ST. GEORGE — In anticipation of this weekend's "Thunder Over Utah" Air Show in St. George, the United States Navy Blue Angels hosted a few VIP riders. Among them, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
An experienced pilot himself, for President Uchtdorf it was an opportunity to fly the skies once again.
"It's a beautiful morning in St. George, of course, and it reminds me that during pilot training as an Air Force pilot, and later as a jet fighter pilot, the early hours in the morning were the most beautiful," he said prior to take-off.
The Blue Angels have always been one of my big heroes, so I'm glad and wonderfully excited about sitting in one of their planes today.
–President Deiter F. Uchtdorf
The bright morning sunshine streaming onto the tarmac at St. George Airport matched the bright smile on the face of President Uchtdorf's face.
His wife, Harriet, admitted to some nerves. "He's a little scared too, but he doesn't admit," she said, laughing.
But for President Uchtdorf, the excitement was obvious. "The Blue Angels have always been one of my big heroes, so I'm glad and wonderfully excited about sitting in one of their planes today," he said.
As a former fighter pilot for West Germany and a captain of large commercial jets, Wednesday's flight was especially meaningful.
"It's a marvelous day for us, because almost to the day 50 years ago I earned my wings in the Air Force," President Uchtdorf said. "This March of 1962, I started my training as a fighter pilot at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona."
The group's first air show was at Craig Field, Jacksonville, Florida, on June 15, 1946.
Source: Blue Angels website.
After a pre-flight briefing, the 71-year-old church leader suited up. Following a signature speedy Blue Angels take- off, you could say the ride "just went up from there."
"We had a take-off which brought us right into the heavens almost," President Uchtdorf commented when he got back on the ground.
The 40-minute flight included a scenic tour over Zion National Park, and plenty of F-18 thrills.
"We did the light G maneuvers, some of the rolling maneuvers that you see throughout the DIAMOND demonstration in some of the solo maneuvering," explained pilot Mark Tedrow.
Call it a chance to spread his wings once again while taking in the scene from above.
"It's a moment of freedom," President Uchtdorf said. "It's a moment to see things with a different perspective, from a higher perspective."