The weather left a little to be desired Friday, which Naval Air Station Pensacola officials speculate may have led to a smaller than normal crowd on the Blue Angels practice day of the annual Homecoming Air Show.
The Blues flew a low show Friday due to the cloudy skies. They also flew with only five planes as opposed to their usual six.
A spokesperson for the Blue Angels did not give a reason for the change, but said the team has been flying with only five aircraft for the last several weeks and was going to close out the season that way.
“The weather isn’t the best, but we’re still excited to have a crowd out here for the last time this year the Blue Angels will fly,” said NAS Pensacola spokesman Jason Bortz. “This is just a great opportunity for us to open the base up and let the community come around and see the air show at the best base in the world.”
As the Blue Angels pilots climbed the ladders into the cockpits of their F/A-18 fighter jets on Friday afternoon, 9-year-old Bennett Elkins from Birmingham, Alabama, danced with excitement.
“They’re climbing in! They’re climbing in!” he gasped, running up to the gate separating the crowd from the flight line where the legendary demonstration pilots were about to take off.
Bennett, along with his 7-year-old sister Cate and 12-year-old sister Evey, were about to watch the Blues’ Homecoming Air Show for the very first time. Bundled up in jackets and long pants and standing with their mother, Jordan Elkins, and grandparents, Kendall and Lynn Boggs, the kids craned their necks toward the gray skies as the signature cobalt blue jets shot up into the air.
The temperature hovered around 60 degrees all day, but the clouds and 20 mph sustained winds made it feel more like the low 50s in the morning.
Commercial vendors scrambled to tie down their garbage cans and flags as the wind tried to whip them away, and the souvenir tents buckled down their hanging T-shirts extra tight as the wind gusted at 30 mph.
Despite the wind, the practice show kicked off at about 10 a.m. with the Veterans Flight, which carries World War II veterans in the vintage aircraft.
“The Stearmans’ flight was wonderful,” said Stearman pilot Roy Kinsey, who noted that no WWII veterans were aboard the vintage biplanes Friday. Capt. Tim Kinsella, the commanding officer of NAS Pensacola, was, however, in the front cockpit of one of the planes. “The weather could have been better, but the atmosphere was still great.”
Those who were brave enough to come out in the cold weather did so prepared. Willene Sheffield from Colquitt, Georgia, sat in a foldout chair right on the flight line, her hooded jacket scrunched tightly around her face and a blanket covering her lap.
It was the first Blue Angels show for Sheffield, and she didn’t want to let the weather rain on her parade.
“It’s really cold, but I’m bundled up as much I can be,” Sheffield said with a shiver. “I’ve only seen the Blue Angels on TV before. This is my first time in person.”
Sandy Jones was with her husband Shawn, an Air Force veteran, and son Jacob, who is currently in the Air Force, all the way from Michigan. Despite being used to the cold weather up north, the Jones family said they were ready for it to warm up to more Florida-like temperatures.
Jacob even wore shorts — a move he regretted.
“This was a bad decision,” he said, looking down at his bare calves.
Sandy, wearing a camo jacket that read “Air Force mom” in pink, wasn’t as fazed.
“I hear they throw a good party,” she said, referring to the Blue Angels. “But I thought I was coming to Florida.”
Youngest fans soak up the fun
Ahead of the Blues’ performance at 2 p.m., civilian and military planes performing daring acrobatic maneuvers dazzled onlookers, like 5-year-old Will Roberts from Birmingham, Alabama.
Roberts, donning bright orange earplugs and a U.S. Navy Blue Angels windbreaker, grinned from ear-to-ear as an F-16 zipped down the flight line and made a quick upward turn into the cloudy sky.
“This is his 5-year-old trip,” his grandmother, Sarah Allen, said as she kept her hands on Roberts’ shoulders. “His brother came when he was 5, and now it’s his turn. He loves it. He loves all the racket.”
Most air show attendees were as bundled up as possible, with the gusty winds and cool temps giving way about halfway through the day to sprinkles of rain.
But the weather didn’t much bother 8-year-old Eric Moudy and his brother, 6-year-old Alek, as they jumped up and down as the F-16 flew past them, engines roaring.
“That’s the loudest plane,” Alek said. “But I think the Blue Angels are going to be louder.”
Eric and Alek’s mother, Callie Moudy, said it was the boys’ first air show.
“We moved here six months ago from Las Vegas,” she said. “The boys love it. The Blues practice over our house all the time, but it’s the first time they’ll get to see them all in formation, and they love it.”
The weather is expected to be better on Saturday, with sunny skies and a high of 65 degrees. Gates at NAS Pensacola will open at 8 a.m. and the civilian planes will begin flying at 9:30 a.m. The Blue Angels will fly at 2 p.m.