His neck craned toward the sky above Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, Russ Langer had a heightened appreciation for the complex maneuvers being performed by the six Blue Angels pilots soaring overhead.
A retired commercial airline pilot from Waycross, Ga., Langer was one of more than 100,000 spectators who flocked Saturday to MCAS Beaufort to take in the first day of the 2009 Beaufort Air Show.
"This is incredibly impressive to the untrained eye, but as a fellow aviator it's amazing to see what those pilots are able to do with their aircraft," he said. "These guys are the best in the world at what they do."
While the weather was a concern for event organizers and aerial performers earlier this week, there were no signs of the thunderstorms forecasters had predicted for Saturday. Instead spectators were greeted by sunny skies, causing some to join the long lines for bottled water and others to seek refuge under every overhang to shield them from the heat.
Sitting in a folding chair under the wing of a Gulfstream IV private jet -- one of a more than a dozen of the air show's static displays -- Missy Tanner of Ridgeland said she was happy the elements cooperated.
"You can't complain about this weather," she said. "Trying to find some shade is a much better problem to have than trying to find shelter from rain, thunder or, even worse, lightning, which is exactly what it looked like we were all going to have to face today."
While spectators poked around the air show's static displays and clapped politely for the air show's seven other aerial performers, there was little doubt about which of Saturday's acts they were most excited about.
Cameras of all sizes snapped away as pilots of the Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron --the Blue Angels -- strode across the tarmac at MCAS Beaufort and climbed into their F-18 Hornets.
"They're the coolest pilots in the world," said Rebecca Blindster of Hardeeville. "Seeing them really drives home how incredible the pilots are that climb into those same planes everyday at this base."
Spectators waved at the pilots as they taxied down the runway, preparing for their first demonstration flight at the air station since one of their own -- pilot Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Davis -- was killed in a fiery crash less than three miles from the airfield in 2007.
With miles of visibility and a cloud ceiling of at least 8,000 feet, the Blue Angels' gave spectators their "high show," a more than 30-minute performance that included low-altitude maneuvers as well as those performed high in the sky.
At the conclusion of their performance, spectators watched as the six pilots who took off at the beginning of the show returned safely to the airfield.
"No one who came here today wants to see a crash," Russ Langer said. "Everyone wants to see six planes go up and six planes come down."
The air show continues today.