As uncertainty swirls over how tropical weather could impact the Pensacola Beach Blue Angels Air Show, pilots of the civilian and military aircraft who fly before the Blues perform Friday and Saturday say they’re hoping for the best — but warily watching the skies — as they prepare for the biggest weekend of the year.
A tropical disturbance churning across the Gulf of Mexico is likely to become an organized storm Wednesday night or Thursday morning, and strengthen into a hurricane by the time it makes landfall near the Louisiana/Texas border on Saturday, according to forecasters.
The storm is expected to bring heavy rainfall, high surf and intermittent thunderstorms to the Pensacola area from Thursday through Saturday. The Blue Angels have said they will make the call about whether or not to cancel the highly anticipated show at the last possible second. They also said Sunday could be a possible make-up day.
“We are aware of the weather system forecast for this week, and are monitoring it,” the Blue Angels said in a Facebook post on Monday. “We will not make a decision to cancel or postpone a practice or performance until the last possible second (more than once this decision has been made after the pilots entered their aircraft and prepared to taxi).”
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The Blue Angels are scheduled to fly at 2 p.m. Friday and Saturday, but starting at noon on both days, a lineup of vintage planes, military aircraft and stunt planes are scheduled to dazzle the crowds and get them hyped for the Blues.
Ken Rieder and Shaun Roessner, who fly RV-8 single-engine stunt planes for Redline Airshows, say they’re flying to Pensacola from their home base in Cincinnati on Thursday morning despite the uncertainties.
“There are many variables involved in whether we’ll be able to fly or not, and we can fly in conditions that are a little bit less favorable than the Blues can,” Rieder told the News Journal on Wednesday. “We don’t have to have quite as high of a ceiling as they might, and we can work with a little bit less visibility.
“But it’s hard to tell, I mean, looking at the weather, it’s looking like it’s going to move a little bit further to the west right now,” he added. “We have probably one show every three or four years that has to get canceled due to weather, and I haven’t had one in a long time, so fingers crossed.”
Mark Sorenson and Mark Nowosielski, stunt pilots who fly Yak-55 aircrafts, say they’re also planning on getting to Pensacola early Thursday morning and are planning on flying unless the weather cancels their plans.
“It’s all scheduled to go, weather permitting,” Sorenson said. “It’s one of those decisions we just have to make the day of travel.”
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One of the most anticipated pre-flight shows each year is the Veterans Flight, where Boeing-Stearman Model 75 planes carrying World War II veteran pilots fly the beach during the morning hours of the air show to honor the veterans for their service.
Roy Kinsey, a Pensacola attorney, Stearman owner and organizer of the Veterans Flight each year, said in an email to the News Journal on Wednesday that he was closely monitoring the weather as well.
“While getting the veterans back in the air is important, our primary objective is the safety of the veterans, their families, our pilots and crew, and the Stearmans,” Kinsey said in the email. “Unlike the flying the veterans did during World War II, our mission to honor and thank the veterans isn’t critical to the future of our country and can be rescheduled for a better day. We won’t fly unless we are confident that it can be done safely and comfortably.”