||Where We Live
by Steve Carr
Our Blue Angels
It’s like watching the gods play with their toys
My home is located on a high cliff overlooking the Severn River and the Naval Academy. That means I’m at ground zero when the Blue Angels air show comes to town each spring for the United States Naval Academy graduation.
For my neighbors and me, the Blue Angels is the big event of the year, sort of like the Preakness is for Baltimorons, only with heavily armed, supersonic jet aircraft. Every homeowner near the mouth of the river hosts lavish parties with fancy tents and catered buffets. The guests dress up, pretending that blue blazers and silk dresses best suit watching planes play chicken. Over at my place it’s pretty casual, with potluck, swim suits and buckets of beer and soda, sort of like the infield at Pimlico.
I am lucky that I have a ringside seat for one of the most thrilling spectacles on the earth. But there really isn’t a bad seat when it comes to watching F/A-18 Hornets go screaming by.
The show begins with Fat Albert. The multi-colored C-130 Hercules transport lumbers down the Severn, flying perilously between the lights of the Academy Bridge, then going into a 45-degree screeching climb in imitation of the approaching Angels. After that, it’s 30 minutes of choreographed chaos as the pilots do star bursts, death spirals, spinning loops, controlled stalls, flying upside down and sideways at about 500 miles an hour.
Blue exhaust trails drift like smoky tendrils in the air, and the local osprey, heron and seagulls are freaking out. It’s like watching the gods play with their toys.
Where you’re watching it from doesn’t matter because when those blue-and-gold beauties fly wing-to-wing — or come tearing down the river at one another only to veer away at the last second — you’re going to feel a rush of excitement whether you are standing in my back yard or driving over the Route 50 bridge on your way to get a root canal. That’s the neat thing about the show; the Angels are everywhere, seemingly at once, and right over your head, not way up high like usual. The combination of roaring jets and eye-popping speed will take your breath away.
In the old days, most people in Annapolis liked to watch the show from the water. The river was carpeted with boats large and small. The shows were much hairier then; the pilots flew a kamikaze style that would sometimes force you to close your eyes because you were sure they were going to collide, clip the bridge or hit the yellow poplar in my neighbor’s back yard.
Soon the lawyers and risk-management types got worried about what might happen if a plane crashed around all of those flammable boats. The Federal Aviation Administration studied the situation and decided that something needed to be done to ensure public safety. So they came up with the one-size-fits-all Aerial Box, a rather arbitrary area where no one is allowed because it is too dangerous. In theory, this is where the planes would most likely crash if something were to go wrong. The Box has pretty much eliminated as a viewing spot the water surrounding the Academy.
A few years ago, after an accident at an air show in Germany, the FAA expanded the aerial box to include parts of Farragut and Hospital Point fields at the Academy, along with some of the properties on my side of the river where, mind you, the owners had been watching the air show for years. Those folks were suddenly told they would have to vacate their properties for the show to go on.
I would suggest that there are no safe seats when war planes are zipping around at Mach One, doing deadly aerrobatic maneuvers in close proximity to one another. It is patently unsafe. And we spectators know that. That’s part of the fun and excitement.
The show ends with the final pass in review. All six Angels fly silently down the Severn, their wings only inches apart, passing proudly in front of the assembled dignitaries, the brigade of midshipman and their families and the people of Annapolis. It is their final salute to their alma mater, and I’m guessing they get a shiver of excitement up their own backs when they soar past Bancroft Hall and the place where they began their starry military careers.
The blue-and-gold Angels stay in formation as they fly over Annapolis harbor and head out toward the Bay. Still in tight formation, they turn south for a final sweep behind Annapolis. Then they head off to the distant horizon — until another May returns with lilacs, azaleas and the sound of roaring thunder.
The Blue Angels fly Wednesday, May 25.