The Blue Angels wowed the crowd at Pensacola Beach on Thursday with a 45-minute practice ahead of their dress rehearsal Friday and air show Saturday.
Although a practice show, the Blues still drew big crowds, with the Casino Beach parking lot filling to capacity by 11 a.m. Thursday morning.
Thousands of Blues fans packed the beach, although the crowd is expected to be larger for the Friday and Saturday events.
Terry Hyndes, manager of Airware Inc., a company that sells Blue Angels merchandise at almost all of the Blue Angels’ shows across the country, judged the crowd a little lower than the Thursday show last year.
Hyndes attributed that to the Thursday show last year being two days after the Fourth of July.
“Compared to two years ago, I think this is better,” Hyndes said.
Hyndes has been selling Blue Angels merchandise since 1985. Before that he was in the Navy and was a crew chief for the flight demonstration team.
Airware designs a new shirt every year for the Pensacola Beach Air Show and Hyndes said that shirt had been the bestseller all day.
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Not far away from Airware’s tent, where cashiers were busy selling Blue Angels shirts and hats, was the Gulfside Pavilion where a group of Blues fans had filled the shaded spot before the show.
Norvelle Sawyer, of Pensacola, had a prime seat upfront in the pavilion and had arrived there at about 10 a.m.
Sawyer said he usually attends Blues shows at Pensacola Naval Air Station but came out to the beach show Thursday to beat the weekend crowds.
“The Blue Angels, they’re always great,” he said.
The Blues began their practice just after 2 p.m. to cheers from the crowd as they pulled off maneuvers like the Diamond Roll, Diamond Dirty Loop and Double Farvel.
Shortly after the practice ended, the beach started to clear out, but many families stuck around to enjoy sunny 91-degree temperatures and the calm Gulf of Mexico waters.
There is a dress rehearsal scheduled for Friday with civilian air show acts beginning at noon, and the Blue Angels taking to the skies at 2 p.m.
Saturday’s air show will follow the same schedule.
A veteran of Blue Angels air shows, Hyndes had a simple tip for spectators planning to make the trek to Pensacola Beach in the coming days: Get out there early.