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Fleet Week

Started: 2021-11-07 16:26:19

Submitted: 2021-11-07 20:01:46

Visibility: World-readable

Featuring the Blue Angels

Every fall San Francisco hosts Fleet Week. Five years ago I took Calvin to see USS San Diego and returned the next day to see the air show, though it appears that I only took pictures and neglected to blog about it. Last year the whole thing was canceled because reasons; this year the city and the Navy decided, cautiously, to go ahead with the event, presumably on the theory that the enough people were vaccinated and the event was mostly outdoors anyway.

On Saturday morning, the 9th of October, we drove from Santa Cruz to Daly City BART station, where we caught a "fleet of the future" train northbound into San Francisco. It was the first time I'd been on BART in two years, as the transit agency continues to ramp up service after the pandemic. (In the photo below, Calvin is sitting behind me, but I couldn't get a good shot of all four of us.)

Julian, Kiesa, and Jaeger on BART
Julian, Kiesa, and Jaeger on BART

We rode BART to Embarcadero Station, then joined the crowd walking north along both sides of the waterfront boulevard towards the air show. We were walking when the air show officially began at noon, with a parachute team that I could barely see somewhere over Telegraph Hill, followed by a United Airlines 777-300 flying low over the water then banking and turning; I could barely see it through the gaps in the building as the crowd moved towards the show.

Kiesa, Julian, and Calvin walk down the Embarcadero to Fleet Week
Kiesa, Julian, and Calvin walk down the Embarcadero to Fleet Week

At Pier 37, we passed a long queue of people waiting to visit the US Navy ships berthed at the pier. On the far side of the pier I saw USS Michael Monsoor, a DDG 1000-class guided missile destroyer distinctive for its sharp angles to help reduce its radar signature.

We passed Pier 39 and stopped at the first good spot to see the air show: on the pier behind the Ferry Arch, where there was a reasonable space we could occupy on the railing with a narrow but clear view of the bay ahead of us.

Julian and Calvin watch the fleet week air show
Julian and Calvin watch the fleet week air show

The Ferry Arch in front of us was a historical relic from the era before the Golden Gate Bridge when car ferries crossed the bay to Marin County and beyond; but to our right were berths where modern ferries docked, mostly on tourist excursions around the bay (with some space still available for the ferry trip that would be out in the bay when the Blue Angels performed later). While we were watching the air show the SF Bay Ferry Peralta steamed into view and docked to our right.

SF Bay Ferry Peralta
SF Bay Ferry Peralta

The air show featured a kind-of-random assortment of aircraft flying various patterns over the bay. Their air routines were centered around Marina Green, a mile to the west, but we could see the aircraft as they flew loops around the bay.

Coast Guard MH-65 helicopter #6542 flies over Alcatraz
Coast Guard MH-65 helicopter #6542 flies over Alcatraz

The Air Force sent a C-17 from the 437th Operational Group to fly loops around the bay, showing off its maneuverability while I tried to explain to Calvin the operational posture of the C-17 cargo aircraft.

Crowd watches C-17
Crowd watches C-17

The Navy showed a side-by-side comparison of the new P-8 following the older EP-3 surveillance aircraft, making explicit the metaphor that the new aircraft is following and replacing the older aircraft.

P-8 follows EP-3 at Fleet Week
P-8 follows EP-3 at Fleet Week

I am not actually sure who the Patriots Jet Team is (except that I remember seeing them at my previous Fleet Week airshow five years ago), but they showed up and flew in formation over the bay, trailing red, white, and blue smoke.

Patriots Jet Team over the bay
Patriots Jet Team over the bay

At a break in the action a flock of pelicans staged their own flight, taking off over the bay in one long formation. Not to be left out, the seagulls staged strafing passes on the crowd searching for snacks (they were not disciplined enough to hold the formations of the better-trained pelicans), and a pair of tactical assault pigeons buzzed us on their way to look for crumbs elsewhere.

Pelicans fly in formation over the bay at Fleet Week
Pelicans fly in formation over the bay at Fleet Week

From where I stood on the edge of the bay, I could see scores of small boats clustered in the bay, lined up along a exclusion zone in the middle of the bay to leave a clear path for aircraft making low passes across the water. At one point I saw a small service boat take another boat under tow. Throughout the day I could see the Coast Guard paroling the exclusion zone.

Coast Guard cutter Hawksbill patrols Fleet Week
Coast Guard cutter Hawksbill patrols Fleet Week

The Air Force sent Major Garret Schmitz in an F-16C. This was the first loud fighter jet (even the Patriots Jet Team had been relatively restrained), and gave the Air Force a chance to show off their plane before the Blue Angels took to the sky.

F-16 demo at Fleet Week
F-16 demo at Fleet Week

It seemed that just about every boat or ship anywhere in the bay that could steam under its own power was in the middle of the bay. I could see, far out in the bay in the general vicinity of Angel Island, SS Jeremiah O'Brien, embarked with passengers from San Francisco. I also saw, from its home berth in Oakland, Potomac, steaming across the bay.

Potomac steams past Alcatraz
Potomac steams past Alcatraz

The United Airlines 777-300 I'd seen earlier returned late in the show, flying a lazy figure-eight pattern above the bay. (According to Flight Aware, it had spent the intervening several hours since its appearance early in the show flying a holding pattern over the Pacific Ocean, just in front of the Golden Gate.)

Crowd watches United 777-300 at Fleet Week
Crowd watches United 777-300 at Fleet Week

The massive commercial airliner, the largest aircraft in United's fleet, flew straight over Marina Green before climbing and banking over the Marina District and the Presidio to return to the (where I could finally get a good view of it); then repeated the pattern several times, sometimes with its landing gear retracted and other times with the landing gear deployed.

United 777-300 over Alcatraz
United 777-300 over Alcatraz

The penultimate act was Fat Albert, the opening act for the Blue Angels. Painted in the same colors, but operated by a Marine pilot, Fat Albert is a C-130, almost entirely unlike the F-18 aircraft flown by the main Blue Angels team.

Fat Albert banks over the bay
Fat Albert banks over the bay

Then the Blue Angels took to the sky.

Blue Angels fly in formation above the bay
Blue Angels fly in formation above the bay

Earlier in the air show, Julian had gotten bored squinting at the planes overhead, so Kiesa took him to a nearby park in North Beach. I had brought ear protection for Julian on the assumption he'd probably want it, but he wasn't yet wearing it when the Blue Angels came screaming overhead, engines running full-blast in shock-and-awe mode. Julian was not prepared, and was rather upset until Kiesa managed to deploy the ear protection.

Crowd watches Blue Angels at Fleet Week
Crowd watches Blue Angels at Fleet Week

I am reliably informed that the Blue Angels set off all of the car alarms in North Beach in the first few minutes of the show. By the time the show was over I assume they had set off every car alarm north of Market Street, along with a good section of Soma.

Blue Angels fly in formation with landing gear deployed
Blue Angels fly in formation with landing gear deployed

The Blue Angels flew in so many formations I couldn't keep track of them all, flying back and forth across the bay and favoring dramatic entrances from stage right, over my right shoulder, appearing first in the sky over the ferries docked at the wharf, then screaming across the bay, often meeting another group of aircraft entering stage left.

Blue Angels fly in formation above Fisherman's Wharf
Blue Angels fly in formation above Fisherman's Wharf

This is my favorite picture I took of the Blue Angels, flying in a tight formation, just far enough apart that their smoke trails remain distinct as the aircraft scream across the bay.

Blue Angels fly in formation
Blue Angels fly in formation

Among the things that impressed me with the flying display was the way the aircraft would turn while in formation, as if controlled by a single point, all turning around the same common reference, which meant that the planes were not just turning on the arc but also moving with respect to the other planes in formation.

Blue Angels leave a trail of smoke above the bay
Blue Angels leave a trail of smoke above the bay

Towards the end of the show there was so much smoke in the sky above the bay that it began to look like the end of a fireworks show, obscuring the aircraft as they banked and turned in tight formation.

Blue Angels diamond formation over the bay
Blue Angels diamond formation over the bay

I don't know what this formation is called, but it reminds me of a Buddha's Hand.

Blue Angels dive with smoke
Blue Angels dive with smoke

And then, after entertaining and amazing us in the sky over San Francisco Bay for more than half an hour, the Blue Angels turned to the west and flew off into the sun.

Blue Angels fly off into the sun
Blue Angels fly off into the sun

After the air show Calvin and I walked back along the Embarcadero and met Kiesa and Julian at Embarcadero Station. We too BART to the Mission, where we ate dosa for supper at Udupi Palace. This was our first time eating indoors in San Francisco after the city instituted its vaccine mandate for indoor dining. Before we sat down Kiesa and I showed our vaccine records on our phones. It was a little weird to sit and eat indoors after so long, but it also felt so very normal.

We took BART back to Daly City, then drove home to Santa Cruz.

I took a bunch of pictures at Fleet Week, more than I can show above. They're all here: Photos on 2021-10-09.

There are a few acceptable redhead jokes. There's nothing wrong with
inspiring fear and trembling in the hearts of men.
- Gem Stone-Logan, 15 October 2002