The U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels had to pass up their traditional Seafair air show in Seattle last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, but assuming the all-clear is given, they promise to come roaring back this August.
This will be the first year that the Blue Angels do their aerobatic act with F/A-18 Super Hornets instead of the “legacy” Hornets that the team has used for 34 years. The shift is the result of a transition that’s been years in the making.
When it comes to power, the Boeing-built Super Hornets are … well, super.
“With the Super Hornet, the show will definitely be audibly louder, because the jet itself produces more thrust,” Lt. Julius Bratton, who serves as the team’s narrator and No. 7 pilot, explained today during a Zoom video conference with reporters. “The Super Hornet has about 42,000 pounds of thrust in full afterburner, whereas the legacy Hornet that we previously flew had about 32,000 pounds of thrust.”
Bratton said the decibel level won’t be the only thing that’s different about the Super Hornet show. “With that comes a little bit more maneuverability when the aircraft is going at a slow airspeed,” he said.
Based on what he’s seen during practice runs, some of the fancier maneuvers seem to unfold more majestically. “That could be because the airframe is bigger — the Super Hornet is about 30% larger than the legacy Hornet,” Bratton said. “And it could be just because, hey, it’s got more thrust.”
Lt. Kaitlin Forster, who’s the Blue Angels’ event coordinator and No. 8 pilot, said most Navy fliers are more familiar with the Super Hornet than the older models. “It now represents the aircraft that most of the Navy fleet is flying, and it’s the aircraft that I got to fly while I was in the fleet,” she said. “So I’m looking forward to getting to show it off to the public as the aircraft that I did all of my deployments with.”
Another new twist has to do with the demonstration flight of the Blue Angels’ cargo transport plane, nicknamed “Fat Albert.”
The Seafair crowd missed out on seeing Fat Albert in 2019 because the C-130T Hercules plane was retired a couple of months earlier. This year, a new incarnation of Fat Albert will make an appearance, in the form of a C-130J Super Hercules that was acquired from Britain’s Royal Air Force and retrofitted for the Blue Angels’ use.
Over the past year, the Blue Angels have had to cut down on their show schedule — and their in-person interaction with the public — due to the safety concerns associated with COVID-19. All of the uncertainties surrounding the course of the pandemic and the availability of vaccines are complicating this year’s logistics.
“We are planning our airshow season with the contingency of not entirely knowing what the country will look like as we get to each of our show weekends,” Forster said. “We’re hoping to be flexible and creative so that we can still execute our Blue Angel mission of having that public interaction and getting to show off the professionalism and teamwork of the Blue Angels, really in any format, whether that is virtual or from a distance.”
Assuming the schedule works out as planned, the Blue Angels will be in the air over Lake Washington at the peak of the annual Seafair festival, during the weekend of Aug. 6-8. And speaking of high decibel levels, the traditional hydroplane races are expected to be back in action as well.
Just as the Blue Angels have the option to fly a high show or a low show, depending on weather conditions, Seafair is planning multiple scenarios depending on the state of the pandemic.
“We are looking at three different ways to do the air show this year based on where we are on the vaccine, and of course will be following all local health guidelines,” Seafair spokesman Patrick Harrison told GeekWire.
Tickets are now on sale for the Seafair Weekend Festival, headlined by the Boeing Seafair Airshow and the hydroplane competition for the HomeStreet Bank Cup.