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Miramar Air Show has sky-high opening

From the graceful ballet of the Breitling Jet Team to the high-octane aerial drama of the Navy’s Blue Angels, the Miramar Air Show delivered a successful first day, underscoring the event’s prominence in the San Diego Fleet Week schedule despite the past uncertainty of military budgets.

The only small hiccup Friday was a fire near the flight line that delayed the Blue Angels launch by several minutes.

Otherwise, the crowd seemed pleased by the display of military air power and mechanical muscle.

Ava Chan-Crowder was wearing a T-shirt that read “Got Jet Noise?”

She sat out in Friday’s blazing sun all day with her camera trained on the sky. This was her happy place.

“I’m a big air show fan. I’m a big Blue Angels fan,” said the Imperial Valley native, who grew up watching the Navy team at their winter home of El Centro.

She and her husband regularly travel to see other military air shows, including in Pensacola, Fla., where the Blue Angels are headquartered, and Kaneohe Bay in Hawaii.

“This is the No. 1 air show,” she said, explaining that all the Marine equipment used in the performance makes the difference.

Indeed, the Marines from Camp Pendleton and Miramar Marine Corps Air Station — performing to the home crowd — may have dominated the scene simply by the number of aircraft presented and young Marines displaying their everyday skills.

At least seven kinds of Marine Corps aircraft worked together to demonstrate how they operate on the battlefield.

F/A-18 Hornets and AV-8B Harriers thundered overhead, following by AH-1Z Super Cobra helicopters training their guns at the ground. UH-1Y Hueys swooped in to offload infantry Marines showing their “fast-roping” skills.

Then the Marines brought in their ground troops, with gusto.

M1A1 tanks sped along the flight line at near top speed — something one doesn’t see every day, even in San Diego.

After the explosions died away and the air ceased throbbing from afterburner, infantry Marines in full battle gear marched past the air show audience, shaking hands and high-fiving fans.

Do the young Marines like putting on this annual air show, considering all the work involved?

“I think they do,” said 2nd Lt. Casey Littesy, a public affairs officer on base, laughing.

“I sure think they do. They get to talk about themselves. And we love to talk about ourselves.”

The Breitling Jet Team performed for the second year of its two-year tour in North America.

This jet group — which is like Formula One racing compared to the Blue Angels’ Nascar vibe — wowed the crowd with swooping passes in formation.

The civilian team headquartered in France uses Czech-made trainer jets of the style formerly used by the Soviets. One member of the team said they won’t be back next year, so this is the chance to see them.

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Peter Komuniecki was visiting from Canada, where air shows largely feature civilian performers.

As he was talking, the Air Force’s F-16 Viper fighter jet screamed past, making everyone’s ribs rumble.

“This is why we are here,” Komuniecki, said, laughing with delight, when he could be heard again.

Air shows nationally have had to depend on civilian performers in recent years, as federal budget woes made military performances difficult. The Miramar show was canceled altogether in 2013 when the government shut down.

But the show appeared to be back at full strength on Friday.

The Blue Angels team is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, after being formed following World War II to preserve public interest in naval air power.

The performance went off without a hitch, after the sad loss of the No. 6 pilot, Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss, in a June crash during team practice in Tennessee.

Kuss was replaced by Navy Cmdr. Frank Weisser in the No. 6 cockpit.

Missing, however, was the team’s Fat Albert C-130 cargo plane. The aircraft is sidelined for the rest of the air show season for routine maintenance, a Miramar official said.

That may have led to disappointment for Kali Smith, a 16-year-old San Diego teen who was one of 17 girls who wrote essays to secure grandstand tickets to the show.

Friday was Girls in Aviation Day at the air show, sponsored by the international group Women in Aviation.

Smith arrived wearing her pink “Girls in Aviation” shirt and hoping to meet the Fat Albert pilot, Marine Capt. Katie Higgins.

Higgins is the first woman to fly with the Blues. She pilots the C-130 Fat Albert cargo plane that does demonstrations outside of the main team precision-flying performance.

“She’s a girl and she can fly,” Smith said, explaining her reasons for being inspired by the Marine captain.

For herself, Smith expects to earn her private pilot’s license in three months time. Some day, she wants to fly for Cal Fire, she said, “because I think they are interesting and I like what they do.”

Smith isn’t interested in the military, she revealed, but “This is the next best thing.”