John Mason-Smith, Blue Angels Forecaster for the OBA Website, Retires.

By John Mullen

May 30, 2019 – Orange Beach, AL (OBA®) – Every Sunday afternoon during Blue Angels season for the past few years have been busy ones for mega fan John Mason-Smith in his role forecasting when the Navy’s flight team would return home from each weekend’s show.

His forecasts – and he’s been quite accurate during the years – have been posted on the OBA Community Website Facebook page. Visitors and locals alike head to the beach after seeing the forecasts with an eye on the sky during the window of time Mason-Smith has given.

John Mason Smith info“We started promoting the Blues and encouraging them to fly by the beaches in Orange Beach in 2006, when we launched the website” OBA Community Website founder Ken Cooper said. “We also started letting folks know that they were flying home on Sunday evenings from their shows and to be on the lookout for them. John started providing timing estimates around 2014 I believe.”

That assistance is going away now that Mason-Smith is moving to from Perdido Key to a new home on the Atlantic coast in Amelia Island, Florida.

“It’s a lot of work,” he said. “I’m shooting down friend requests left and right of people asking when are they coming back. I’m retiring.”

But he won’t leave it behind without regrets.

“There’s nowhere I can go on this island that everybody doesn’t know I’m the Blue Angel guy,” he said. “It’s crazy. I’m going to miss it. The Blue Angels are just amazing and we take them for granted.”

He would employ various techniques to try and pinpoint when the team would most likely appear over Gulf Coast beaches from Twitter to logistics to monitoring other social media.

“You have to try to figure out the nuances of each team,” he said. “This current team, they’ve got me fooled a couple of times. Last year’s team I could tell you within three minutes because they had very methodical ways of doing things on their end coming back.”

In time, he learned it takes an hour to pack up after a show, longer if they are in a remote location and have to set up their own equipment.

“That means they’ve got to set up a portable airport,” Mason-Smith said. “They’ve got to have weather, the communications cart and they have to have their own radar. They bring the communication cart with Fat Albert and bring it out to the beach area and a microphone for the narrator. They have to bring all that with them.”

Then it takes time to get all the equipment back to the closest airport to reload onto Fat Albert, the team’s C-130, to get it back home. If the flight back home requires refueling – the planes can safely fly for just over an hour before taking on more fuel – that will add 30 minutes to the return time.

From there Mason-Smith would monitor social media to check out who’s seeing the Blues coming home. He’ll do a Twitter search asking for the latest posts talking about the Blue Angels to kind of map their progress home.

“You can learn from the public,” he said. “If you’re sitting there and you like to tweet and the Blue Angels go ripping over your head you’ll say ‘oh, I just got buzzed by the Blue Angels.’ I’ll look up your location. So, he’s in Apalachicola and I’ll message him and ask how long ago was that.”

Blue Anges Smokin' Perdido Pass - Mother's Day 2017

 

Flora-Bama Church 

During his eight or so years here Mason-Smith has been a positive presence not just through sharing his love of the Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Team but also playing an instrumental role in starting the Central Flora-Bama Church with Pastor Dan Stone.

“We weren’t coming down here to start a church,” he said. “The place we left, we helped start a church there. We didn’t think we’d ever do that again. God was using us for that as a kind of training school for when we got down here.”

It was a bit contentious beginning but it has grown from one 11 a.m. service to requiring two services on Sundays to accommodate the crowds.

“The relationship wasn’t very strong with the Flora-Bama at the very, very beginning when we had our first service but we did have the go-ahead,” Mason-Smith said.

Expecting less than 100 for the first service in July of 2011, organizers were pleased with the crowd swelled to more than 300. Nearly 1,200 showed up for two services on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend and the average each weekend attendance is about 1,000.

What Mason-Smith found was a totally different crowd than he was used to in church and it required a change of attitude on his part as well.

“It was a real eye-opener because we felt like we were big church people and having a preconceived notion of what church was supposed to be,” he said. “Whatever I thought judgment was, I realized I was doing the judging. I was always measuring people. When your life becomes ‘how can you get people to come to your church service’ instead of ‘how can you get the right people to come to your church service’ your perspective starts to change.”

The welcoming new attitude, he believes is what has the church bursting at the seams every Sunday.

“The church evolved into a church service for the people who go to the bar at the Flora-Bama,” Mason-Smith said. “That was the transition that was really eye-opening to me. I realized we were there to meet people where they were with a couple of things; no expectations that they’ve ever been to church, no expectations that they’ve ever heard of a book called the Bible. Just as you are today you are welcome in that place. That was a change I’d never seen in any church at any time.”