There are a number of jet display teams that are operated by militaries around the world. Private jet demo teams also exist although there are a lot less of them. The Aero Vodochody L39 Albatros is an airframe that has proved popular with private teams. In the Midwest, the Hoppers used to display with four jets while out west the Patriots team are a regular fixture. In Europe, the Breitling team has been around for a long time. I saw them when we still lived in the U.K. at a couple of shows but they decided to bring the team to the US for a couple of seasons.
My first chance to see them was at San Francisco Fleet Week. I didn’t have any expectations about how the show would be and I wasn’t super excited about seeing the team. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the show that they put on. The display was well planned and kept something going on in front of the crowd. The Albatros is not a powerful jet so they need to manage the energy well to keep the display going and they did this effectively. The backdrop of the bay was obviously a good addition to the display. They did combine the individual jets with the formation jets well. They also made good use of flares at one point during the vertical maneuvers. That is something you don’t see enough these days. Sadly, it doesn’t always translate as well on photos as it appeared when you are seeing the display.
I don’t know what the plan is for the team this year but I imagine they will need to go back to Europe at some point. Two years away must have been an expensive proposition and means they will not have made any appearances over there. Maybe they will be here again but I can’t count on it. I think they are done. Good job though.
The Fleet Week air show in San Francisco is wrapped up by the Blue Angels. The sneak passes made by the pair are an opportunity to try and get something interesting. Since they display over the bay and the city is known for having high relative humidity, I am always hoping to get some good vapor shots. This time out, that wasn’t to be. The air seemed to be pretty dry and there was not a lot of vapor on show. However, the fast pass from left to right takes the jet in front of the hills and Alcatraz which provides some detail to show up the distortion caused by the shock-waves. The large number of boats and associated masts meant a clean shot was tricky but I got a couple I was pleased with.
This United 747 was flying over the Bay during the Fleet Week display as I posted about in this post. One thing that was very obvious as the aircraft was put through its paces by the crew was that the number two engine seemed to be burning a lot cleaner than the other three. You wouldn’t pay much attention to the exhaust of a jet except when there is a clear discrepancy and, in this case, the number two was so obviously less smoky, I noticed. Maybe it was fresh from overhaul.
Air shows include a lot of planes that are regular performers. However, some shows manage to include something a little different and having a big airline with a local hub will help. The Chicago Air and Water Show would feature American Airlines jets when I lived there. San Francisco Fleet Week gets United to bring a jet. This year they brought a 747-400 to the flying display. Seeing a big jet like this thrown around the bay is really cool. Whether it is flying low over the bay or turning in near the Golden Gate Bridge, this is something you don’t get to see too often.
During the Parade of Ships for San Francisco Fleet Week, the first warship was led by a fireboat from the City. It sprayed water from its hoses to provide a focal point to the parade. As it got closer to us, the angle of the light and the mist from the fire hoses resulted in a clear rainbow forming in front of the fireboat. It looked pretty cool and I am not sure the photos really do it justice. However, here is a shot to show you pretty much what we saw.
The Leap Frogs are a parachute display team from the Seals. I have seen them a few times at shows in the Midwest – sometimes working with the Golden Knights of the US Army. During Fleet Week the Leap Frogs jumped to open the main part of the air show. On the day I went, they jumped from Fat Albert, the C-130 of the Blue Angels. Apparently, they also used an Air National Guard C-130 over the weekend.
Their jump routine is pretty cool. They do a lot of coordinated work once under canopies. They make a cool four canopy stack which takes a while to form up but, when formed, looks neat. I just wish they would hold it until they were a bit lower. They also do a nice pairs arrangement where two jumpers hook legs and end up plummeting downwards breaking just in time to land. Always a good way to get the crowd on edge!
My shots of parachute teams have tended to get a bit samey over time but I still like getting some shots of them as you never know whether you will get a slightly different angle on something or that the lighting will show something special.
I have mentioned the LCS ship that was part of the Parade of Ships for Fleet Week. It was one of several warships to take part in the parade. Most were US Navy ships but there was also a Coast Guard ship and a visitor from the Royal Canadian Navy. They entered the bay under the Golden Gate Bridge before parading in front of the spectators arrayed along the shore and in the boats out on the water. The first ship was led by a fire boat that sprayed water from its cannons in greeting.
These pictures are a sample of the different ships that were on parade. Another warship was part of Fleet Week but it remained tied up during the parade which was a shame as I would liked to have seen it. You could tour it if you wanted but I had other plans that meant that wouldn’t work out.
As a small boy, my Gran would take me to Portsmouth each August for Navy Day. We would spend a day walking around the dockyard and getting on to various warships to see what they were like. This was a pretty big event and, in those days, the number of ships in port for those days is probably more than the Royal Navy has in total today. The result of this was an interest in an early day with warships. Growing up by the water meant that ships of all types were a regular feature of life.
Warship design underwent quite a transition. Traditionally, warships had been slender designs that achieved speed and supposedly provided the most stable ride. However, this was not an approach that was universally agreed and shorter broader designs started to gain favor. The Royal Navy’s Type 23 frigates were one of the first signs that Navy’s were taking new configurations seriously.
The US Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program has gone a stage further with one of the builders. There are two LCS designs in production and one of them has a narrow center hull and two additional outboard hulls further aft. This trimaran configuration provides slender hulls but with a lot of stability and the space for a large deck. One of the LCS ships was in San Francisco for Fleet Week and took part in the Parade of Ships.
USS Coronado (LCS-4) was the ship on display. She is the second of the General Dynamics – Bath Iron Works ships to be commissioned and entered service in 2014. As she entered the bay under the bridge she turned towards to city and you could get a good view (albeit at some distance) of the unusual hull shape. As she got closer, the view was more abeam the ship but you could still see the layout of the armaments. As she headed away, a view of the stern hinted at the hull layout but really emphasized the width of the deck.
The US Navy is currently reconsidering its needs and is looking for a frigate that is more heavily armed than the LCS designs but makes as much use of the hull designs as possible. We shall see how that all works out. In the meantime, this is one of the more unusual shapes afloat. The Zumwalt destroyer is even more unusual so I shall have to try and see that at some point too.
You don’t often get to see an airliner maneuvering at low level. They tend to be up and away or approaching to land in a stable configuration. Each year at Fleet Week, united bring one of their airliners as part of the air show and it gets to be thrown around the bay, if not with abandon, at least with more vigor than is the norm for an airliner. In the past, the 747 has been the display aircraft of choice. Since I have been here, they have been using the 757.
The bay provides a nice backdrop for any display but one that uses a big airplane is well suited to the area since they have to maintain a reasonable distance from the shore at all times unless they are climbing out over the crowd. A combination of clean passes and gear and flaps deployed passes made for some good variety and some aggressive climb outs at high power and low weight were nice. Watching the plane turn over the Marin side of the bay was also pretty cool.
This may not be the most dynamic of air show performances but it has a novelty factor that makes it worth seeing and it certainly brought some variety to the show on the day. I’m just glad I got to see it this year. Last year they displayed on the day I was there but the low cloud base meant that we mainly heard them above the clouds but saw very little.
I have seen a large number of displays by the Blue Angels over the years. Their display is a good one generally (although the ground portion is a little time consuming in my opinion). The sequence does not vary much from year to year but it works well enough so that is probably no big surprise. One of the fun parts is the sneak passes. The four ship head off in one direction to distract you and a solo jet streaks in from the left at low level and high speed. This catches a lot of people by surprise.
Just as everyone is getting over this, the other solo jet does something similar from crowd rear to make you all jump again. The displays that are held over water provide an added option for the first sneak pass. With no obstacles, the aircraft can end up very close to the water. This makes things look even more impressive. Also, the high speeds can result in some impressive vapor formations in the shock waves.
The Fleet Week display on the Friday had great weather conditions but, surprisingly for the Bay Area, the humidity levels were not terribly high. Consequently, while the sneak pass had its usual surprise impact, it did not result in any vapor on the jet. The upside of this was that the optical distortion caused by the shock waves was visible in some shots when a reasonable amount of background was included. Not what I was aiming for but not a bad alternative.