Sunday, October 19, 2008

Trolley Dances 2008 (2)

The Fifth Annual San Francisco Trolley Dances leapt, flew, hip-hopped, rolled, cartwheeled, back-flipped, sung and strummed into action yesterday all around the T-line near Mission Bay...see previous blog for first report...

As the tour started at Mission Creek, we were treated to a very original production by Scott Wells and Dancers, a company described aptly as being known for '"kamikaze", often humorous and well-crafted dances.'

It was different and had the audience laughing!

Young dancers leapt into each others arms, rolled, embraced, seemingly fought and romanced and made imaginative use of the space. They jumped and rolled over, climbed and balanced on, walls, railings and benches. One girl flew at three boys and sent them falling like dominoes and Sebastian pretended to nearly hurtle into the creek.

Set to continental-style music and performed smoothly and often with deliberation, and given the large size of the group, this unusual dance had the audience on their toes.

Durga, a young San Fran resident, said, 'It's very well done. It was very engaging.

"You couldn't even blink your eye because you didn't know what you're going to miss!'

As we then rode the train to our first stop at Bayview Hunters Point, this abstract piece of theatre made for interesting discussion. Did it have a theme? I asked Kyle, a helpful tour guide.

'I'm new to it myself!' he admitted.

We turned to Becky, a student from Sonoma State.

'I liked it. It was very different. You had to have a lot trust in your partners,' she began, referring to the catching.

But what do you think it meant? Kyle and I were looking at her hopefully.

'There was a bit of fighting. A bit of romance at the end. The first part they seemed to be meeting each other,' she said. 'Relational' was where she was going.

She was right!

At the end of the tour, I went back and met Sebastian, Kellye and Liz.

It shows a 'city in which people communicate through feelings and touch. As humans we're eye-dependant, so it shows what happens when you relate to people in other ways,' said Sebastian, adding for my interest that his father is British.

Liz said that it showed 'people in their more animal nature. It's taking down the barriers that people put up, more back to the core of what it is to be human rather than the things that 'come onto' us in a society.'

But as the earlier chat with Kyle and Becky ended, we were pulling up at Bayview Hunter's Point, where nearly 100 of us disgorged onto the mid-street platform. Across the road we were surprised with black soul group The Seastrunk Brothers, who had us clapping and bopping to the Motown song 'Love Train' as they led us along the sidewalk and into the Bayview Opera House.

After a second popular song, they gave way to Zaccho Dance Theatre whose troupe sprung into a high-energy show with a theatrical interlude that presented the ethos of the theatre. In monologue, Victoria, proclaimed, 'I see so much talent, unborn hopes, dreams...' held back by fear.

'Here you can be yourself. This place demands it!'

For nearly 20 years, Zaccho through it's youth arts programme has given free school classes and performance opportunities to young people. See for more info.

Then there was African Brazilian martial art presented with the singing of spiritual songs and playing of traditional musical instruments. This group stood out in that it encompassed different ages from boys to older men. With it's roots in slavery, Adigun Sipho Capoeira Angola teaches respect for African heritage.

Mastre Terry Baruti said that slaves from Brazil, Cuba and Martinique had brought their art to the US.

Outside, as we waited for the train to ferry us back to the UCSF Mission Bay campus, Jennifer leant against a platform hoarding.

'I was really excited to be in the Opera House,' she said, 'because I have lived just a mile from here for 16 years and I have never been in the Opera House before.

'I guess one of the most exciting things about this performance was seeing the different ages. I love the communal feel that comes from young boys to men of all ages performing together.'

Next, as we arrived at the new UCSF campus that is still under construction, we met Jean Isaacs' San Diego Dance Theater who were sitting on a low wall by the sidewalk.

This was to be a 'moving site' said Jean, who proceeded to tow a musicblaster on a small trolley after her small group that set off up the plaza, dancing and sitting, reading and climbing over benches.

'What is special about this piece is that we created it here on location and that it really feels like a combining of elements of what San Francisco is,' said Lauren, referring to the education on the campus, the train and arts.

'This group of dancers, we've all worked with Jean at various points in our lives and she's trained all of us'. With some of the group having moved to the city, Lauren said, 'It's nice to have this transition of being here together from San Diego.'

Of the dance, she commented 'The piece is moving, which feels representative of all our lives - I know that sounds cliched!' she said as a quick afterthought.

And then we moved, too, further up the campus to the Genentech Hall and the Roger Evans Terrace, where a Greek operatic tragedy with dancers was being played out on the wide, stone steps.

This final piece was by Epiphany Productions with Kim Epifano playing a role.

Singer Melinda McLain is a ten-generation American whose Scottish ancestors with a clan motto of 'Conquer or Die' came from the Isle of Mull.

'It's lots of fun,' she enthused at the end. 'This is Genentech Hall, the city's cutting edge of science is going on in this building, so for me this is about how ancient wisdom can inform our contemporary explorations.'

'The words that I'm singing are from the Oracle of Delphi.'

Quite what Genentech workers would make of Greek drama on a Monday morning, one can only imagine.

The idea of Trolley Dances was conceived by Jean Isaacs who established them in San Diego in 1999. Her aim was to bring dance to people using public transport and to introduce people to new places.

As Trolley Dances rolls out for a second day with it's vibrant street performances, that aim is being achieved in San Francisco.

Pics show: Scott Wells and Dancers; Epiphany Productions; Jean Isaacs' San Diego Dance Theater; the Seastrunk Brothers at Bayview Opera House

Click here for album of pics

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Trolley Dances 2008

The Fifth Annual San Francisco Trolley Dances leapt, flew, hip-hopped, rolled, cartwheeled, back-flipped, sung and strummed into action this morning all around the T-line near Mission Bay.

By mid-afternoon, hundreds of people had ridden Muni trains for a tour of street performances of dance and music that reflected a variety of cultures and styles.

The pieces were designed to fit in with the physical and cultural environment of the dance sites. Starting at Mission Creek, this quiet, conservation area, a haven for wild birds, was suddenly accommodating quite a different species!

As people were booking in, Tiger Hip Hop were giving a fluent and energetic display. Their young choreographer, Philein Wang, is striving to blend dance of different cultures to help bring harmony among immigrants.

Using a blend of Shaolin Style
Tiger Claw, ballet, Tai Chi, modern dance and hip hop she is drawing from the continents of Asia, Europe, Africa and America.

Philein, whose Chinese name Zi-ru means 'freely, smoothly and with facility', is a Chinese-American dancer, musician and poet who trained with the Beijing Ballet Company and has been a soloist in several companies.

"Because I divide my time between

America and China, and as I understand my roots and where my parents and ancestors were from, I really wanted to create a style which encapsulated a culture from which I originated, and I wanted to do it in such a way that it wouldn't just appeal to people in fine arts but to teenagers and minorities,' she said.

'I wanted to potentially be like a light-post for somebody trying to feel their way.'

Her troupe includes Brendan, Derek and Meegan, with Simon on percussion, who were well appreciated by a growing audience.

'Seeing as my dance company is new to town, it's been a great experience. It's also very refreshing to perform outside,' said Philein.

At the end of their display, the tour started with a short stroll up the creek to where the next dance group were ready to perform.

The event is organized by Kim Epifano's Epiphany Productions Sonic Dance Theater in partnership with the San Francisco Public Library and supported by the city's MUNI train service.

Kim, Artistic Director and Project Coordinator, said in a press release, 'We feel fortunate that we have been able to create this free city-wide spectacle for five years now. The magical way that it brings communities together and becomes the genesis for such amazing art - it's such an indulgence in all the good and surprising things our city can be.'

Mid-afternoon Randy Symank, the Administrative Director of Trolley Dances 2008 Production Team, was helping at the booking-in table outside Mission Bay Branch Library.

'It's gone very well,' he said 'There's been no major hang-ups or disasters!'

He said the numbers of people per train were 70 but the performances had a larger audience. 'The neat thing about this whole event is that random people will walk up and start watching.'

The tours last for 90 minutes each and will start tomorrow, as today, at 11 am. Tours will run every 45 mins with the last one leaving at 2.45 pm. All performances are free and need only a city transport Fast Pass or train fare of $1.50.

But organizers warn that there are a limited number of places per tour, and these are given out at the booking desk on a first come first served basis. However, this year there are also bike maps being given out. The distance between Mission Creek and Bayview Hunters Point, the furthest point, is about three miles.

A full report will be posted tomorrow.
For more pics click here

Pics show: Brendan and Derek; Philein and Meegan; Tiger Hip Hop on Mission Creek; queuing at the booking-in table outside Mission Bay Branch Library

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

USS Bonhomme Richard (2)

By an amazing coincidence Colin, the professional photographer I met with his wife Evelyn at Fisherman's Wharf during the air display practice, visited the USS Bonhomme Richard at almost the same time as myself!

He emailed me pics and a little report, which I gladly publish. The pics, as ever, are great. (For my report, see previous blog.)

Colin says that the trip began with a 'patient wait in a long queue' and a 'humourous conversation with security staff (armed marines).'

Unable to produce US government photo ID, he fortunately found that 'my UK driving licence did for me.'

Then there was the minor problem of Evelyn!

'My word that Evelyn had been married to me for 44 years and that I

did indeed know her, did for her,' he said.

When he joked that England - his country of residence - was the 'best of the UK countries!' he was told that most people visiting were from the UK.

Colin's comment on the tour:

'An enjoyable conducted tour by friendly sailors ensued around this Harrier Jump Jet / helicopter carrier.'

He made the additional interesting comment that 'Cameras were allowed and photography was accepted without comment.'

That was very true. There seemed to be no restrictions on pics within the confined areas of the tours.

For an album of pics click here

Monday, October 13, 2008

Fleet Week- USS Bonhomme Richard

'You're welcome to pick one up and try one,' said the Marine, in straight tones to the small group looking in awe at three deadly machine guns.

'There's no rounds in them,' he encouraged. Still, we hesitated.

We were safe inside the belly of the USS Bonhomme Richard, one of the Navy's large amphibious assault ships. But handling a machine gun was outside of the range of experience for most of us.

And the Marine had just informed us of their firing capabilities. The mightiest one, long, black and powerful-looking, belted out 325 - 375 small grenades per minute in a range of over 2,000 metres, the middling, one of a kind that had seen service from the days of the two World Wars and through Korea and Vietnam to the present day, 450 - 550 rounds, and the lightest, 650 - 950 rounds, both with ranges of around 200 metres.

Curiosity overcame us but as we put a hand to the guns, it was obvious!

The weapons usually need two Marines each to operate,
our instructor said with a grin.

The lightest, certainly while empty, can be held by some as Ricardo, an ex-military man who happened to be in the tour group, demonstrated. Ricardo was there, he said, 'to bring my kids and show them the ship.'

Nicknamed the 'Revolutionary Gator,' the Bonhomme Richard is one of four ships in San Francisco available for tours as part of the 27th Fleet Week. Moored just below the Bay Bridge, thousands of people have been pouring inside for a glimpse of life inside an amphibious assault ship. The queues early afternoon yesterday took about an hour.

The ship, our guide said, is used to support the Marines in combat and also for humanitarian operations, being able to land people, supplies and equipment from the sea.

Once inside the cavernous hold, the Marines first showed us the machine guns and then let us clamber through one of the amphibious vehicles painted in camouflage colours. We saw controls lining the side and peered into the tiny, metalllic driver's space. Two-year-old Lewis tried on a hard hat with his mum.

Then we rounded up a ramp to the next deck where coloured pennants hung from the ceiling. Here in this huge space, crew were busy setting out tables for serving food and preparing for a reception. We passed on up another ramp and emerged onto the flight deck.

Before us stretched the flightdeck to either side. We were standing out in the bay close to the Bay Bridge with glorious views and able to wander freely. Overall the length of the ship is 844 ft and has a speed of over 20 knots.

This is where the heart of the air action occurs. Concealed below were five Harrier jets, 42 CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters and six ASW helicopters. An aircraft elevator jutting out over the side brings them to the deck.

Armaments on board include two RAM launchers, two NATO Sea Sparrow launchers, two Phalanx CIWS mounts and seven machine guns. But none of that was really visible.

Today a little demonstration of firefighting equipment was going on, which particularly pleased children like four-year-old San Franciscan twins, Grant and Owen. Grant disappeared from sight beneath a helmet and visor while Owen tried on a gas mask.

Visiting a naval ship, the atmosphere is a mix of high security and friendliness. From the beginning at the top of the pier, there are armed personnel in different uniforms, some standing at the gate, others driving little buggies around. There are electronic bag checks and you have to show photo ID. But at the same time, there is a welcoming manner and, especially while standing in the queue, you see many crew in civvies who have been either out enjoying the city or are about to go out.

Inside the ship the atmosphere is relaxed. The Sailors who are guides are in their dress whites and there is only one armed guard at each end, both of whom chatted to visitors.

Over the side in the water, though, two Coast Guard ships floated close by and while we were there they were joined by a third smaller vessel. Coast Guard helicopters also made regular fly pasts at one point going almost directly over the ship.

The ship is the third frigate to bear the name 'Bonhomme Richard' and was named, says the navy's official website, after the pen name of Benjamin Franklin, Ambassador to France and author of Poor Richard's Almanak.

Today the full complement of crew includes 104 officers, 1,004 enlisted members and 1,894 Marines. Though for this visit to San Fran, there are a total of 1,500 Marines and Sailors aboard both the ship and the guided missile destroyer, USS Pinckney.

Captain Neil Parrott is their Commanding Officer who took up his post in June, 2007.

The first ship to bear the name Bonhomme Richard was the frigate of John Paul Jones, revered by many as the 'Father of the American Navy' for leading the navy to their first-ever defeat of an English ship in English waters! The motto of the ship, 'I have Not Yet Begun to Fight', is a quote from him during that battle in the American War of Independence.

The current ship was commissioned in 1998 and is based in San Diego, California.

This year Fleet Week coincides with the Navy's 233rd birthday and the 100th anniversary of the Great White Fleet, the historic occasion when President Theodore Roosevelt sent 16 white-painted battleships of the Atlantic Fleet on a round-the-world voyage between December 1907 and February 1909 to extol American sea power. On their way, the fleet called in to San Francisco for two months and it is this that gave rise to what is now called Fleet Week.

The point of the week is for the Navy, Marine and Cadets Corps to showcase their personnel and their capabilities and for the public to be able to meet them. It is sobering to even glimpse the realities of war and to see so many young people willing to serve their country.

As we left the ship and wandered back out onto the pier, I spoke to Jerry and Maria.

'We really loved it!' said Maria. 'This is our first time in San Francisco and we decided to come in and tour the ship. Very nice! I'm impressed!' she said.

pics show: tour guides; pennants; flight deck in front of the Bay Bridge; Ricardo, ex-military man with machine gun

For an album of pics click here

For an album of pics by Colin, professional photographer, click here
For Colin's report, see next blog

Parade of Ships Confusion

With apologies for the confusion over the Parade of Ships, I blogged that the Saturday Parade was postponed and would take place Sunday.

This was published from info on line, but confusion reigned over a Navy statement that the Parade was cancelled that day but that the ships would be arriving Sunday.

"The Parade of Fleet Week Ships that was scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Saturday, October 11, 2008, has been cancelled. Due to unfavorable water conditions, the U.S. Navy regretfully advises that the ships will instead arrive on the morning of Sunday, October 12, 2008."

What wasn't clear was that the ships would be sailing in without a Parade.

According to the San Fran Chronicle who published their info on Saturday, the Parade was cancelled because the guided missile destroyer, the USS Pinckney, and the amphibious assault ship, USS Bonhomme Richard, were delayed by heavy seas.

Instead, the Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf and the World War 11 Liberty ship, the USS Jeremiah O'Brien, that is normally moored and open for viewing at Pier 45, Fisherman's Wharf, did a mini-parade on Saturday morning before the air show.

The Pinckney and the Bonhomme Richard arrived early on Sunday morning. These pics are of the aircraft carrier USS Bonhomme Richard moored early Sunday morning south of the Embarcadero and Bay Bridge.

It would have been helpful if the official Fleet Week website had updated their info.

Visiting tours of the ships started yesterday from 11 am to 4 pm and are at the same time today.

Extra pics of Fleet Week Air Show Sunday

Here are a few more great pics from Sunday's air show that professional photographer Colin has just sent me.

'Attached is a sample of the many I took. They include the Snow Birds and some of the acrobatic planes plus a few of the USA navy planes doing other manoeuvres,' he says.

I met Colin and his wife, Evelyn, at Fisherman's Wharf at the air display practice, see previous blog.

Visting his son here from the North of England, Colin writes,

'Best wishes for the future of your blog and your life in the USA. A much younger me would be moving here - we love it.'

For album of pics click here

Other albums of Colin's pics are on earlier blogs. Anyone wanting to order a pic can contact me at

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Fleet Week 2008 - Air Display Extravaganza

Fleet Week's air display on Saturday was a sky-filled extravaganza that captivated thousands of people. The Blue Angels as star performers had their own billing - see previous blog - but the first part of the afternoon was packed with more superb and skilfull flying displays...

It was a question of saving the best till last! Rounding off the first part of this amazing show was the F-16 Fighting Falcon. A majestic, mighty fighter with the most thunderous rumble, it hurtled around the bay and over the Golden Gate Bridge, soaring, plummeting, rolling,

It gave a commanding performance as king of the skies without need of any supporting cast.

Considered to be the world's most versatile multi-role fighter, it makes up over half of the US Air Force's fighter fleet with Captain Russ Piggot as Commander of the demonstration team. The awesome performance ended in tandem, though, with a fly-by from a previous generation, the F-86 Sabre jet.

Before that, a theatrical display came from the Patriot Jets Team. With their arcing, wheeling, diving and flying low over the water, the crowd at North Beach were not only spellbound but jumped collectively at one of the 'near miss' teasers.

These beasts were not simply macho, they had soul! They spread a huge heart across the sky.

'Oooh' gasped the crowd, proving that San Fran is full of romantics.

'Cupid!' said a man next to me excitedly and, 'Oooh! Oooh!' gasped the crowd again as they realised Cupid's bow was being drawn.

Like the Blue Angels, the Patriots flew with incredible harmony and in breathtaking proximity.

The largest demonstration team were the Canadian Air Force Snowbirds with nine CT-114 Tutor jets. Glinting red and white in the sun in their Canadian colours, these big birds appeared to glide effortlessly through their routines providing excitement and delight with fast-paced daredevil action and entertainment.

One young girl seeing smoke plumes that created an illusion of shooting up into the sky, said excitedly to her mother, 'They look like fireworks!'

The Snowbirds also drew an enormous heart that hovered over the edges of the city and was admired by people watching from as far down the bay as the Embarcadero.

The air show opened with a flying demonstration from a US Coast Guard Helicopter and was followed by a performance by the Collaborators, one of the aerobatic teams.

Small aerobatic planes made their own mark on the show with their twisting and tumbling, nose-diving and tail-sliding. At times, too, one was left holding breath for fear that the engines would cut out.

Outstanding among them was aerobatic champion Sean D Tucker, honoured this year with induction into the National Aviation Hall of Fame and who has been named as one of the 25 'Living Legends of Flight' by the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

Sean runs his own training school, Team Oracle, a performance quartet distinct with their red, blue and two checkered red/blue and white colours and the Collaborators. With Sean in the team is his son, Eric, who, according to an interview in The Examiner newspaper, has recently moved to San Francisco.

Sean, in his red designer Oracle Challenger plane, pummells his body with speed and G-forces to provide an exhilarating show. His ground team were watching from their hospitality tent on Crissy Field and giving out calendars with attractive pics and diagrams of the giddying manoeuvres.

The Vertical 'Lomcovak' is rumoured, says the calendar, to be a Czech word for 'headache'!

But you don't need to communicate in Czech.

'I'd be sick if I did that!' said one lady. At the time she was watching Michael Wiskus and the Lucas Oil Pitts. One could only admire him and the determined throb of the engine as it was put through its paces.

Other stunt fliers were GEICO-sponsored Tim Weber, whose Extra-300 sounded like a very large, very angry bee! and John Piggot in a Sukhoi.

If you didn't have a programme, however, a surprising entrant was a Virgin America A-320, there by virtue of the company being a performing sponsor. It was quite something to see this large passenger jet make a low fly-past down the bay and retrace its path, rather like a migrating aeronautical whale that had made a diversionary turn into the bay.

As the brilliant programme ended, the Blue Angels made their entrance.

Fleet Week is the showcase for the US Navy, Marine and Cadet Corps. Along the sidewalks are stalls manned by serving members who are there to give information and advice to anyone considering a naval career. Like the three young naval sea cadets, Zack (14), Abraham (16), and Daniel (15) who belong to Pacific Central Region 12, an area covering Fresno to Reno, Nevada.

Their Lieutenant Commander, Laneya Littrell, explained that cadets are enrolled into the navy education system and so they are further advanced in their training should they wish to enter the navy for a career.

'It prepares them for civilian and military life,' she said.

Already, Abraham is hoping for a medical career within the navy.

Just yards along from them at Fisherman's Wharf were Zach and Shane. Both 27-years-old, they were part of a team of navy divers meeting the public.

Along the heaving paths and grassy areas of North Beach were souvenir and food stalls with rows of blue and yellow Blue Angel baseball caps.

And at Crissy Field there was the lingering smell of barbecues. VIP tents were spread along the water front and behind them the grass was packed with people, stalls and children's 'bouncy castles'.

A festival was taking place at Fort Mason and hundreds of people had gathered on the rooftops of surrounding properties.

But someone who was taking it all in his giant stride was the handsome two-year-old Bentley, a Great Dane who had taken his dad, Steve, out for the occasion.

Bentley was creating his own little world of attention, nonchalent at the competition overhead.

'He's not bothered at all,' said Steve. 'He's so mellow. The only thing that worries him are firework shows.'

A second air show took place yesterday afternoon.

pics show: F-16 Fighting Falcon and F-86 Sabre jet; Naval cadets Zack (14), Abraham (16), Daniel (15); Patriot Jets; Steve Tucker of Team Oracle

For an album of pics click here

For pics of the air display practice and first show from Colin, professonal photographer, and his wife Evelyn, click here: Album 1 Album 2

If anyone would like to order any pics, please contact me:

Blue Angel Pilots 2008

The magnificent Blue Angel pilots gave another performance last night - one with their feet on the ground but their heads in the air!

For half an hour they greeted an adoring public, signing autographs and posing for pics with people.

The event took place on the edge of Pier 39 at Fisherman's Wharf between 7.15 and 7.45 pm. Many people left waving large photos of the jets, like these two families, pic below, who were thrilled with the momento of such a great occasion.

Pics show the pilots, and the families: Pily, Gamaliel, Laura, Leonardo - aged 7 years - Ernesto

For more pics click here

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Fleet Week 2008 - Air Display

Thunderous and thrilling, the Blue Angels once again dominated the air display yesterday afternoon for Fleet Week.

They soared across the city and around the bay with spectacular skills that enthralled the crowd.

The bay front from Fisherman's Wharf to Crissy Field near the Golden Gate Bridge was carpeted with people.

Some were craning necks to catch as much of the action as possible, some were wrestling with cameras to get that superlative shot, while others were partying and picnicing beneath an intermittent canopy of roaring blue and yellow streaks.

Fleet Week is an annual opportunity for San Francisco to 'honor the men and women currently serving in the US and allied armed forces, particularly in the United States Navy, Marines and Coast Guard, and to learn about their character and skill, and the pride with which they carry out their duties,' said Edward M. Leonard, Chairman of the San Francisco Fleet Week Committee.

The air display, lasting three-and-a-half hours, has a wonderful variety of aircraft, but it is the US Navy display team, the Blue Angels, that captures the most attention.

From their entry in Delta Formation - four flying together and two solo pilots - when they swooped across the bay and up to the Golden Gate Bridge, all eyes and ears were on them.

Particularly awe-inspiring is their close-formation flying. There were moments when you looked up and could say 'Closer than a brother'! Or that they fitted 'hand to glove.' Yet another routine had them nose-to-tail like a streamer.

And this in powerful F-18 Hornets that can break the sound barrier with an airspeed of Mach 1.8 +.

On such a beautiful afternoon, and from the vantage point of Fort Mason, it was a fantastic sight to see them soar over and around the bridge.

The power was there, too, as they criss-crossed, hurtled headlong at each other and flipped their wings to pass, rolled and flew upside down, trailed plumes in patterns in the sky, on one routine the smoke cascading down like a fountain, and corkscrewed up and out of sight.

Not to be outdone, though, the affectionately named 'Fat Albert' heralded the Blue Angels appearance with a little tour of his own!

Fat Albert is the C-130 hercules transporter plane for the Blue Angels carrying their support and maintenance crew and equipment.

During the show season, Fat Albert flies over 140,000 miles and is the only Marine Corps aircraft permanently assigned to support a Navy squadron.

Tomorrow, they go through it all again! Formed in 1946, the Blue Angels have performed in front of more than 440 million people.

***The air display this morning is at the same time as today: 12.30 - 3 pm for other aircraft. 3 pm - 4 pm Blue Angels.

pics show the Blue Angels and crowds at North Beach

For albums of stunning pics by Chris, click here

For two albums of more stunning pics by Colin and Evelyn - Colin is the professional photographer I interviewed during the air display practice - click on the following:

Album 1 Album 2

Friday, October 10, 2008

Fleet Week - Air Display Practice

Hundreds of people stood at the end of the pier at Fisherman's Wharf this afternoon and lined the bay to watch a thrilling air display practice for Fleet Week with the Blue Angels and F-16 Fighting Falcon as the stars of the show.

The Blue Angels roared in,
swooping and rolling in formation and thundering across the water with breathtakingly 'near misses'.

In blue and yellow colours that blended with the sky, they flew upside down, at times with their wheels down, and performed choreography with trailing plumes that left the watching crowd awestruck.

There are six in the team, flying the F/A-18 Hornets with a Diamond Formation of four, and two solo pilots, plus the six-jet Delta Formation
described on the Fleet Week website as 'the pinnacle of precision flying.'

Standing next to me were Glenn and Michelle, visiting today from the Bay Area. Today is the day, said Glenn, when VIP guests fly with the pilots. He recalled his local radio show host taking a ride in another air show last year. They give you a taped recording of it, which is interesting! he said.

Michelle was enthusiastic at the thought of being in a Blue Angel.

'I'd like to think that if I'm given the opportunity, I'd say "yes". I'd live in abject fear for 30 seconds but I wouldn't like to miss the opportunity!" she said.

Our spot at the end of Pier 39 turned out to be strategic as the pilots used it as their entry and exit point for some of their routines. The noise was tremendous as they zoomed overhead.

The first real roar of the afternoon came from the F-16 Fighting Falcon, known to military pilots as the Viper. It came wheeling in over the city and across the wharf. However, whether it's a Falcon, a Viper or anything else was probably not uppermost in the minds of the colony of seals basking on their platoons.

As the Falcon roared in, the seals responded. Some jumped into the water, but most began to bark, and bark they continued to do throughout the performance and that of the Blue Angels who followed. It was some competing cacophony of sound, but the jets won the decibel count - just!

The Falcon and pilot showed off their prowess, joined for part of their routine by a second jet. Then they finale-d with a dramatic corkscrew upwards until lost from sight.

The afternoon's display was opened by Team Oracle and other smaller planes performing fun aerobatics with one plane appearing to loop under the Golden Gate Bridge.

The waters of the Bay were seeing plenty of action, too. Coast guards had cleared the central area but cruise ships laden with people floated alongside the wharf to be as close to the action as possible. Near Sausalito, plenty of yachts bobbed up and down.

Three pelicans also performed a mini fly past in formation over the end of the stone jetty!

Many of the people watching on the wharf were wielding an array of cameras. But catching these planes with a camera is no easy task.

I spotted one man with an impressive 600 mm lens. He turned out to be Colin, a friendly, retired professional photographer from the north of England.

'The problem is keeping in touch, keeping up with it (the plane) and keeping it in focus,' he explained. Long-distance shots, he said, are easier than close-ups with the jets speeding past at 400 to 500 mph.

'Tracking it with a big lens like this is very difficult because it (the camera) is focussing on a very small area,' he said.

Colin, who was there with his wife Evelyn, also holding a camera - 'I just take snaps!' - are visiting their son in the city and looking forward to tomorrow's show.

I waved my digital camera at Colin. 'It's very difficult with this!' I said.

He agreed and with bemusement said there were even people taking pics with mobile phones.

Two days ago, he said, he was on the headland behind the Golden Gate Bridge taking sunset shots, alongside people attempting to do the same with tiny flash guns. 'Really little flash guns!'

'You can't blame everyone for not knowing what they're doing!' he said congenially.

The adrenaline-packed show raced on and as the Blue Angels' performance came to an end, Glenn summed it up: 'That's an impressive display of technology and skill -that's for sure!'

The air shows, also including the Canadian Air Force Snowbirds, are tomorrow (Sat) and Sunday, on both days at 12.30 pm to 3 pm with the Blue Angels at 3 pm to 4 pm.

Fleet Week events start tomorrow with a Parade of Fleet Week Ships sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge from 11.30 am to 12.30 pm.

Other activities include ship tours over Sunday to Tuesday, a festival at Fort Mason, a music festival at Pier 39 and family entertainment at Ghirardelli Square.

For full info:

pics by Colin show: F-16 Fighting Falcon with F-86; the Blue Angels in Delta Formation; Team Oracle.

For two albums of fantastic professional pics covering both the practice and first air display on Saturday from Colin and Evelyn, click here: Album 1 Album 2

Colin - retired professional photographer. For more pics by me click here