The thunder you hear in the clear blue skies of Pensacola this time of year can only mean one thing: The boys are back in town, and not a minute too soon for those of us looking for the unofficial start of Spring.
Blue Angels fans anxious to see their hometown heroes' F/A-18 Hornets should keep their eyes peeled for that trademark diamond formation making its way across Pensacola Bay again. Starting Tuesday, March 17, the six-pilot team began twice-weekly training out of Pensacola Naval Air Station
Officially known as the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blues are one of the most iconic aerial performance squads in existence. For eight months of the year, their practice court is our backyard. They are as identifiable to Pensacola as the beach ball water tower on our white-sand beach. And their return to the skies every year in March tends to lift the spirits of our winter-weary community.
All of us seem to have Blue Angel memories.
The first time I watched them perform over Pensacola Beach was more than a decade ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday. I had never seen an airshow before and at the time was tasked with photographing the Blues for the local newspaper.
If you’ve ever tried to get decent shots of the Blue Angels, you realize quickly that it’s not easy as you may think. Even for a professional photographer shooting with a 5-frame-per-second, pro-series camera, if you blink, you may miss it. The speed is overwhelming, particularly the solo pilots during their trademark “knife edge” pass. As the Navy Blue and Gold Hornet swoops above you at speeds approaching Mach 1, it’s not easy to keep your subject within the frame while at the same time keeping it in focus.
Their shows feature seemingly super-human levels of precision. Millions of Americans, at air shows around the country, are amazed by their skills.
And for eight months of the year, their playground is our backyard. How fortunate are we?
If you’ve never experienced the Blues in their full glory, you’ll have ample opportunities in coming months. The weekly practices
on base are the perfect opportunity for those wanting to see their famous, gravity-defying aerobatic maneuvers without fighting the huge crowds that come for the annual beach show in July and the Blues end-of-the-season show at the base in November.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a big Blue Angels fan. I still get a surge of excitement and pride whenever I see them over our friendly skies. And with their return this week, I’m feeling like summer can’t be far behind.
For your very own chance to snap some pictures of the Blues in action, the team practices every Tuesday and Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. in March through November from Forrest Sherman Field at the Pensacola NAS. The National Naval Aviation Museum, located at 1750 Radford Boulevard on base, has a viewing area for visitors to sit and watch.
Every Wednesday following practice, visitors and locals have the opportunity to meet the pilots, take photos with them and get their autographs at the National Naval Aviation Museum, located at 1750 Radford Blvd., one of the world’s largest air and space museums.
For information about the Wednesday practices at the Museum of Naval Aviation, please call the museum: (850) 452-3604 or visit the museum’s website: www.navalaviationmuseum.org