It’s an iconic part of the U.S. Navy Blue Angels air show at Pensacola Beach.
A pair of blue and gold F-18s cruise along the coast, tracked by thousands of eyes. Then, out of nowhere, SKREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEESH!
A Hornet streaks low overhead in an ambush/flyover at 700 mph — then a second flashes over from the blindside. It’s called the Sneak Pass — a flyby, buzz-the-tower fright-flight that surprises every time — even if you expect it.
The Fleur-de-Lis, the Opposing Knife-Edge Pass, and the Diamond Dirty Loop — these names are just part of the mind-blowing displays of choreographed precision flying that Navy flight demonstration team has perfected over 70 years of flight demonstration.
Every year, thousands migrate to Pensacola Beach to watch our hometown heroes perform with the beautiful Gulf of Mexico as a backdrop.
So, naturally, you’ll want to experience the Blue Angels at the Pensacola Beach Air Show when they take to the skies every July.
But maybe you could use a few tips from air show vets so you can maximize the fun.
Breakfast With the Blues
Red, White, and Blues Week is a continued celebration stemming from the Fourth of July on Pensacola Beach. The air show usually follows the week after Independence Day on Pensacola Beach.
Air show week kicks off with Breakfast with the Blues on Wednesday morning at Casino Beach. About 8 a.m. the Blues arrive over Pensacola Beach and perform a series of maneuvers. It’s called Circle and Arrival — the pilots get familiar with the airspace and land references for the show. The Blues will throw in some screaming high-rev crowd-pleasers during the morning flight.
You can pull up a beach towel and watch from the soft sand while you drink your coffee and gluten-packed bagel. Or, if you can, get a prime seat at the Casino Beach Bar & Grill, Crabs We Got ‘Em, or the nearby beachside hotels and watch the action.
Sneak Peak Thursday
On Thursday, the Blues take to the skies again. This time it’s a full practice show that starts at 2 p.m. — their usual show time. You’ll see the entire Blues’ show from start to finish, but the civilian flight demonstration teams and stunt plane acts don’t arrive until Friday. So if you are itching to see the Blues and don’t want to battle the massive crowds, go Thursday…
The Secret is Out Friday
It’s no secret that Friday’s full dress rehearsal show is an exact replica of Saturday’s air show, from start to finish. It’s just considered the dress rehearsal.
Starting just before noon Friday, the Full Dress Rehearsal takes flight with the start of the civilian flight demonstration acts— a full-fledged air show that will include the guest flying stars to prelude the Blue Angels. The show usually includes the aerobatic acts of Redline, Skip Stewart, Gary Ward, Julian MacQueen, the Veterans Flight team, and Red Bull Air Racer Kevin Coleman.
Go early and give yourself plenty of time if you’re driving over the bridge Friday to watch the show.
Strike Early, Stay for Dinner Saturday
If you’re driving to the Saturday show, make like you’re going sunrise fishing. The prime spots in the sand at center point — where the maneuvers have a maximum effect — get claimed early in the morning. Arrive well before 7 a.m. If the Casino Beach lot is already full, park and hop on a trolley. Trolleys will be in service before and after the show Friday and Saturday to help take spectators to and from the main beach.
Tents are allowed, but please be courteous to your new daylong neighbors. And bring shade, plenty of water, and sunscreen to last you the entire day.
Before the Blues take to the sky at 2 p.m., be sure to take a dip in the water and cool off because the Gulf is off-limits during the live performance.
Airshow organizers make sure there are plenty of supplies on hand around the center point (Casino Beach), so you can grab a bite to eat while you get ready for the show. There also are cool zone misters for those needing a respite from the heat and sun.
There are so many vantage points. Some of the nearby hotels with balconies provide an unbelievable view. Boaters in Little Sabine can lounge on the sandbars while jets streak overhead.
The Blue Angels take to the skies at 2 p.m. (weather depending). Their show lasts approximately 45 minutes. So when the Blues make that final pass, many are packing up their tents and folding up the beach blankets in a mad dash to their rides. Traffic is never a joy, so it puzzles me why people get in a rush to wait in traffic. Instead, go check out a band in one of the local venues. Hit the boardwalk. grab some dinner. Hang back and relax a bit and wait for the traffic jam off the island to subside.
Beach Tips and Etiquette
It’s no surprise that the beaches of Pensacola in the middle of summer are filled with sunshine and heat. Remember these essentials:
Hats, sunglasses and sunscreen
Water to drink (Your choice of cold beverage is fine so long as it is not in a glass container!)
Umbrella (trust me, you’ll want some shade)
A small bag or container to keep cash, an ID and cell phone protected from the sand and water
Also, let’s talk safety. At Pensacola Beach, you may notice colored flags flying at lifeguard stations and other beach entrances. These are part of the flag warning system designed to alert the public about surf conditions. You may see green, yellow, red or purple flags, and here’s what they mean:
Green flag – Conditions are calm. Swim with usual caution.
Yellow flag – This represents moderate surf and currents. Swim with extra caution.
Red flag – This means high surf and dangerous currents. No swimming or wading is allowed in the Gulf of Mexico.
Double red flag – Only used during hurricanes or natural disasters, this indicates the water is closed to the public. No swimming, wading or surfing is allowed in the Gulf of Mexico.
Purple flag – Dangerous marine life is present. Exercise caution when in the water or on the shoreline.
Current flag colors and surf conditions are also accessible online at pensacolabeachlifeguards.com.
Finally, remember to leave only your footprints. Our family’s rule: If you carry it to the beach, you have to carry it back from the beach.
Trash cans are provided near beach entrances, and you are asked to fill in any holes you may dig in the sand as they can trap sea turtles that nest and hatch on the shore from May through October. Protecting the sea turtles is also why you are asked to turn off beach-facing porch lights after dusk, and refrain from using flashlights on the beach at night.
Beat the Crowds, Take in a Practice
Beginning in March through the first week of November, the U.S. Navy Blue Angels take to their hometown skies most Tuesdays and Wednesdays to practice for shows. For those looking to beat the crowds from the Pensacola Beach Airshow or simply looking for something fun to do, this is a great way to take in the local charms. Practices take place aboard NAS Pensacola on the flight deck behind the National Naval Aviation Museum. Insider Tip: Take in the practice by water. Most sailing companies offer Blue Angel cruises that allow its passengers to view the show while floating in Pensacola Bay.