The U.S. Navy Blue Angels are set to return to the skies above Pensacola Naval Air Station on Tuesday as the Pensacola-based flight demonstration team starts its 2017 public practice schedule.
The biweekly practices draw tens of thousands of people to the viewing area outside the base’s National Naval Aviation Museum.
Hill Goodspeed, the museum’s longtime historian, said the practices, which stretch from late March through early November, draw thousands of visitors to the museum.
“We are grateful to the Blue Angels for letting us be a part of their practices,” Goodspeed said during a brief tour of the museum’s 1,000-seat viewing stand and concession area used by the practice crowds.
Museum visitors can experience naval aviation’s past inside the museum while watching its present and future during the practices outside, he said.
“It’s a unique experience and our museum visitors love it,” he said.
Practices usually start at about 11:30 a.m. and last about an hour. The six blue and gold, F/A-18 Hornets only fly if weather conditions are safe.
Goodspeed said the pilots watch the weather throughout the morning and usually wait as long as possible before deciding to call off a practice.
The National Weather Service forecast for Tuesday called for partly sunny skies with a high near 79 degrees and south winds from 5 to 10 miles per hour.
Citing security regulations, the Navy base closed its main entrance on Navy Boulevard to the general public in early 2016. Visitors without Department of Defense identification must use the entrance on Blue Angel Parkway on the west side of the base to access the museum. The west entrance is a 10-15 minute drive from the main gate, depending on traffic.
Malerie Shelton, the museum spokeswoman, encouraged people who want to see the practices to arrive early and be prepared for the traffic.
“The museum opens at 9, so there is an opportunity to come early and see the museum before going out to the flight line for the practices,” she said.
The gates to the outside viewing area, known as the flight line, open at 10:30 a.m.
In addition to the 1,000-seat raised viewing area, the museum has 300 folding chairs available to rent for $3 each.
The concessions, which benefit the museum foundation, offer necessities from sunscreen to earplugs, along with Blue Angels T-shirts and other fan merchandise.
The Blue Angels are scheduled to fly on Tuesday and Wednesday, with a pilot autograph session scheduled inside the museum after Wednesday’s practice.
For the most up-to-date information on the Blue Angels’ local practice schedule, visit bit.ly/2o3ngS6
Blue Angels 2017 practice schedule
Dates and times are subject to change. Asterisks denote practices followed by autograph sessions.
- March 28, *29
- April 4, *5, 11, 14, 18, *19, 25, *26
- May 2, *3, 9, *10, 16, 17, 30, 31
- June *7, 13, 14, 20, 21
- July 11, *12, 18,
- Aug. *9, 15, 16, 22, 23
- Sept. *6, 12, 13, 19
- Oct. *11, 17, *18, 24, 25, 3
- Nov. *1, 7, 8, 9