Florida offers more than sandy beaches and theme parks. For an awe inspiring and patriotic experience, the Blue Angels practice sessions give an up close and personal look at these flying jets. Rather than seeing the planes fly off in the distance, the practice sessions in Pensacola take place in close proximity to spectators. Not too close of course!
Blue Angels Free Practice Session
Mention “Pensacola” and most people envision a Florida beach with sunshine and an influx of college students during Spring break. Since Pensacola is home to the Blue Angels flying squadron, their twice weekly practice sessions are a highlight for locals and tourists. On most Tuesdays and Wednesdays throughout the year, the jets put on a free 55 minute show, designed as a chance for the pilots to refine their skills. Since weather and schedules can change the practice show, check the website for weekly updates.
Military Volunteers Add Humor and Explanations
Before the show, volunteers, many former military, efficiently seat the 1,000 people to bleachers in the viewing area. Other volunteers help the 300 or so people who rent lawn chairs for more comfortable seating. With smiles and friendly comments, the volunteers display their love of flying by answering questions such as, “Why are Blue Angel pilots so handsome?” and “How can I get a ride in a jet?” The MC introduces each volunteer with friendly banter among the branches of military. The volunteers set the tone just like the person in charge of audience warm-up on The Ellen Show. On our visit, the MC acknowledged a Pearl Harbor veteran, resulting in a sincere and spontaneous standing ovation. By the time the Blue Angels appeared on the runway, the audience was pumped!
Air Show Not for Everyone
While most times we see the Blue Angels in the air, the practice show begins with the six F-18 Hornets rolling out on the tarmac, with the pilots easily visible. (Couldn’t quite see if they were handsome, but the woman sitting behind me assured me that all Blue Angel pilots are super cute.) While most people were excited to see the show, several families with toddlers and pre-schoolers left as their children were upset by the noise. The Blue Angels are loud! Many families brought sound suppressing headsets for their children. In my opinion, children above the age of six will enjoy the show more than preschoolers.
The Jets Take Off!
When the Blue Angels take off, it is both loud and fast. The announcer told us the jets don’t fly at full speed, because they are not allowed to break the sound barrier at air shows. For the next 55 minutes, everyone’s eyes were on the sky as the jets flew overhead in various formations, defying the laws of physics with spectacular aerial feats. At one point the announcer stated, “The four jets are now flying with their wingtips 18 inches apart!” Throughout the show, the announcer kept everyone informed on where to look and what to expect. He’d announce, “Look over your left shoulder and get ready to watch the jets perform the double-loop-upside-down roll-away.” (Well, he had a more technical term, but you get the idea.) On one maneuver the pilots were experiencing 6 G’s. Pilots are taught to tighten all the muscles in their body to avoid blacking out. Not a good idea when racing across the sky in a jet.
After the Show
The show ends with all six jets taxiing down the runway, directly in front of the spectators. Again, a sincere and spontaneous standing ovation took place with the crowd. On most Wednesdays, the pilots leave their jets and sign autographs, which as you can imagine, is a popular event.
The viewing stands are close by the National Naval Aviation Museum, so it’s easy to walk over and visit the airplanes inside and outside of the museum. We were even able to pull our RV directly next to a plane for a fun photograph. The museum is free as well and offers an aviation themed play area for children. Over 150 restored planes are on display. Of course there’s a restaurant and gift shop to round out the experience.