Who’s ready for a thrill, and a patriotic one at that? The Blue Angels arrive in Annapolis with a roar on May 21 and 22 this month. The Blue Angels Flight Demonstration is a highlight of the Naval Academy’s Commissioning Week, which culminates in the commissioning of the Academy’s 2019 class as officers in the United States Navy and Marine Corps.
The Blue Angels drama takes place in the skies above the Severn River, and thousands of spectators each year view the action from the shoreline and from boats anchored on the river. This powerful demonstration of America’s strength just might make the hair stand up on the back of your neck.
View the Demonstration from a Boat
Every year, I watch the show from my boat, First Light, and every year the show gives me chills. Hundreds of private vessels anchor in the Severn River to view the sheer power of the Blue Angels flying machines. Local charter and tour boats also provide opportunities for their guests to see the show from the water.
Knowing this, I head out early to find a good spot to set the anchor. Then I wait for it… everyone waits for it…as we rock and roll on our boats, picnic lunches finished, binoculars ready, everyone on deck with their eyes on the southwestern sky.
There is an almost palpable anticipation in the air, wafting from boat to boat on the spring breeze. Then, at last, you see them, first as tiny fast-moving specks in the sky, and soon as brilliant blue and gold F/A-18 jets. They fly over with a thundering roar, not quite a sonic boom, the jets streaking so low and fast above the boat, you can see the pilots’ helmets.
The awe-inspiring stunts begin, as the jets circle back into the distance and suddenly reappear to scream past in tight formation. One minute they are glittering streaks almost touching the water, and the next minute they are rockets zooming straight up to near invisibility, swiftly and seamlessly reversing direction to plummet straight down toward the water at astonishing speeds. The jets speed, twirl, invert, and take off into the clouds, as children cover their ears and adults shade their eyes and crane their necks.
In Perfect Formation
In all of this, the pilots fly in perfect formation, showcasing the flight capabilities of the F/A-18 Hornet. In fact, these maneuvers are not tricks at all. The maneuvers are requirements of basic flight skills modified to highlight the precision required of Navy and Marine Corps combat pilots.
Each Blue Angel aircraft is capable of being returned to combat duty aboard an aircraft carrier within 72 hours should the need arise. Any aircraft in the flight demonstration team is the same as an aircraft in the active combat fleet, except that the nose cannon is removed, a smoke-oil tank is installed, and a spring is installed on the stick which applies pressure for better formation and inverted flying.
In the Diamond 360 maneuver, the aircraft come as close as 18 inches to each other. The highest stunt is the Vertical Roll, reaching up to 15,000 feet, and the lowest is the Sneak Pass going as low as 50 feet. The fastest speed is about 700 mph, and the slowest speed is about 120 mph. In some maneuvers, smoke is produced by vaporizing biodegradable oil in the exhaust nozzles of the aircraft. Other maneuvers are performed by Marine Corps pilots and crew flying the popular C-130 aircraft known affectionately as “Fat Albert.”
A Personal Note
For me, this year’s show will be especially thrilling because my own son is a Navy officer, an Ensign in Navy flight school at Pensacola, Florida, and training to become a Naval Flight Officer aboard a carrier-based fighter jet similar to the Hornets flown by the Blue Angels. So, this month, when I look up from the deck of our boat, when I hear the roar of the jet engines and see the blue and gold streaking overhead, you know who I will be thinking about. Talk about making a Mom feel proud!
As the demonstration ends and the Blue Angels fly off into the southwestern sky, the anchored boats will salute them with a raucous farewell and a concert of boat horns. A vessel somewhere might broadcast the National Anthem. We’ll stand on deck and look across the water to the Annapolis skyline, honored to be out there with the local fleet, savoring this jubilant cacophony of sound and the patriotic thrill it represents.
What to Know
This year’s Flight Demonstration is at 2 pm on Wednesday, May 22, weather permitting. You might catch an earlier glimpse of the Blue Angels during their flight rehearsal on May 21 around 2 pm. And on Friday, May 24, graduation day, the Blue Angels will do a flyover at 10 am above the graduation and commissioning ceremony at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
The mission of the Blue Angels is to showcase the pride and professionalism of the United States Navy and Marine Corps and to inspire a culture of excellence and service to the country. A total of 16 officers voluntarily serve with the Blue Angels, including Navy tactical jet pilots, support officers, and Marine Corps C-130 pilots. Officers typically serve two years with the Blue Angels team and then return to the fleet after their tours of duty.
If you’re heading out by boat to see the Blue Angels, be sure to stay out of the restricted areas and follow updates from the Annapolis Harbormaster, the Maryland Natural Resources Police, and the United States Coast Guard.
Images courtesy of Ann Powell