Early in October, during the waning days of summer, the windows of San Francisco’s skyscrapers will again rattle as the Navy’s Blue Angels roar into town for Fleet Week 2012, scheduled to run October 4 through October 8.
For thirty years, Fleet Week has celebrated the young men and women who gallantly serve in our Armed Forces. It has traditionally been the largest maritime and aviation event in northern California (although the America’s Cup race in 2013 may rival it).
It has been estimated that a million people are attracted to the Bay Area during this four day celebration. Regardless of the actual number, this event generates a lot of patriotic pride and rings the cash registers for a large number of businesses throughout our communities. There are numerous festivities associated with Fleet Week but the most popular is the air show over the bay and the parade of ships along the City waterfront.
This year’s event kicks off on Thursday afternoon when the six powerful F/A-18 Hornet jets of the Blue Angels conduct a one hour reconnaissance and practice flight over the bay. On Friday, other planes involved in the weekend air show also rehearse, along with the Blue Angels. The air show itself, featuring heart-stopping, high-speed encounters between planes, takes place over the bay for safety reasons.
Saturday typically has the busiest schedule. To comfortably follow the day’s action, visitors should arrive early to stake out a great viewing spot, wear a warm fleece and bring a good pair of binoculars. In the late morning, thousands of spectators normally line the northern City waterfront around the Marina Green to watch the parade of ships. The exact number and names of the ships has not been revealed yet, but they will be led by vessels from the U.S. Navy’s Third fleet, based in San Diego. Later that day, the ships open for public tours at their berths, usually from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
That afternoon, at 12:30 p.m., the initial air show will be presented, with interesting aircraft flown by the Coast Guard, Marines, Air Force and many others. Last year, the Marine Corps V-22 Osprey put on a particularly awe-inspiring demonstration of its vertical hover capability. But the ambient noise and crowd excitement level escalates severely at 3 p.m. when the Blue Angel jets make their appearance after taking off from San Francisco International Airport. For an hour, using various formations, the aircraft scream across the bay, making several high speed passes directly in front of the spectator stands (and over a myriad of private and commercial boats cruising the bay). Like a NASCAR fan, if you like the adrenalin rush that comes from the noise and speed of high performance vehicles, and dare-devil maneuvers, this is a dream come true.
On Sunday, the aircraft perform their final flight appearance, a repeat of the Saturday schedule. The naval ships remain open for free tours along the waterfront. Air shows and practice flights may be changed or canceled if the weather turns bad, such as one of last year’s Blue Angel demonstrations that was overcome by our fabled fog, creeping in through the Golden Gate in a not-so-subtle manner (did I mentioned you should bring a fleece jacket)?
The Sunday air show also competes for attention with the 144th annual Italian Heritage Day parade (aka Columbus Day Parade). This is the City’s oldest civic event and the nation’s oldest Italian-American community celebration, as the floats and bands wind their way from Fisherman’s Wharf to North Beach.
October 5-7 from 9 AM – 5 PM: The Marine Corps (13th Marine Expeditionary Unit) will display equipment and weapons exhibits at Alameda Point adjacent to the USS Hornet Museum located at Pier 3, Alameda, CA.
October 5 – noon: A “Salute to East Bay Veterans” Navy Band Concert near the Oakland City Hall.
All things considered, the first weekend in October promises to provide serious excitement and entertainment for the citizens of the SF Bay Area courtesy of the US Navy and US Marine Corps.
Editor’s Note: Bob Fish, a Trustee of the USS Hornet Museum and frequent contributor to ALIVE Magazine, attended the University of Virginia on a Naval ROTC scholarship and served his active military duty in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. So, he is “somewhat” passionate about the Fleet Week events!