“We'll get higher and higher straight up we'll climb…”
April 6, 2016
“We'll get higher and higher straight up we'll climb…”
One of the benefits of living in an island community that is home to a large U.S. Navy base is that in addition to the regular flyovers by Navy jets, every few years, we are treated to an appearance by one of the leading flight demonstration teams in the entire world when the U.S. Navy Blue Angels visit to put on a huge two days’ worth of spectacular air shows. Along with a great selection of other aerial acrobatic flying machines, the Blue Angels put of two identical shows on a Saturday and again on Sunday. Add that to the two days prior when they are here taking up various media members and assorted big wigs and then a full day of practice and we get a full complement of viewing opportunities.
Kathy and I had the great fortune to be invited to the Saturday show with our friends Susan and Tom, who just happened to have VIP access tickets for the air show which got us right up next to the airfield at Naval Air Station Key West and even included free food and drinks. It was a wonderful opportunity. We headed out mid-morning and scored a great parking spot and then wondered around the assorted displays that they had at the show, which included numerous U.S. Navy aircraft on static display. They also had an assortment of booths featuring vendors and various branches of the U.S. Military.
Kathy, Reggie and Terry
It was really cool to get up close and personal with the wide variety of military aircraft that were on-hand, to meet the pilots and flying crews and to even get to meet some of the Blue Angels pilots. Included as part of the show, was a display of the famous Budweiser Clydesdales which were housed in a huge traveling tent/barn that allowed visitors to get right up close to the huge and majestic animals. They also were in town most of the week, even taking a day to deliver beer to various bars along Duval Street while they were here.
Tom and Susan
At the airshow, they just had the team pulling around the iconic beer wagon in front of the massive crowd that was on hand to watch the festivities. There was also a small number of classic cars and military vehicles on hand and there was a huge area for people in attendance to walk around and take it all in. The weather was great, sunny and warm, leading us all to get a pretty decent sunburn even though we felt well protected by sunscreen. Something about the heat reflection off the massive amounts of concrete and asphalt just multiplied the sun’s impact.
Naval Air Station Key West is one of the leading aerial training centers in the world and is home to VFC-111 Fighter Squadron known as the Sun Downers who often serve as the Aggressor Squadron in Navy training exercises imitating the tactics and methods of potential adversaries. NAS Key West is a state-of-the-art training facility for air-to-air combat fighter aircraft of all military services, with favorable flying conditions year round and unparalleled aerial ranges that offer aircrew training within minutes after takeoff. The station and its associated offshore air combat maneuvering ranges are equipped with the sophisticated P5 Combat Training System/Tactical Combat Training System which tracks and records aerial maneuvers.
Danette and Susan
The Sun Downers were part of the airshow, demonstrating their capabilities and wowing the crowd with their agility. The show also featured a number of smaller, exciting performers from old WW II fighters to biplanes to trick planes and even a really cool example of wing-walking that had the crowd on its feet. It was some truly impressive stuff. It lasted most of the morning and in to the afternoon, all leading up to what was the highlight performance by the Blue Angels.
The Blue Angels have performed here many times over the years and we have had the good fortune to see them, most recently when they were here with a similar show in 2013. The group is actually made up of aviators from both the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marines and is the second oldest flight demonstration team, having been founded in 1946. The Blue Angels six pilots fly the FA-18 Hornet and typically perform at 34 locations with over 70 shows each year.
Susan and Tom
During their aerobatic demonstration, the Blues fly six F/A-18 Hornet aircraft, split into the Diamond Formation (Blue Angels 1 through 4) and the Lead and Opposing Solos (Blue Angels 5 and 6). Most of the show alternates between maneuvers performed by the Diamond Formation and those performed by the Solos. The Diamond, in tight formation and usually at lower speeds (400 mph), performs maneuvers such as formation loops, barrel rolls, and transitions from one formation to another.
The Solos showcase the high performance capabilities of their individual aircraft through the execution of high-speed passes, slow passes, fast rolls, slow rolls, and very tight turns. The highest speed flown during an air show is 700 mph (just under Mach 1) and the lowest speed is 120 mph. Some of the maneuvers include both solo aircraft performing at once, such as opposing passes (toward each other in what appears to be a collision course) and mirror formations (back-to-back. belly-to-belly, or wingtip-to-wingtip, with one jet flying inverted). The Solos join the Diamond Formation near the end of the show for a number of maneuvers in the Delta Formation.
Kathy, Susan and Tom
The opportunity to witness such amazing precision flying and to see the impressive performance of the Blue Angels is something that we were truly thrilled to see, thanks so much to Susan and Tom for allowing us the VIP treatment at their performance. If you get an opportunity to see these magnificent aviators, by all means you should go, I assure you that you will not be disappointed. Hope that they return again soon to Key West!