2010 Blue Angels Homecoming Airshow
The old English proverb that “all [good] things must come to an end…” sums up what occurs every November at NAS Pensacola Florida. The 2010 Blue Angels Homecoming Airshow was the latest of a long line of grand finales that the Naval Flight Demonstration Squadron has presented, and with it comes mixed emotions. Sadly, the final performances of the year means that some of the Blues members will be saying good bye as their terms end and they return to the Fleet for their next assignment. Returning team members know that there will be little rest as the 2011 team immediately begins their training cycle for next year. But happily, it sure is good to be home for a while after almost 9 months of touring the country; this is the team’s Homecoming and their family air show as much as it is NAS Pensacola’s base air show. This year’s mid-November show featured gloriously warm and clear weather and the Thursday night show was enhanced by a startlingly beautiful sunset. It was held on an odd combination of days too… a Thursday, Thursday night, Friday and Saturday affair, not the routine weekend events the rest of the 2010 season bore. This allowed for an enhanced schedule to allow for a full-blown air show on Veterans Day (Thursday). It also allowed me to watch the Blues fly their demonstration an unprecedented four days in a row, as I attended Wednesday afternoon’s practice session while photographing air show arrivals.
Flying performers on hand this year included the VFA-106 Super Hornet Demo, the F-15E Strike Eagle Demo, Coast Guard MH-65C SAR demo, and the US Special Operations Command Para-Commandos parachute team. Warbirds included a pair of brightly painted Stearman trainers, a T-28 Trojan, Bill Leff in his AT-6 and a Veterans’ Day salute by the Disabled American Veterans’ Airshow Outreach Program and the B-25 “Special Delivery”. The local base, home to the military’s navigator and weapon systems operator training programs presented a parade of trainers that included a pair of T-6A Texan IIs, a T-39 Sabreliner, T-1A Jayhawk, and T-45 Goshawk. A long list of top-notch civilian performers included Otto the helicopter, the Shockwave jet truck (no worries, Kent Shockley kept it on the ground!), David Martin in his CAP-232, a large contingent of Emerald Coast Skydivers jumping from their Grand Caravan, Jan Collmer in his Extra 300, Bob Carlton in his jet assisted Salto sailplane (sailjet?), Mike Goulian in his Extra 330, and the Aerostars team in their Yak-52s. Rich’s Incredible Pyro lent fire and fury to Bill Leff’s AT-6 Mosquito diving attacks, as well as his race with the Shockwave jet truck.
On the ground, the static display was larger than the past few years. A brightly painted C-2A Greyhound was adorned with 50th anniversary colors of VRC-40, the Rawhides. The EA-6B Prowler of VAQ-209 Star Warriors wore a pair of rubber duck stencils below the cockpit to commemorate a series of encounters with birds during its last overseas deployment. A German Air Force Tornado jet, based in New Mexico, arrived with a low altitude afterburner pass down the runway; the “back seaters” (Weapons Systems Officers) receive training at NAS Pensacola. An Air Force RC-135V Rivet Joint electronic sensor aircraft drew attention from enthusiasts. And a Pennsylvania Air National Guard C-130 had appropriate nose art commemorating veterans’ sacrifices, as well as a plate featuring “The Phantom II” character on the air stairs in tribute to the aircraft’s crew chief and his experience with F-4 and RF-4 jets before his Herc came about.
Maybe it’s because they are at their home base, or maybe the airport is laid out better than most, or maybe because it’s Homecoming weekend… but the Blue Angels seem to fly faster, lower to the ground, and closer to the crowd at Pensacola. Having had all season to perfect their routine, the final shows during the weekend are as perfect as you can get too. Most of the show repeats itself, but on Saturday afternoon, next year’s narrator took over the microphone for part of Fat Albert’s performance. Wednesday afternoon’s pre-show performance saw next year’s new enlisted team members form in a line abreast formation and stand at attention as the six F/A-18s and this year’s crew launched their final practice flight of the year. Another interesting note was that the team flew four different models of the Boeing Hornet during the shows… both -A and -C single seaters, and -B and -D twin seat versions. Unless you knew what to look for (different antenna bumps, etc.), all six jets flew the same exact routines.
The five-plus hour long air show was the season’s finale for many civilian and military acts too. As the final presentations began on Saturday, I sensed my adrenalin rising and pressure mounting to see each performer complete their last flight of the season safely. When the engines on the Blue Angel Hornets began to spool up, the 70,000 plus spectators, including myself, were more than ready to be entertained one last time by the 2010 team. As they took to the skies, the crowd cheered each roll, loop, crossover, and turn with gusto. Finally, the last six-ship Delta formation pass came into view, and the team broke to land – seemingly overhead. When the last jet alighted, their season (and mine too) ended safely and successfully. All “good things” had ended, at least for a while. I’m already planning my 2011 air show schedule, and hoping to make another Blue Angels Homecoming.