When things look down, you should look up – and see the Navy Blue Angels maneuvering overhead. A flyover by these amazing pilots is truly amazing. For most people, it’s a once a year, or once lifetime, experience. But if you know where to find them, it’s possible to catch a free look at the soaring aerobatics weekly.
After surviving our first month of Covid-19 pandemic quarantine, the Blue Angels gave the Philadelphia area a special gift: The sound of jet engines rumbling overhead after weeks of silence.
The Navy’s Blue Angels performed in partnership with the Air Force Thunderbirds – a rare sight. The flying squadron looped over Philadelphia twice. It was a visual thank you to the tireless healthcare workers and other first responders on the front lines of the coronavirus fight.
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Thousands of people packed the Philadelphia Art Museum steps, struggling with social distancing rules while pointing their cameras overhead to capture the aerial spectacular. The 12 fighter jets took off in New York City, looped twice over the Philly-South Jersey region, then headed to Delaware to continue their salute in the sky.
Properly masked and staying six feet away from any other spectator, I watched from the Jersey side of the Delaware River. I felt awed and amazed by the synchronized loops right over my head, for a minute forgetting Covid-19 as I watched the flyover. I wasn’t the only one – and it wasn’t the first time.
It’s a jaw-dropping experience for any family – and one any visitor to the Florida panhandle can make happen! Watching a Blue Angels practice session is one of the best free things to do in Pensacola. These practice sessions are particularly thrilling — instead of watching flyovers from a distance, you get an up-close look at aviators and their flying jets.
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Attending a Navy Blue Angels Practice Session
Although the United States Navy cancelled much of the Blue Angels air show season due to the coronavirus, the squadron’s web site reports plans to salvage the season, beginning with a July 11 kickoff presentation of the popular Pensacola Beach Air Show. In fact, the Navy flight demonstration squadron has been spotted screeching across the Florida skyline for the past month, practicing maneuvers and thrilling those on the ground with the promise of their return.
So, if all goes as expected, how can you attend a practice session of the Blue Angels?
As of this writing, 2020 practice sessions for the Navy demonstration team are scheduled for the following dates:
- Wednesday, August 5
- Thursday, August 6
- Friday, August 7
- Tuesday, August 11
- Wednesday, August 19
- Thursday, August 20
- Friday, August 21
- Tuesday, August 25
- Tuesday, September 1
- Tuesday, September 15
- Tuesday, September 22
Of course, in these ever-changing times due to the pandemic, it’s smart to check the web site first!
Where to See the Blue Angels
If you’re interested in catching one of the demonstration team’s practice sessions, head to the Blue Angels’ headquarters – otherwise known as Forrest Sherman Field, NAS Pensacola, Florida. This is home base for the Navy Blue Angels during air show season. The squadron spends January through March at another Naval air station, Naval Air Facility El Centro in California.
Practice sessions start at 11:30am. An entertaining pre-show begins earlier and keeps those sitting in the bleachers – 1,000 people at full capacity – pumped beforehand. The Navy’s Blue Angels take off at 11:30 – and in a big way, with a spectacular flyover. Of course, the practice may change based upon the Blue Angels’ needs and the flight conditions at Naval Air Station Pensacola on that day.
But you can count on seeing A-18 Hornets, aircraft carriers and maybe even an appearance by Fat Albert, a C-130J recently purchased from the Royal Air Force. (The previous Fat Albert, a C-130T Hercules transport, was a U.S. Navy flight demonstration squadron favorite, but it was retired in 2019 after 30,000 flying hours.)
The stars of the show are the Blue Angels’ McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornets flown by five Navy demonstration pilots and one Marine Corps pilot. You can easily spot these planes, numbered one through six, as they soar overhead, sometimes even tip-to-tip.
What Else Do I Need to Know?
It is absolutely free to attend a practice session at NAS Pensacola.
Although the bleacher seats can accommodate 1,000 visitors, social distancing rules will limit this number. Plan to arrive early. Practice session viewers can also bring their own lawn chair. Forgot yours? The nearby National Naval Aviation Museum, reopening soon, provides rentals.
Shows generally run 55 minutes. Although the practice sessions are totally family-friendly, younger children may be frightened by the sound of Super Hornets flying overhead. Pack ear plugs or other sound mufflers or, if necessary, leave the littles at home.
Blue Angels Air Shows 2020
As with everything else, all plans are subject to change in response to Covid-19. The planned Blue Angels schedule for airshows in 2020 is:
- July 11 – Pensacola Beach Air Show – Pensacola, FL
- August 29-30 – Thunder Over Michigan – Ypsilanti, MI
- September 12-13 – Maryland Fleet Week and Air Show Baltimore – Baltimore, MD
- September 19-20 – NAS Oceana Air Show – NAS Oceana, VA
- October 3-4 – Naval Base Ventura County Air Show – NAS Point Mugu, CA
- October 10-11 – San Francisco Fleet Week – San Francisco, CA
- October 16-17 – Blue Angels Homecoming Show – NAS Pensacola, FL
Check the United States Navy Blue Angels web site for updates.