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:

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