One of the highlights of my life as a journalist was the time I got to fly with the Blue Angels – the United States Navy's flight demonstration squadron, with aviators from the Navy and Marines.
The team was in the Detroit area for an air show at the Selfridge Air National Guard Base some years back and as a local TV journalist I got to climb aboard one of the jets for a demonstration ride, “pulling some G's” and feeling the staggering power of an F-18 Hornet as close as you can get.
They put me in a flight suit, strapped me in the narrow second seat behind the pilot and off we went, climbing so fast and straight up that it takes your breath away. Up over the clouds, the pilot even let me “take the stick” and do a roll and at then end, they even gave me a video of the ride. I need to transfer that old VHS taps to digital so I can post it here some day.
Thet ride was unforgettable and my respect and interest in this amazing team of fighter pilots has been as high as we climbed that day.
So now, down here on the Emerald Coast, I find myself close to them again. And this week, over their home base over Pensacola Beach, the team is wowing crowds during its biggest week of the year. The Pensacola Beach Air Show is this weekend and tens of thousands will come to this beautiful Emerald Coast town to watch the Blue Angel's show. Local folks proudly call the team “Our Blues.”
Lots of folks in RVs show up but parking is at a premium during the Pensacola Beach Air Show and you need to arrive as early as possible, ideally before 7AM, when the three large lots on Pensacola Beach fill up. Other lots aree available for parking but there could be a fee. Trolleys will be available to take you to the main beach from the large parking lots.
This has been a tough time for the team. Only five of the normal six jets are flying. That's because last month, the team lost Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss when his jet crashed during an airshow last month in Smyrna, Tenn. The team cancelled its shows after the loss.
But they will be in the Pensacola show this weekend and yesterday afternoon, Thursday, they were back in the air for a practice run that brought thousands to the shores of Pensacola Bay to watch the team as they returned to the skies. All over the crowd were folks wearing No. Number 6 T-shirts or displaying No.6 flags as a tribute to Kuss, who flew jet #6.
The crowd cheered and reportedly set a record for the Thursday night practices.
Festivities resume at noon Friday with a civilian show, followed by the Blue Angels returning to the sky at 2 p.m. for their dress rehearsal. The Pensacola Beach Air Show is scheduled for noon Saturday, with the Blue Angels set to fly at 2 p.m.
The mission of the Blue Angels is to showcase the pride and professionalism of the United States Navy and Marine Corps by inspiring a culture of excellence and service to country through flight demonstrations and community outreach.
In 2016, the Blue Angels have been celebrating their 70th anniversary. Since 1946, the Blue Angels have performed for more than 484 million fans.
If you are ever in the Emerald Coast region, check to see if the team is practicing and head to Pensacola Bay for a great way to spend the evening. You can learn more about the team, see photos and check the schedule to see f the team is doing a show near you on the official Blue Angels website.