2014 Event Review

The SanFrancisco Fleet Week Airshow, October 11-12, 2014
Location: San Francisco Bay , California
Admission: Free
Parking: City streets and parking garages.
Value: Very Good
Rating out of 10: 8.5
 
Snowbirds
Fat Albert over Alcatrez Island

It was fantastic to have the Blue Angels back in the Bay Area! Last year’s Fleet Week celebrations were cancelled due to cuts in federal funding and although the budget sequestration remains in effect, and military participation was limited to the Navy’s Blue Angels and Leap Frogs, it was a real pleasure to see the air show return to San Francisco. This year the only threat to a successful show was the weather, and even when Karl the Fog made an impressive appearance on Saturday, the air boss was able to shuffle the schedule sufficiently that the show went on.

The Parade of Ships took place on Friday, which usually only features the rehearsal flights. The USS America was commissioned on Saturday morning, causing this change of plans. The parade included warships from the US and Canadian Navies as well as US Coast Guard vessels, all accompanied by a fireship spouting fountains of water. The actual practice flights were rather sparse. The Patriots, being the local team, didn’t need to familiarize themselves with the airspace. And the Blue Angels, after making several flat passes over the fog, called it off and headed back to land. Also different this year, they staged out of Oakland Airport instead of SFO.

On Saturday, the appearance of the massive inflow of marine-layer fog disrupted the schedule of flying, but the organizers did a very good job of shuffling the acts to make the best of it. Surprisingly enough, this meant that the Blue Angels flew earlier than scheduled and did not end the show as they normally do. On Sunday conditions were perfect for all of the performers. The day dawned bright, clear and cool with seas so calm that the Golden Gate Bridge was reflected in the Bay. The show was opened by the US Navy Parachute Demonstration Team jumping from a Missouri Air Guard C-130. The “Leap Frogs” performed their usual high-energy display, finishing with the unfurling of a huge American flag. The US Coast Guard then put on a display of their Search and Rescue capabilities. After dropping a rescue swimmer into the Bay, the MH-65 Dolphin helicopter departed, then circled around, zeroed in on the smoke from a bright red flare and lifted the swimmer back into the helicopter. They repeated the demonstration for viewers at the eastern end of the air show box. The Horsemen started off the day’s aerobatic flying, putting on an amazing display of precision formation flying in their three highly-polished P-51D Mustangs. Steve Hinton led Ed Shipley and Dan Friedkin through a beautiful series of graceful loops and rolls. “Super Dave” Mathieson turned it up a notch with a spirited performance in the Scheyden MX-2. He was followed by Michael Wiskus who flew a similarly energetic routine in the bright red Lucas Oil biplane. Then it was time for the first of the day’s two jet teams. The locally-based Patriots Jet Team is the largest civilian-owned jet demonstration team and includes former Blue Angels, Thunderbirds and Snowbirds among its six pilots. Their fast-paced, precision maneuvers contain many of the same exciting elements as those military teams. You can read about our flight with the Patriots in the December 2014/January 2015 issue of The Aviation Magazine. In addition to entertaining viewers at airshows, the Patriots also encourage students to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics through their new, all-volunteer non-profit organization The Patriots Jet Team Foundation.

United Airlines sent a wide-body Boeing passenger jet each day to perform a number of flybys: a 757 on Friday, a 747 on Saturday and a Triple-7 on Sunday. Although none of the maneuvers were as spectacular as Tex Johnston’s legendary barrel roll of the Dash 80 over Lake Washington in Seattle almost sixty years ago, it was nevertheless impressive to see these large jets fly low over the Bay, especially during their slow dirty passes with gear and flaps fully extended. Sean D Tucker once again amazed the crowd with his high-octane, jaw-dropping aerobatic routine at Fleet Week. The only thing missing from his astounding repertoire was the triple-ribbon cut. The Oracle Challenger III biplane stood out brightly in the clear blue skies and even at a distance his smoke system allowed spectators to follow his every move. Well, almost: his snap-rolls came so fast and furious it is easy to lose count. And he disappeared into his own smoke during the extended tail slides and double-hammerhead turns. He ended his show with a hovering tribute to the AV-8B Harrier followed by a low photo pass seemingly just inches over the waves.“Fat Albert”, with its all-Marine crew, was a welcome sight. It had been grounded a good part of the summer after a bird strike so there were early concerns that it might not take part in the show. But it had returned to the skies at the MCAS Miramar air show the week before and the brightly painted C-130 performed its usual steep climb and descent to open and close its demonstration, with a number of remarkable passes in between. There was enough moisture in the air that the prop tips left spirals of vapor behind them as the large transport clawed its way skyward. The final low pass over Alcatraz Island directly towards the city’s waterfront brought gasps from the crowds. The Blue Angels closed the show, putting on their high show under bright blue skies. They had been buzzing the area for several days to orient themselves and identify timing and location landmarks. The crowds were nevertheless thrilled by the team’s dramatic entrance into the aerobatic box flying in low over the Golden Gate Bridge. Their full high show on Sunday was a sight to see. It is a challenge to photograph the low passes in between the masts of the many boats crowding the bay, but it is worth it to see #5’s sneak pass just feet over the water. Angel Island provided the perfect background to make visible the Schlieren lines formed by the shock cones as Lt. Cmdr. David Tickle approached Mach 1. Similarly, Alcatraz Island formed a nice backdrop to the many exciting solo crosses. Although the ground portion of the Blue Angels’ performance was missing from this show, the team came out to Pier 39 on Saturday night to meet their many fans, answer questions and sign autographs.

The airbox is located over San Francisco Bay, just north of the city’s waterfront. As such, there is no ground portion of the air show, and no aircraft on static display. Marina Green does, however, have the usual food booths, vendors and kid’s zones, as well as pavilions with chairs, shade and catered food for those willing to pay for the comfort and convenience. But pretty much any place in the area provides a beautiful venue from which to watch the show. From Fisherman’s Wharf, past Crissy Field, to standing on the Golden Gate Bridge itself, the sun is behind you, making photography a joy. From Angel Island, Alcatraz or out on the water aboard the Jeremiah O’Brien you have beautiful views of the city skyline as a backdrop. There are no bad seats!

Air show performers:
US Navy Blue Angels
US Navy Leap Frogs Parachute Team
The Horsemen P-51 Flight Team
“Super Dave” Mathieson, Scheyden MX-2 Aerobatics
Mike Wiskus, Lucas Oil Pitts S-1 Aerobatics
Sean D. Tucker, Oracle Challenger III Aerobatics
Red Star Pilots Formation CJ-6 Team
Report and photography by Norman A. Graf for The Aviation Magazine

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