Summerdale, AL - Events of Wednesday, April 22, 2015
We said we were planning to do little, if any, sightseeing while in Lower Alabama because we were only going to be here for a relatively short time. However, last Wednesday was Margery's birthday, so we decided to do something special after all. We drove to Pensacola to watch the Blue Angels practice session.
As most of you probably know, the Blue Angels are the Navy's precision flight demonstration squadron. They are based at Naval Air Station Pensacola. The purpose of the Blue Angels is to enhance the recruiting of the U. S. Navy and Marine Corps and to serve as ambassadors of good will across the United States and in foreign countries.
Practice sessions for the "Blues" are open to the public and are free. The viewing area is adjacent to the Naval Aviation Museum. Incidentally, if you have never been to the museum, it is well worth your time. It is also free. Click here to read about our 2011 visit to the Naval Aviation Museum.
We attended a practice session of the Blue Angels in 2011. Back then, practice was at 8:30 a.m.; but it is now at 11:30. The later practice time means the pilots don't have to fly into the low, morning sun. It also means we didn't have to get up at the crack of dawn to make the one-hour drive from Summerdale to Pensacola. The downside to the later practice is the sun can be very hot, and there is no shelter at the viewing area. Take sunscreen and water.
It was a beautiful day so there was a large turnout. We suspect the later practice time also makes for bigger crowds. We arrived about 45 minutes early, parked and walked to the viewing area.
To get to the viewing area, visitors have to cross an outside area of the museum that contains unrestored planes. We paused for a photo by a PBY Catalina, which is a WWII-era flying boat. Paul remembers building a model of a PBY when he was a kid.
The Blue Angels fly F/A-18A-D Hornets. Although the Hornets have been modified somewhat (including the replacement of the nose cannon by a tank containing the paraffin-based oil used to create the smoke trails), they could be repainted and made combat ready within 72 hours.
Six Blue Angels usually take part in the flight demonstrations. Blue Angels 1 though 4 fly mostly in a diamond formation...
...sometimes in tight formation less than two feet apart.
Blue Angels 5 and 6 are known as the solos. They usually fly at higher speed than the Blues in the diamond, and they do a number of high-speed passes like the one shown in the video below that make it look like they are about to collide.
Blue Angels 5 and 6 also do a low speed maneuver called "high section alpha" where they slow their speed to about 120mph, pitch the noses of the aircraft up to almost 45º and plow through the air belly first.
Later in the show, Blue Angels 5 and 6 join with Blue Angels 1, 2, 3 and 4. The photo below shows all 6 Blues in a delta pattern.
Groups of 5 or 6 Blues perform numerous crowd-pleasing maneuvers like loops...
... and an impressive star-burst.
The practice lasts about 45 to 50 minutes, which was just about long enough for us given the hot sun. We made our way back to the truck and headed west toward Rainbow Plantation. However, as you might guess, we stopped to eat on the way back. We'll tell you all about it in our next post.