Blue Angels return to soar over SF Bay

After a year off, nothing’s going to stop the Blue Angels from giving San Francisco a show this Fleet Week.

Under a gray sky near Oakland International Airport Thursday, members of the world’s second oldest flight demonstration squadron showed off their aircraft and talked about their plans for two air shows this weekend.

Maj. A.J. Harrell of the U.S. Marine Corps, who operates the “Fat Albert” squadron maintenance vehicle, said the team has different shows it can put on depending on weather conditions, so the show can go on just as well on an overcast day as a sunny day.

Harrell said that’s just a part of being in the military. They can “accomplish the mission in all kinds of different environments,” he said.

Harrell, a Maryland native who has served with the famous squadron for the last three years, said in its nearly 70-year history, the Blue Angels have never had to cancel a flight for maintenance reasons, in large part because of efforts of the crew on board the “Fat Albert.”

The plane, a four-propeller Lockheed C-130 Hercules, carries equipment and maintenance crews to each of the 35 to 40 show sites the squadron visits each year.

The Blue Angels do two or three shows at each stop, typically doing about 70 shows per year. Typically they fly 100,000 miles per year carrying 30,000 pounds of gear, Harrell said.

But all Blue Angels shows were canceled last year by federal budget cutbacks. Harrell said he remained with the squadron during that time and they used it for “self-reflection” while based in Pensacola, Florida.

The team expanded and streamlined their processes to put on a better show than ever this year, Harrell said:

“We’re rested, we’re motivated, we’re back and we’re ready to make an impression.”

While he calls the Blue Angels the “best job I’ve ever had,” Harrell plans to move on from the squadron next month and has orders to study at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. He has spent the last 10 years with the Marine Corps, eight of them flying.

The Blue Angels will have a rehearsal on Friday before their air shows on Saturday and Sunday afternoon. Traffic in San Francisco is expected to be highly congested this weekend with all of the Fleet Week events.

Organizers are asking people coming to the city to use public transportation, if at all possible. Some roads will have partial closures during the Blue Angels performances, including Conzelman Road in the Marin Headlands, which will only be open to traffic traveling east, Golden Gate National Recreation Area officials said.

Fleet Week will wrap up Sunday afternoon.