air shows. "He was such an outgoing bubbly type of guy. Val was great to work with as we contacted the family, class members, and members of the team. The family all agreed on allowing MAPS to dedicate this to Stu."
"We are so glad we were able to have the family here for this," said Kinney. "The restoration team did a great job on restoring the A-4. We even joked that when the 'Blue Angels' saw it, they would want it back. But it was nice that we could honor Stu and bring his family here for the dedication."
Perhaps MAPS Executive Director Kim Kovesci summed it up best at the dedication.
"The Greeks believed that as long as a man's name is remembered, he is immortal," he said. "Several years ago, we began a tradition at MAPS Air Museum by dedicating the restoration of the A-7 to two pilots killed in Vietnam. Since then, we have dedicated the F-86 and the Cobra. In our Gallery of Heroes, we also honor many others. It is my privilege to dedicate this U.S.Navy A-4A Skyhawk to the memory of Lt. Commander Stu Powrie. May we share his story, and respect and honor his memory."