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2010 San Francisco Fleet Week

1.5 Million Airshow Fans Can’t Be Wrong

By Hayman Tam

When not flying in his ANG F-16, Lt. Col. John Klatt dazzles the crowds in his aerobatic airplane. (Sagar Pathak)It has been estimated that more than 1.5 million spectators came to San Francisco last month to enjoy Fleet Week festivities and watch the airshow, which is the highlight of the event.  Anyone along San Francisco’s waterfront had a ringside seat for two jet teams and the many other performers flying over show center, marked by ships and buoys in the bay.  Some folks chose to watch the show from Alcatraz island, site of the infamous prison. The weather was wonderfully cooperative with clear blue skies and comfortable temperatures.

The Blue Angels diamond formation flat pass with aircraft 1 and 4 inverted. (Hayman Tam)Unlike a traditional land-based airshow, there were no static displays and the performers staged out of nearby airports. It is a totally different airshow environment and the pilots used the terrain and the historic sites to their advantage, like high-speed passes over the iconic bridges or Alcatraz.  The Blue Angels flew out of San Francisco International airport, still executing their precision ground drills but with very few spectators to observe. 

The airshow started off with a rescue demonstration by the U.S. Coast Guard with their HH-65 Dauphin, feeling quite at home since the Bay was teeming with Coast Guard vessels of all shapes and sizes enforcing the boat-free zone under the airshow box.

Pave Hawks of the 129th Rescue Squadron over Alcatraz Island. (Hayman Tam)A flyby of a pair of U.S. Air Force F-16s, courtesy of the 144th Fighter Wing in Fresno, reminded the crowd that the event was not all Navy. They were followed by a F/A-18E Super Hornet out of NAS Lemoore that put on a impressive demonstration of power and agility. The 129th Rescue Wing sent a pair of Moffett Field-based HH-60 Pave Hawks for a mock combat rescue operation.  One hovered over the downed pilot as a pararescue diver exited the aircraft.  Meanwhile, the second Pave Hawk orbited the area looking for any hostiles.

The Patriots Flight Demo team in their L-39’s fly past the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. (Sagar Pathak)The first jet team to perform was The Patriots, a civilian act flying surplus Czech L-39 Albatros trainers in a distinctive gloss black color scheme. First debuting in 2003 as a two-ship team, they grew to six jets this year although only four performed at Fleet Week. The way they execute their maneuvers lends a sense of speed and dynamism not often seen outside the military teams.

In what is becoming a standard for the Fleet Week airshow, a commercial airliner was part of the festivities. United Airlines arranged for one of their spiffy new 747-400s to execute low-altitude flybys in both landing and cruise configurations. The pilots undoubtedly enjoyed themselves as they executed tight turns over Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Sean Tucker flying below mast level in his Oracle Challenger. (Hayman Tam)The sensational Sean Tucker wowed the crowds with his energetic display, often flying below mast height as he performed his low passes.  Other aerobatic performers included Tim Weber with his Geico Extra 300S and Iraq veteran Lt. Col. John Klatt performing in his Staudacher S-300D, sponsored by the Air National Guard.

Now it was time for the headliner act, the Blue Angels, to show their stuff. As always, their C-130 transport Fat Albert got to warm up the crowd, performing a series of flybys. As always, the Blues put on quite a show, but this one was more picturesque with the Golden Gate Bridge serving as a backdrop.

 A United Airlines B747-400 makes a low pass over the bay during Fleet Week. (Hayman Tam)Fleet Week shows the American taxpayer the strong and capable Navy that they pay for and gives them a chance to observe U.S. naval capabilities first hand.  Since 1981, this has been an annual opportunity for Northern Californians to honor the men and women of the U.S. and allied armed forces, with a focus on the United States Navy, Marines and Coast Guard. Besides the airshow acts, many naval ships were open to the public during the week for tours.

Lt. Col. John Klatt banks his Extra 300 past Alcatraz. (Sagar Pathak)This tradition started more than 100 years ago in May 1908, when 16 U.S. Navy battleships, their escort ships and 14,000 sailors entered San Francisco Bay. This fleet remained in San Francisco for two months before departing for the remainder of its 14-month cruise around the world.

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Reader Comments (1)

I'd love to watch those air shows.
I bet those pilots are totally out of their league.

December 30, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterplumbing supplies

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