Hundreds of Blue Angels fans gathered on Pensacola Beach early Wednesday as the elite Navy flight demolition team kicked off the annual Blue Angels Pensacola Beach Air Show.
“It’s absolutely amazing what they do. It makes you feel so proud and patriotic,” said Cindy Maxwell of Columbia, South Carolina.
Maxwell was with a group of friends and family who set up lawn chairs under the shade of the Casino Beach pavilion before 7 a.m.
The Blue Angels began flying at 8 a.m. and continued to streak over the beach for more than two hours. The show ended with a flyover by the team’s newly refurbished C-130 cargo jet, Fat Albert.
The annual Wednesday morning flyover, Breakfast with the Blues, marks the start of the week-long series of beach shows.
“Oh buddy, buddy look,” Jake De Bourge of Champaign, Illinois, shouted to his 6-year-old nephew, Aiden Markel, as two of the blue and gold F/A-18s flew low over the beach.
“I’ve seen them before but never in this environment, in their hometown. It’s fantastic,” De Bourge said.
His nephew agreed.
“They are really good,” he said, nodding enthusiastically.
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Lt. Joe Hontz, spokesman for the Pensacola Naval Air Station-based Blue Angels, said the local beach show is always a big event for the team.
During the week, the team interviews and selects new pilots and other officers for the 2018 show season. Hontz said team members also have many friends and family members in town for the show.
“It’s chaos, but it’s controlled chaos,” said Hontz, who watched the show from a platform on the beach with other members of the team.
Blue Angel pilots usually serve two-year tours with the team before returning to regular duty with the Navy and Marine Corps.
Wednesday’s show also included a flyover by three members of the Redline flight demonstration team. The team flew alongside two of the Blue Angels jets.
Hontz said the flyover was part of a “photo op” for the Redline pilots and the Blue Angels.
Many in the crowd on Wednesday said they plan to come back throughout the week to catch all of the shows.
“After today, we are going to take our boat though because the crowds get so big,” said Gary Hines of Gulf Breeze.
Tens of thousands of people are expected on Friday and Saturday, when the main beach parking lot usually fills and closes before 6 a.m.
Jonny and Jasmine Cook of Gulf Breeze said they decided to take their three young children, ages 8 months, 2 and 6, to the beach on Wednesday instead of trying to brave the crowds and the afternoon heat later in the week.
“We thought this setting would be a little more family friendly for the kids,” said Jonny Cook, a long-time Blue Angels fan.
“The beach show is a big deal for all of us in Gulf Breeze. I grew up with it and now my kids are out here,” he said as the family relaxed on a blanket.
Randy Renninger of Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania, sat in a beach chair nearby. Renninger said he comes to Pensacola Beach for vacation most years and loves to see the Blue Angels.
“I was out here at 6 a.m. to get a good spot,” he said.
Dave Greenwood, public safety director for the beach, said 22 lifeguards were on duty Wednesday. He said more than 50 lifeguards were scheduled to work on Friday and Saturday to help manage the large crowds.
Greenwood said the FAA requires people to be out of the water when the Blue Angels fly because the water is considered part of their restricted air space. Lifeguards repeatedly blew their whistles and ushered people out of the water Wednesday morning.
Greenwood said people get hot and want to cool off in the water during the show.
“It is excessively hot out here, people are walking in the sand and it is very easy to become dehydrated,” he said. “It’s important to hydrate and hydrate with water, not alcohol, because alcohol actually dehydrates you.”
Greenwood said sunscreen and water are keys to surviving the week.
The air show continues at 2 p.m. on Thursday with another flyover by the Blue Angels. The show will start at noon on Friday and Saturday with other acts performing before the Blue Angels fly at 2 p.m.