2009 Blue Angels Homecoming Airshow
November 13-14, 2009
NAS Pensacola, Florida
Airshow preview written on November 21, 2009.
Being my second trip to Pensacola, I knew what to expect for this show and knew that this year's show would be among the best and most unique airshows I attend during the season. Before diving into the report any deeper, I'd like to add that a majority of my airshows during the 2009 season had dismal weather - whether it be low clouds, a complete rainout, extreme cold, windy, or somewhat okay weather, I needed to end the season on a good note. This year's show was nearly canceled, due to the threat of Hurricane Ida, which came ashore west of Pensacola as a tropical storm. The storm dumped several inches of rain on the Gulf Coast, before making its way up the east coast and wrecking havoc wherever it went. The timing was perfect - landfall was Monday morning (November 9) and it rained until Tuesday night. I had plans to fly out to Pensacola via Atlanta on Wednesday and had to fly over the weather - which was affecting the entire east coast that day - and the forecast for the weekend was predicted to be nothing short of spectacular.
As I've said above, I've had to deal with all sorts of weather curveballs - from a near washout at Dover AFB with warm temperatures, to washout-threatening weather at Andrews AFB, one good day at Rhode Island and Binghamton, the stench in Atlantic City, the decent weather of New Garden and Ocean City (NJ), the wind/fog/haze at Jones Beach, one good day at MCAS Miramar, the overcast at Greenwood Lake, and the cold/wind/rain at NAS Oceana. I needed Pensacola to have perfect weather, and that's what was on order. There was a little breeze each day, but for the most part, any clouds that appeared were of the high cirrus type. It was a near match to the perfect weather that was at Langley AFB back in April - only this time the temperatures were on the comfortable side. There was no signs of flooding from Ida and no signs that Ida left any mark on Pensacola - at least in the areas I drove through.
This airshow report will focus mostly on the Blue Angels, but I would like to make an honorable mention to the Aerostars, whom I had seen for the first time in Pensacola. The team flies three Yakovlev Yak-52s, but in reality, these are the Yak-52TW, which is the tail wheel version of the Yak-52. The Aerostars fly a graceful formation routine that features quite a bit of formation work, in addition to the two wingmen splitting off for some opposing passes. While the Yak-52/Yak-52TW is not a loud aircraft, it is a nimble aerobatic platform and suits the team well. They even have a night show performance, which is flown around sunset, and features the same performance in the daytime, only with the smoke system illuminated. You'll see them in different airshows across the country, but most likely in and near the Midwest, as the team is based in Wisconsin.
I should take into account that both Skip Stewart and Patty Wagstaff were in attendance, and in addition to their solo aerobatic performances, teamed up with Kent Shockley in the Shockwave Jet Truck and Rich's Incredible Pyro for a new version of Tinstix of Dynamite. Tinstix combines both pilots with the jet truck and the pyro so that SOMETHING is happening in front of you, whether it be on the ground or in the air. The original plans for the new Tinstix was to have Skip flying with Jurgis Kairys, similar to when Jurgis flew with the late Jim LeRoy, but Jurgis' schedule prevented him from flying many shows in the United States, so Patty Wagstaff was called upon to fly with Skip. You'll want to see this act when it is put through its first full airshow season next year. In addition, David Martin, Jan Collmer, Otto the Helicopter, and Kent Pietsch rounded out the solo aerobatic performances. Kent Pietsch flew three times on Friday and twice on Saturday only because there was no Super Hornet demonstration on Friday (see below). Instead, Kent flew his deadstick act, which the airshow had not originally scheduled, and placed the spinner of the Jelly Belly Interstate Cadet in the hand of Rob Reider, who was announcing that weekend. It was definitely nice to see his deadstick act from the altitude he normally starts it, rather than the 1,000 feet he had at NAS Oceana earlier in the year.
Military demonstrations were provided by an F-16 Fighting Falcon from the Viper West Demonstration Team and by an F/A-18F Super Hornet from VFA-106. The Super Hornet demonstration only occurred on Saturday, due to the remnants of Ida plus another weather system causing havoc in Virginia Beach and all over the east coast. Shore areas were hit hard and much worse than when the storm hit the Gulf Coast areas. Major David "Booster" Graham flew three great Viper demonstrations over the weekend, joining up with Tom Gregory flying a P-47 Thunderbolt for a Heritage Flight. I had never seen Tom Gregory fly in any Heritage Flight and thought it would be fitting that I see him fly the last Heritage Flight I would ever see, thinking the program would be cut in 2010. However, I was misinformed, and there will be Heritage Flights in 2010. There was no Legacy Flight, even though Rich Sugden did fly in his FJ-4B Fury and kept it on static display until he left on Saturday morning. From what I was told by announcer Rob Reider, the flight that the Fury had when it arrived into NAS Pensacola was only the second time it had flown since it was involved in a belly landing one year ago at NAS Pensacola (which I did get on video, and there is a picture on Airliners.net of the landing). I should also note that the GEICO Skytypers also flew in the show, having the chance to do some skytyping each day, and the American flag was brought in each morning by the Emerald Coast Skydivers, who are based in Alabama.
The Blue Angels typically end the show season at their home base of NAS Pensacola, and this year's Homecoming show had something special in store for everyone in attendance. It was announced earlier in the year that Fat Albert, the support C-130 Hercules for the Blues, would not be performing any JATO takeoffs beyond the 2009 airshow season. The reasons behind this move was the rapidly declining supply of JATO bottles, which have been long out of production and are not going to be produced again, and the reduced Navy budget in FY2010. In addition, JATO has become obsolete, especially since more and more C-130Js are coming online. The J-model Hercules is capable of taking off in the same space as a JATO-equipped C-130E/H and capable of climbing at almost the same attitude. Select show sites got one JATO while others, for some reason, got two JATO shots (for instance, MCAS Miramar got a JATO shot for their Saturday night show as well as one for the Sunday show). The Blue Angels Homecoming Airshow would play host to the last two JATO shots, taking place during the Friday and Saturday shows. Unfortunately, neither JATO shot would take place during the cover of darkness. All three days that the Blues flew featured high shows, with Thursday's rehearsal day practice featured one of the solos dropping out of the show to solve a minor problem - he missed only one maneuver and rejoined the show mere minutes later. Throughout the three days, the Blues were at their top form, and they should be, considering it is the end of the season. If you want to see the best of the Blues' shows, go to their Homecoming show.
Speaking of practices, there is usually a practice on Wednesday mornings. Because of Ida, the practice was moved up to 2:00 pm that day, meaning that if I had no delays in my travels, I would make it to the practice. Sadly, I did have delays, but still pulled into the parking lot and got out of the car when the six jets took to the skies. The practice show was very well attended, with at least 1,000 people watching from several bleachers set up along the National Museum of Naval Aviation's flight line and in the grass. It had a completely different atmosphere and to me, seemed very relaxed. There was no rush to get certain shots, since everyone was at far show right, and the fact that practices happen every Tuesday and Wednesday between April and November.
Overall, I absolutely enjoyed my Pensacola trip and will definitely be back again, but I couldn't tell you when. I'd like to check out Aviation Nation at Nellis AFB in November of 2010, which takes place the same weekend as Homecoming, but if plans for Nellis/Aviation Nation fall through, you can bet there is a pretty good chance that I will return to Florida in November. It was bittersweet seeing the last JATO on November 14, 2009, but know that the Blues have something good in store for the Fat Albert show for years to come.
Military Demonstration Teams
US Navy Blue Angels
Military Aircraft Demonstrations
F-16 Fighting Falcon West Demo Team
F/A-18F Super Hornet Demonstration - VFA-106
Aerobatic Performances, Warbird Performances, and Others
Patty Wagstaff *
Skip Stewart *
Emerald Coast Skydivers
Otto the Helicopter
Shockwave Jet Truck *
USAF Heritage Flight
* Will perform together in a new Tinstix act