A massive crowd packed Pensacola Beach on Saturday to cheer on the U.S. Navy Blue Angels during the annual beach air show.
The normally white sand beach became a sea of colorful umbrellas before the six F/A-18 Hornets took to the sky just before 2 p.m.
It was Billy Brown’s first time to see the beach show.
“It was more impressive than I imagined. The sound was so strong when they flew over and didn’t I realize how close they would get,” said Brown, a musician from Crestview Hills, Kentucky, who was in town performing at local restaurants.
The Blue Angels flew over the beach for about 45 minutes, performing all of the team’s hallmark maneuvers and delighting the large crowd. Storm clouds and rain threatened as the show ended, but passed over without causing problems.
Brown and his band watched the show on the beach in front of the Margaritaville Beach Hotel. The beach was a little less packed there than at nearby Casino Beach, where it was hard to find a path in the sand through all of the beach umbrellas and tents.
Wayne and Lisa Jones of Cincinnati, Ohio, showed up before 4:30 a.m. to secure a prime spot near the water and the Pensacola Beach fishing pier. The couple and other family members said they didn’t mind the long wait for the show to start.
“We watched the sun come up out here, and that was beautiful,” Lisa Jones said.
Lt. Frank Forte, supervisor of the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office substation on the beach, said the Casino Beach parking lot filled and closed at 5:50 a.m.
Beach leaders do not have an official crowd count, but gauge attendance on how quickly the nearly 1,000-space lot fills.
The lot closed at 5:30 a.m. in 2016, but Forte said he still thought this year’s crowd was a record because it took deputies a little longer to get everyone parked due to traffic pattern changes.
“If you really break it down, I’d say it was still a record as far as how many cars we had out there early,” he said.
Danielle Lucas sat on the beach nearby and played in the sand with her children. The Lucas family drove in from West Virginia on Friday for their annual Pensacola Beach vacation.
“The Blue Angels are amazing,” said Lucas, who always times the family vacation with the air show.
Jaxson Rogers’ family from Cincinnati, Ohio, also planned their vacation around the show. The 6-year-old yelled with delight as a stunt pilot flew over the beach to kick off the show at noon.
“Look, look he’s making a J,” Jaxson said as the plane’s contrails marked the sky.
Brittany Rogers said her son began watching YouTube videos of planes and fell in love with the Blue Angels.
“He had a Blue Angels-themed birthday party,” she said, as Jaxson rattled of the names of fighter jets.
“There’s the F-18 and also the F-35,” said Jaxson, who was clutching a small, blue and gold Blue Angels plane and spinning in circles to imitate the maneuvers.