Tag Archives: Blue Angels

The Skies are Alive with the Sound of Airplanes

This past weekend the skies above my part of Texas were full of vintage airplanes as part of the annual Wings over Houston airshow.

The airshow, which takes place at Ellington Field Airport, allows visitors the chance to see planes up close and personal while thinking back to an age where air power involved actual pilots and crew risking their lives for freedom and not some pilotless drone or guided missile.

Nothing against pilotless drones and guided missiles but few can argue that the amount of sacrifice is the same compared to the risks taken by aviators of the past.

Airshows, such as Wings over Houston, allow visitors the chance to see planes from many eras of aviation in action. Photo R. Anderson

Airshows, such as Wings over Houston, allow visitors the chance to see planes from many eras of aviation in action.
Photo R. Anderson

I was given the opportunity to cover the “dress rehearsal” of the airshow as a reporter the first year I lived in Texas and have attended several years since as a spectator.

Covering the airshow as a reporter allowed me the opportunity to “hire” my dad for the day as a photographer. My dad is the type who will stick his head out the window while driving to look at a plane overhead so I figured the opportunity for him to see the planes up close without being behind the wheel was a win/win for everyone, especially the other motorists.

Plus, I was able to use some of his pictures in the paper which in turn made him a “professional” photographer.

Although I was only a member of the airshow press corp one time, I still made my way back to the airshow to take in the sights and the sounds. Each year I attend as a spectator includes a walk through the static aircraft displays as well as a smoked turkey leg from the vendor area. I am not sure why it is but turkey legs just taste better with the smell of jet fuel in the air.

Each time I attend gives me something new to see and enjoy and made it hard to not feel a little more patriotic and aware of the sacrifices made by all of those soldiers who came before us to give us the freedom to among other things attend airshows.

Another neat thing about the airshow is that since the planes can be seen for miles in the air one does not necessarily need to purchase a ticket to see them. Granted, the ticketed experience provides much more including access to those aforementioned turkey legs but there are plenty of spots to just pull over to the side of the road and catch the show for free.

Aside from planes in the sky visitors can reach out and touch planes on the ground such as this cargo plane on display during the 2009 Wings over Houston airshow. Photo R. Anderson

Aside from planes in the sky visitors can reach out and touch planes on the ground such as this cargo plane on display during the 2009 Wings over Houston airshow.
Photo R. Anderson

After years of being a paying customer I decided to join the ranks of the roadside viewers this year to see what their experience was like. I must admit that my roadside vantage point allowed me great access to see the planes in the sky and also included several planes flying directly above me.

Of course, this year the airshow was limited to non-active duty aircraft due to the sequestration. So instead of seeing the Navy’s Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Team carve the sky with precision, attendees were treated to the acrobatics of a plane painted to look like the lead character in the movie “Planes.”

But even without the Blues the show must go on and from what I could tell the show was filled with the same intensity as prior years.

Tora! Tora! Tora!, the reenactment of the attack on Pearl Harbor (minus the ships) is a fan favorite each year and features dogfights in the air and explosions on the ground. Photo R. Anderson

Tora! Tora! Tora!, the reenactment of the attack on Pearl Harbor (minus the ships) is a fan favorite each year and features dogfights in the air and explosions on the ground.
Photo R. Anderson

There were simulated bombing runs made by vintage World War II era bombers, aerial acrobatics demonstrations and of course the always popular “Tora! Tora! Tora!” reenactment of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

My grandfather survived the attack on Pearl Harbor so the reenactment holds a special place for me but even those with no connection to the attack other than being an American should be moved by the great bravery and sacrifices made by those young men and women who were thrust into that attack on that most infamous of days 62 years ago.

While the weather was perfect Saturday a soggy morning of rain washed out many of the scheduled events Sunday.

Aside from dealing with weather issues on Sunday, the airshow community was also dealing with a tragic loss. A couple of days before the airshow a pilot and passenger of a plane scheduled to perform at the airshow were killed in a crash near the coast.

During the show a missing man formation was flown in honor of those who died but the crash showed the inherent risk associated with keeping any plane, let alone one 60 plus years old aloft.

I often wonder if Orville and Wilber Wright could have fathomed what their December 17, 1903 flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina would usher in over the next 100 or so years.

Watching the various bombers and other planes overhead during the airshow it is hard to believe that a little over a century ago man’s feet were mostly tethered to the ground in terms of the ability to sustain powered flight.

So while there will always be an inherent risk to pilots and spectators alike during airshows they serve an important place in inspiring future generations while paying tribute to the generations that have gone before.

After missing an entire year of performances due to the sequestration the Navy flight demonstration team known as the Blue Angels will return to action in 2014. AMong the stops on their 2014 schedule is a return to Houston next November. Photo R. Anderson

After missing an entire year of performances due to the sequestration the Navy flight demonstration team known as the Blue Angels will return to action in 2014. Among the stops on their 2014 schedule is a return to Houston next November.
Photo R. Anderson

So if you have never had the opportunity to see an airshow up close and in person I highly recommend that everyone see at least one show from either the grandstands or a nice comfortable chair on the roadside.

Speaking of airshows to attend, next year’s Wings over Houston would certainly make for a good show to catch as it was announced at the end of this year’s show that the Blues would return to the skies over Houston next year.

I have had the fortune to see the Blue Angels perform several times in both Florida and Texas and certainly look forward to seeing them again next year as they never disappoint.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I hear a plane flying overhead.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

The First Cut is the Deepest; Blues Get Grounded

Yesterday it was announced that the Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Team had become the latest casualty of the budget cuts resulting from the sequestration.

Several Blue Angels shows and public practices had already been cancelled, so the decision to cancel the remaining schedule for the 2013 performance year did not come completely out of the blue.  The federal fiscal year ends in September and it was originally thought that the Blue Angels would return to the sky at that time but that seems unlikely with the time needed to prepare for shows.

The Blue Angels perform during the Wings Over Houston Airshow. Photo R. Anderson

The Blue Angels perform during the Wings Over Houston Airshow.
Photo R. Anderson

It should be noted that the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds have also had their season cancelled as part of the sequestration. While the grounding of the Thunderbirds is equally bad, as the grandson of a Pearl Harbor Navy veteran, I do tend to lean a little more towards the Navy’s Blue Angels grounding being more of a loss.

I have been fortunate enough to see the Blue Angels perform on several occasions and have also been to their home base at NAS Pensacola a few times.

As anyone who has stopped at the Interstate 10 Florida Welcome Center knows there is also a Blue Angel jet display to welcome travelers to the birthplace of Naval aviation. So the Blue Angels are kind of a big deal in the Sunshine State as well as throughout the country.

Each time I see them take to the skies it is as impressive as the first time.  There is something to be said for the skill that it takes to harness that much power from a fighter jet and make it do things that it normally would not do. Add to the mix the degree of difficulty of having another plane inches off of your wing tip and it becomes even more impressive.

The Blue Angels perform a Diamond formation during the Wings Over Houston Air Show. Photo R. Anderson

The Blue Angels perform a Diamond formation during the Wings Over Houston Air Show.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course, fans of air shows are far from the only people feeling the budget pinch. The National Park Service also has to make due with less funding.

During my recent road trip I spent time at Fort Pickens National Park outside of Pensacola, FL. As the name would suggest there is a fort at Fort Pickens National Park. What the name fails to imply is that the fort and related batteries and bunkers are surrounded by miles of pristine beaches.

Whenever I am in that area of Florida I always try to spend a few hours at the shoreline. While the beach was still sugary white, the water was still deep blue, and the scallops and periwinkles were still plentiful I couldn’t help but notice that there was a little more trash on the beach than usual.

A trip to the restroom also revealed a lack of paper towels.

It turned out that the trash cleanup and maintenance that was previously being done daily was now occurring less frequently due to lack of resources and manpower related to the sequestration.

The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds are grounded due to budget cuts. Photo R. Anderson

The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds are grounded due to budget cuts.
Photo R. Anderson

While I only saw the effects at a single National Park I am sure that is the case across the country throughout the National Parks System.

I do not want to give the impression that there were mounds of trash or other unsightliness at the beach. It was just noticeable that certain items were not being handled in the same manner that I had grown used to seeing.

The Park Service has a long history of making due with limited resources and I am sure the thousands of Park Rangers and volunteers will continue to do an excellent job of educating visitors and preserving the Nation’s treasures even during these tough economic times.

The Blue Angels will be staying grounded at Pensacola Navel Air Station for the remainder of the year. Photo R. Anderson

The Blue Angels will be staying grounded at Pensacola Navel Air Station for the remainder of the year.
Photo R. Anderson

While I agree that items such as performing at air shows and daily trash pickup at National Parks do not have the same priority as ensuring that there are enough police on the street, it is hard to fathom how they would face such deep cutbacks leading into the busiest times of the year for both.

The Thunderbirds and Blue Angels are each used as promotion tools for their respective branches of the armed forces and the peak of the air show season is the spring and summer months.

While very few people who see a flight demonstration will grow up to fly those planes, they may still have their interest sparked in a way that leads them to other areas of the armed forces in support of their country.

Like the F-18 Hornets, Fat Albert, the Blue Angels' logistics plane is also grounded due to budget cuts. Photo R. Anderson

Like the F-18 Hornets, Fat Albert, the Blue Angels’ logistics plane is also grounded due to budget cuts.
Photo R. Anderson

The same is true for the National Parks. Generations of people have made visiting the National Parks part of family traditions with most of those trips occurring in the summer when school is out.

Now I am not saying that overflowing trash cans will make people less likely to visit the parks this year and in the future, but, I struggle to see how the parks and monuments could be allowed to be in those positions simply because Congress could not agree on overall spending levels.

When the sequestration was first proposed it was meant to be such a poison pill that no rational member of Congress would allow it to pass.

For the rest of the year the rotunda at the National Aviation Museum in Pensacola, FL. is the only place to see the Blue Angels. Photo R. Anderson

For the rest of the year the rotunda at the Navy Aviation Museum in Pensacola, FL. is the only place to see the Blue Angels.
Photo R. Anderson

Unfortunately it appears that the rational people were off that day allowing the cuts that no one dreamed could ever become reality to take place.

The National Parks and the flight demonstration teams of the Navy and Air Force will certainly rise again allowing future generations to continue to enjoy them and realize what a National Treasure they truly are.

They just have to find a way to muddle through the rest of the fiscal year first.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go see if Pensacola Wings of Gold has been released on DVD yet.

Copyright 2013 R Anderson