JACKSONVILLE – Naval Air Station Jacksonville was a hub of excitement last week leading into the weekend.
Planes packed the skies ranging from personal jets to the elite planes of today’s military like the F-22 Raptor. Included in the weekend’s lineup were the NAS Jax-born group of elite pilots that make up the Navy’s Flight Demonstration Team, also known as the Blue Angels.
The group, now based in Pensacola, started at the local Navy base in 1946 when the first demonstration of their precise flying was put on display for Navy officers, eventually leading to the internationally-performing group known today.
When the Blue Angels come, people hear about it, and this year the base estimated they would see about 200,000 people during the weekend, with the Nov. 4 show starting at about 10 a.m. and going until about 4 p.m., and a Sunday show just a few hours shorter to allow the Angels time to get home before sundown.
“This annual event is highly anticipated by the local community,” said Executive Officer Capt. Sean Haley, commander of NAS Jax, in a prepared statement. “The air show not only entertains our community, but also serves to showcase the pride and professionalism of our young men and women who have chosen to serve this great nation as a member of the armed forces.”
Friday the performers, both the Blue Angels and some of the world’s most-renowned civilian air show pilots, did a dressed rehearsal for the Saturday show. They followed the schedule to the minute and worked out any problems as they may arise. The practice day also allowed friends and family of those stationed on the base, as well as local school children, the opportunity to witness the spectacle without battling the traffic on Saturday that caused more than two-hour delays for some motorists hoping to catch a glimpse of the show.
About 43 members of the Fleming Island High School Navy Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps were among the thousands of school students at Friday’s run-through.
“It’s just cool to see all this going on,” said Fleming Island senior Tristan Thacker. Thacker said he plans to attend college after graduation, and hopes to pursue a career in the Navy after college.
One of the FIHS NJROTC instructors, Jeff Barlow, also attended the air show, and despite spending 30 years in the Navy, Barlow had never experienced a Blue Angels performance in person, or even been to an air show.
“It’s not every day you get to see jets flying through your city,” Barlow said. “This was my first time [at an air show] anywhere, ever. I would recommend against waiting 30 years to go to one.”