|Flying through the Golden Gate|
October in San Francisco means clear skies and warm days. We generally get ripped off during the real summer months of June through August. This summer seemed even worse than most. I’m not sure I saw the sun more than a few hours a day – if at all – in August. But then came October, and with it the Blue Angles.
There is no more spectacular place to watch those aeronautical stuntmen than over the San Francisco Bay and in and out of the surrounding city and hills. When it is as hot and clear as it was this past weekend, all the better.
The last, and only time I ever saw the Blue Angles up-close was about thirty years ago. At the time, the Alameda Naval Air Station was still up and running, and that’s where the boys parked those beautiful blue and gold jets. I was lucky enough to be in the tower one year when they cleared the F/A 18’s for take-off, and watched in awe as they launched into action over the San Francisco Bay and skyline. Even luckier, I went to the show with Navy friends who got me onto the restricted area where they coordinate the show.
I haven’t always been in the Bay Area for Fleet Week and the years that I was, just never got around to making the trip over across the bay. Who honestly wants to deal with a million people cramming into the city to view the air spectacle? I’ve tried to watch it from the East Bay, where it is possible to see the tiny specs performing maneuvers. But it lacks the thrill of having your body rumbled from the vibrations, and your heart skip a beat when the ear-shattering sound of a plane sneaks up from behind you.
|Patriot Jet Team|
Of the three days the Angles were to perform, Sunday was to be the hottest. I made my plan, packed water and camera, and set off on BART for the short journey under the bay. I got onto a fairly empty train that picked up a few more people until we arrived at the transfer station. From there on in, it was sardine travel. Rather hellish, hot, with nowhere to get a secure grip. But if those families with their little ones could survive the short trip, so could I.
Popping out from the underground station on to Market Street turned out to be quite a surprise. It was hot. Well, San Francisco hot, but perfect for me. I walked down to the Ferry Building that sits on the bay, stopped in to buy a cup of coffee, and set off down The Embarcadero, on my way towards Fisherman’s Warf. It’s a bit of a walk, but I was early for the Blue Angles show and also wanted to scope out possible viewing areas. Normally, I would have taken one of the classic electric cars that San Francisco has purchased form around the world, refurbished, and put into use, but not today.
As I strolled along the wide boulevard, I could see an earlier act plying its trade above the City. A red biplane plane flew straight up, stalled, then spiraled down before the pilot kicked the plane back into an ascent. Young and old alike stopped to gaze up at the death-defying acts circling above our heads.
Past all the Piers that now serve as a variety of business besides the shipping trades, I meandered on until I got to the old part of Fisherman’s Warf; the part that I remember as a child. I noticed that the crowds had increased. If I walked much further, I’d end up at Marina Green where it would be the most crowded.
I ducked down a few alleyways I had never been on before, and eventually found myself on a well, reconstructed pier, with a restaurant on one side. Surely, I must be in an off-limits zone, but I saw no sign, and no one stopped me. I rounded the corner and found myself at the back of the restaurant and smack-dab on the bay itself. There was even a bit of shade which, at that point, I desperately needed.
A few others were there. One local family told me they had known exactly where to go and had mapped it out in advance. The other folks I talked to had, like me, stumbled upon this primo venue.
I got cool in the shade, pulled out the camera with the long-ish lens, drank a bottle of water, and got ready.
First up came the Patriots Jet Team, a civilian-owned, aerobatic jet team, in their shiny black jets and colorful exhaust trails.
Then it was time for Team Oracle’s red biplane to loop up and down and mesmerize the crowd.
If anyone had told me that I would enjoy the sight of a massive Triple-7 over the bay, I would have laughed. And I would have been wrong. There was something quite special about United’s Boeing 777, which seemed to glide across the bay and perform a delicate dance in the sky. I swear I couldn’t even hear it, which seems odd. Perhaps because it was in sharp contrast to the Patriots Jets.
Next up came Fat Albert, the Blue Angles C-130 transport plane, and everyone knew the Big Show was about to begin.
First you hear them, then you see them; Blue Angles speeding low across the bay and shooting up into the sky. Just as quickly they disappear out of sight. You search the skies when suddenly one streaks across the bay, barely above the waterline. And just when you think you have an idea of their next move and where to point the camera, they trick you again. You’re left laughing and jumping up and down with the sheer excitement and thrill of it all.
For about forty minutes, almost everything stops in San Francisco, and all eyes are on the jets. The Blue Angles fly in and out of the city, not just above they bay, and I would love to be up on the rooftop of a tall building when the sweep through. Maybe next year.
It had been a fantastic day and I didn’t even mind the sardine-travel home. Everyone was smiling and happy. We need more days like this!