Heading to Pensacola Beach for the annual Blue Angels Air Show doesn’t have to be an ordeal as long as fans plan ahead and know what to expect.
The fun, which kicks off at 8 a.m. Wednesday with a morning Blue Angels practice over the beach, is expected to bring tens of thousands of people to Santa Rosa Island through Saturday.
Blues Angels weekend schedule
Thursday: The Blue Angels fly over the beach again at 2 p.m. Thursday to practice for the air show. During Thursday’s performance, the six jets usually perform all of their signature maneuvers.
Friday and Saturday: Friday is the dress rehearsal for Saturday’s show. On Friday, a series of civilian air show acts will take to the skies above Pensacola Beach at noon with the Blue Angels flying at 2 p.m. The official air show on Saturday will follow the same schedule as Friday.
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Traffic tips, plus what’s up with tolls
Crowds are expected to grow each day. Officials with the Santa Rosa Island Authority encourage people to arrive early as traffic to and from the shows often backs up for miles.
The $1 toll for Pensacola Beach is waived starting Thursday and continuing through Sunday. Visit Pensacola agreed to cover the cost of the tolls to promote tourism. The estimated cost to cover the tolls for the four days is about $65,000.
Parking? Plan ahead to avoid traffic
It can be difficult to find parking anywhere on the beach after early morning on the Friday and Saturday of the show. The parking lot at Casino Beach has about 1,000 spaces. In previous years, the Casino Beach lot has filled before 5 a.m. both Friday and Saturday. Additional public parking is available at Park East and at Park West.
If you’re parking along other roads, be warned not to park in the sand. Every year, cars get stuck in the sand and have to be towed out, officials said.
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Leave your car at home
By ferry: Pensacola Bay Cruises has two, 150-passenger ferries that will be running throughout the week. Tickets are still available for most times and days and can be purchased by calling 850-466-3379 or by visiting pensacolabaycruise.com.
A special schedule on Friday and Saturday includes hourly routes between downtown and Pensacola Beach starting at 7 a.m., with the last return time of 10 p.m. both days. Price is $10 each way, with children 2 and under riding for free. Return routes from Pensacola Beach to downtown begin at 4 p.m., but the 4 p.m. route is sold out both days. It is strongly recommended to purchase your ferry tickets online to guarantee a seat.
By trolley: The Island Authority will have three open-air trolleys transporting visitors around the beach starting at 7 a.m. Friday. In addition to the trolleys, the authority will have 10 buses to provide extra transportation from parking areas around the island Saturday. The trolleys will allow people who park away from the main section of beach, to quickly reach the center staging area.
The authority said bus and trolley service will extend from Park East near the Portofino Island Resort towers, to Park West near the entrance to Gulf Islands National Seashore.
The full team of 57 lifeguards will be working on Friday and Saturday. An emergency medical tent will be available in the Casino Beach parking lot for anyone experiencing health issues. West Florida Hospital will also have a medical tent on the beach, he said.
What can’t I bring?
- Drones are prohibited at the beach show. All unmanned aircraft or drones will be banned at the beach from Wednesday through Saturday. Kites will not be allowed during the airshow.
- Glass containers and pets will not be allowed on the beach (except dogs in the two designated dog parks during regular operating hours).
What SHOULD I bring?
- Lawn chairs, blankets
- Cellphones and tablets in a Ziploc bag
- Cameras and camcorders
- A cooler with lots and lots of water. Beer is only going to dehydrate you and it’s a long day. Don’t forget the snacks. There will be thousands of people on the beach, do you really want to walk to the nearest beach bar?
- Beach wagons
- Beach umbrella
- Beach hat — and keep it on, you’ll look spectacular
- Sunscreen, and reapply often
- Wear shoes, as this time of the year, the sand and pavement can be too hot for bare feet.
Can I go in the water?
The air show cannot start until all swimmers are out of the water within the performance zone, so please get out immediately when you are asked. Always dive in feet first. Boaters should be on the lookout for swimmers.
When do the Blue Angels perform?
Thursday, 2 p.m.: Practice flight demonstrations
Friday, 2 p.m.: Dress rehearsal, with the same narration as the main show Saturday. Hint: there’s less people at this show and better traffic.
Saturday, 2 p.m.: Pensacola Beach Air Show
Who else is performing?
Taking to the skies Friday and Saturday before the official show starts will be vintage Stearman aircraft from World War II. Each year, owners of the aircraft fly World War II and Korean War veterans over Pensacola Beach as a tribute to their service.
Other acts scheduled to perform beginning at noon include:
- Julian MacQueen in his vintage 1943 Grumman Widgeon seaplane.
- The U.S. Coast Guard enacting a rescue demonstration with a Coast Guard H-60 helicopter.
- A group of United States Navy T-6 planes and TH-57 helicopters from Naval Air Station Whiting Field.
- Ken Rieder and Shaun Roessner of the Redline Aerobatic Team.
- Solo pilot Kevin Coleman.
- Stunt pilots Mark Sorenson and Mark Nowosielski with Tiger Airshows.
- Stunt pilot Skip Stewart.
Where can I sail my boat?
Boats may be in the water for the rehearsal and show but need to be aware of two temporary safety zones the Coast Guard will establish in the Gulf of Mexico and Santa Rosa Sound from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
The Gulf safety zone includes all waters 1.75 nautical miles east and 1.5 nautical miles west of position 30º 19′ 36″ N, 087º 08′ 23″ W in the vicinity of the Pensacola Beach Gulf Pier and extending 1000 yards south of Pensacola Beach, creating a box.
No person or vessel may enter or remain in the safety zone, except for those who have received authorization. Official patrol vessels enforcing this zone can be contacted on marine radio VHF-FM channel 16.
The safety zone in Santa Rosa Sound includes all waters from Deer Point to Sharp Point and all waters within Little Sabine Bay. Vessels in this safety zone must proceed at a minimum safe speed. A 200-yard no wake-zone all around the Bob Sikes Bridge will be enforced while the safety zone is in effect.
Vessels seeking to enter Little Sabine Bay for the two hours immediately following the air shows must contact the on-scene captain of the port designated representative via VHF channel 16 for authorization.
The Coast Guard recommends all vessels transiting the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway from mile marker 177.0 to 179.0 between Pensacola Naval Air Station and Robertson Island restrict their vessels to a safe speed and safe operation.
To keep boaters safe, the Coast Guard patrol commander can control the movement of all vessels in the safety zone and may forbid entry. When hailed or signaled by an official patrol vessel, a vessel in the zone is required to immediately comply with the directions given. Uncooperative boaters will be expelled from the zone, cited for failure to comply or both.
Blue Angel Air Show facts
- An estimated 15 million spectators view the squadron during air shows throughout the year.
- The highest maneuver performed in an air show is the vertical rolls performed by the Opposing Solo, up to 15,000 feet and the lowest maneuver performed in an air show is the Sneak Pass, performed by the Lead Solo at 50 feet.
- The fastest speed flown during an air show is about 700 mph (just under Mach 1; Sneak Pass) and the slowest is about 120 mph (Section High Alpha).
- The basic acquisition price of a single F/A-18 Hornet is approximately $21 million.
- The F/A-18 can reach speeds just under Mach 2, almost twice the speed of sound or about 1,400 mph.
- An F/A-18 weighs about 24,500 pounds empty of all ordnance and aircrew.
- The trail of smoke left by each aircraft is produced by pumping biodegradable, paraffin-based oil directly into the exhaust nozzles of the aircraft where the oil is instantly vaporized into smoke. It provides an obvious path for spectators to follow and enhances the safety of flight by providing a means by which solo pilots can see each other during opposing maneuvers. It poses no hazard to the environment.