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Blue Angels Air Show on Pensacola Beach: What you need to know

Gary Biggs, of Pensacola, snaps a photo of the passing jets during Breakfast with the Blues over Pensacola Beach on Wednesday, July 11, 2018. Gregg Pachkowski

Heading to Pensacola Beach for the annual Blue Angels Air Show doesn’t have to be an ordeal as long as fans plan ahead and know what to expect.

The fun, which kicked off at 8 a.m. Wednesday with a morning Blue Angels practice over the beach, is expected to bring tens of thousands of people to Santa Rosa Island through Saturday.

Parking: Plan ahead to avoid traffic

The biggest frustration for people wanting to see the beach show is often traffic. It can be difficult to find parking anywhere on the beach after mid-morning on the Friday and Saturday of the show. Traffic to and from the shows often backs up for miles.

If you’re coming by car, locals recommend being on the road by 5:30 a.m. Casino Beach parking lot has filled up by 6:30 a.m. in past years. If you’re parking along other roads, be warned not to park in the sand. Every year, cars get stuck in the sand and have to be towed out, officials said.

Good news, this year there is another alternative!

By ferry: Pensacola Bay ferry service, is extending operating hours and lowering ticket prices Friday and Saturday to help ease vehicle congestion at the beach during the show. For a complete schedule of routes and prices for the weekend or to make ferry reservations, visit pensacolabaycruises.com.

The ferries will depart from downtown Pensacola to Pensacola Beach every two hours starting at 7 a.m., and to Fort Pickens beginning at 8:30 a.m. Prices will drop from $20 for adult, round-trip tickets to $15 and children’s tickets will drop from $13 to $10.

By tram: People planning to watch the show from Gulf Islands National Seashore can catch a free National Park Service tram from the ferry dock to the campground or Langdon Beach and back.

Brent Everitt, spokesman for the national seashore, said anyone visiting the park during the busy Blue Angels week should plan to arrive early and stay long after the show is over.

By trolley: To expedite traffic flow, beach trolleys will run from the Casino Beach parking lot all day Saturday to east and west sections of the beach. The trolleys will allow people who park away from the main section of beach, to quickly reach the center staging area.

More: Heading to the Blue Angels Pensacola Beach Air Show? Here’s how to capture the best photos

What can’t I bring?

Drones are prohibited at the beach show. All unmanned aircraft or drones will be banned at the beach from Wednesday through Saturday. Kites will not be allowed during the airshow.

Glass containers and pets will not be allowed on the beach (except dogs in the two designated dog parks during regular operating hours).

What SHOULD I bring?

  • Lawn chairs, blankets
  • Cellphones and tablets in a Ziploc bag
  • Cameras and camcorders
  • A cooler with lots and lots of water. Beer is only going to dehydrate you and it’s a long day. Don’t forget the snacks. There will be thousands of people on the beach, do you really want to walk to the nearest beach bar?
  • Beach wagons
  • Beach umbrella
  • Beach hat – and keep it on, you’ll look spectacular
  • Sunscreen, and reapply often
  • Wear shoes, as this time of the year, the sand and pavement can be too hot for bare feet.

Can I go in the water?

The air show cannot start until all swimmers are out of the water within the performance zone, so please get out immediately when you are asked. Always dive in feet first. Boaters should be on the lookout for swimmers. (Boaters, keep reading for details on temporary safety zones).

When do the Blue Angels perform?

Thursday, 2 p.m.: Practice flight demonstrations

Friday, 2 p.m.: Dress rehearsal, with the same narration as the main show Saturday. Hint: there’s less people at this show and better traffic.

Saturday, 2 p.m.: Pensacola Beach Air Show

Who else is performing?

Civilian acts will perform Friday and Saturday beginning at noon and will include:

Julian MacQueen, Veterans Flight, Kevin Coleman, Gary Ward, Skip Stewart, Redline.

Where can I sail my boat?

Boats may be in the water for the rehearsal and show but need to be aware of two temporary safety zones the Coast Guard will establish in the Gulf of Mexico and Santa Rosa Sound from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

The Gulf safety zone includes all waters 1.75 nautical miles east and 1.5 nautical miles west of position 30º 19′ 36″ N, 087º 08′ 23″ W in the vicinity of the Pensacola Beach Gulf Pier and extending 1000 yards south of Pensacola Beach, creating a box.

No person or vessel may enter or remain in the safety zone, except for those who have received authorization. Official patrol vessels enforcing this zone can be contacted on marine radio VHF-FM channel 16.

The safety zone in Santa Rosa Sound includes all waters from Deer Point to Sharp Point and all waters within Little Sabine Bay. Vessels in this safety zone must proceed at a minimum safe speed. A 200-yard no wake-zone all around the Bob Sikes Bridge will be enforced while the safety zone is in effect.

Vessels seeking to enter Little Sabine Bay for the two hours immediately following the air shows must contact the on-scene captain of the port designated representative via VHF channel 16 for authorization.

The Coast Guard recommends all vessels transiting the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway from mile marker 177.0 to 179.0 between Pensacola Naval Air Station and Robertson Island restrict their vessels to a safe speed and safe operation.

To keep boaters safe, the Coast Guard patrol commander can control the movement of all vessels in the safety zone and may forbid entry. When hailed or signaled by an official patrol vessel, a vessel in the zone is required to immediately comply with the directions given. Uncooperative boaters will be expelled from the zone, cited for failure to comply or both.

Blue Angel Show facts

  • An estimated 15 million spectators view the squadron during air shows throughout the year.
  • The highest maneuver performed in an air show is the vertical rolls performed by the Opposing Solo, up to 15,000 feet and the lowest maneuver performed in an air show is the Sneak Pass, performed by the Lead Solo at 50 feet.
  • The fastest speed flown during an air show is about 700 mph (just under Mach 1; Sneak Pass) and the slowest is about 120 mph (Section High Alpha).
  • The basic acquisition price of a single F/A-18 Hornet is approximately $21 million.
  • The F/A-18 can reach speeds just under Mach 2, almost twice the speed of sound or about 1,400 mph.
  • An F/A-18 weighs about 24,500 pounds empty of all ordnance and aircrew.
  • The trail of smoke left by each aircraft is produced by pumping biodegradable, paraffin-based oil directly into the exhaust nozzles of the aircraft where the oil is instantly vaporized into smoke. It provides an obvious path for spectators to follow and enhances the safety of flight by providing a means by which solo pilots can see each other during opposing maneuvers. It poses no hazard to the environment.
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