Sunday, October 11, 2009

Blue Angels Air Show, Fleet Week 2009, Cancelled!

Cancelled! To the great disappointment of thousands of spectators, fog rolled slowly over the Golden Gate Bridge moments after the start of the first of the Blue Angels' shows yesterday for Fleet Week 2009.

Out in the bay, from the top deck of the San Francisco Belle there was one stunning fly past of the four-jet diamond formation. In breathtaking fashion, the Blue Angels flew with wings interlocking and seemingly so close that you felt you could almost reach up and touch them.

'Every year I never cease to be amazed!' said Joanne, from the Bay Area, who was sipping champagne with Kyle from Seattle. Though unfortunately that turned out to be the end of her amazement.

The Hornblower Cruise was offering champagne, a buffet lunch and the opportunity to meet three US Navy pilots. Lt Erik Kenny - pictured being introduced - narrated from the bridge for the show.

For a few moments after the Blue Angels' brief appearance, he stood on the decking of the bridge and like everyone else on the main deck below, gazed up at empty skies.

'They did fly in the clouds earlier, it's not where you want to be,' Lt Kenny said to a member of the public. And then came the news that the show was cancelled.

From where he stood near the bridge of the ship, he said the horizontal visibility was starting to change and the Blue Angels 'had to have a perfect environment.'

The wind was also starting to pick up but this was not a factor. 'They can adjust their manoeuvers for the wind but not for visibility,' he said.

Lt Kenny pointed to the limiting features of the bay, bounded by the Golden Gate Bridge to the north and, to the south, Yerba Buena Island, the Bay Bridge and the Oakland Hills. 'They can't really shift the show that much,' he explained.

Before the sole appearance of the Blue Angels, their support cargo plane, a C-130 nicknamed Fat Albert, went over the ship. Fat Albert, named after a children's cartoon and manned by the Marine Corps, said 'Hi!' with a wiggle of wings and marked the end of the earlier part of the airshow.

By going on the Blue Angels lunch cruise, the 1,000 passengers opted to miss the first part of the show, much of which is aerobatics. Included in the aerobatic teams were Sean D Tucker, one of the Living Legends in Aviation with his Team Oracle, and two female pilots, Chevron's Julie Clark, a retired Northwest Airlines captain, and 25-year-old Melissa Pemberton whose Melissa Aerobatics is based in San Francisco.

Also scheduled were a U.S. F-16 Viper West, the United States Air Force’s newest fighter aircraft, the F-22A Raptor and the U.S. Coast Guard Helicopter.

As the San Francisco Belle positioned herself south of Alcatraz to wait for the Blue Angels, there was a fly over of the Patriot Jets demonstration team, noted for a signature 'Tail Slide' and for being the only jet demo team to have their aircraft sliding tail first towards the ground. There was a distant glimpse of a stunt plane and sight of a United Airways jumbo circling the bay, and that was that.

For Elaine, a San Franciscan living in Sacramento who has just celebrated her 69th birthday, this was her first visit to Fleet Week. As she stood on deck before the start of the show, she was as enthusiastic about the bay as much as the anticipated show. Which turned out to be a very good thing!

'I just love to be out on the bay, just to see this view and this air and this water,' she said. 'My mother worked at the Ferry Building in the 1930s and she talked about living here.'

As news of the cancelled show reached people, Charles quipped to his wife, Betty, 'Those guys fly closer together than I want to walk!'

The couple, from Stockton, California, are volunteer musical entertainers in convalescent hospitals and retirement homes, and were not going to let the non-appearance of the Angels spoil their day.

'We came for the trip,' they said.

Overhead, the sky was clear but last night on Kron4 News, the Commander for the Blue Angels said that he had made the decision to cancel the show based on visibility in the bay and low cloud cover around the city's skyscrapers.

Safety was more important than entertainment, he said. A minimum of three nautical miles is needed, according to the Blue Angels' website.

They also need a minimum cloud ceiling of 1,500 ft for what they call a 'flat' show. For a 'low' show with rolling maneouvers they need 3,500 ft and for a 'high' show, 8,000 ft. The highest manoeuvers are vertical rolls that can be performed up to 15,000 ft, and the lowest and fastest are the 700 mph Sneak Passes at a ground-hugging, sea-skimming 50 ft.

In combat conditions, the Hornets can reach speeds just under Mach 2, almost twice the speed of sound or about 1,400 mph, and climb at 30,000 feet per minute.

For the show, they had been intending to meld some of the celebrated features of San Francisco into their routine by buzzing Alcatraz, flying through the Golden Gate Bridge and whizzing around Coit Tower.

The Angels, in the blue and gold colours of the US Navy, have been flying the F/A-18 Hornet for 23 years. Formed in 1946, their name comes from that of a famous New York nightclub that was spotted by a team member in the New Yorker Magazine.

The pilots' average age is 33 years, and while they serve a two-year tour with the team are away from home for much of the year.

This season they are scheduled to fly 69 air shows at 35 air show sites in the US. Last season, 13 million people watched them perform, and in total their shows have been watched by over 455 million people. They also perform on the ground, visiting more than 50,000 people in schools and hospitals.

Fog and cloud permitting, the second of the airshows is due 12.30 - 3 pm and the Blue Angels are due to perform from 3- 4 pm.

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