Beaufort News

Blue Angels wait out storms, land at air station for this weekend's show

Mother Nature delayed -- but did not prevent -- the arrival Thursday of the 2011 Beaufort Air Show's headliner at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.

For more than 10 hours, the Blue Angels' famous blue- and gold-painted F-18 Hornets and the C-130 affectionately known as "Fat Albert" sat on the tarmac at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., awaiting the green light to fly an hour northeast to Beaufort.

Standing between the Blue Angels and the air station -- where the squadron will headline this weekend's air show -- were bands of violent thunderstorms sweeping through the southeast.

"We had tornado watches that lit up the entire East Coast today," said Sgt. Michael Haas, a weather forecaster at MCAS Beaufort. "It didn't really turn out as the National Weather Service had predicted ... because the storms just kept dying out as they got to within about 60 nautical miles of (MCAS) Beaufort. There were several reports of tornados and severe thunderstorms to the north and south of us."

The Blue Angels were expected to arrive in Beaufort by about 9:30 a.m. but did not touch down until about 7:15 p.m.

Navy Lt. David Tickle, one of the Blue Angels' pilots, said the storms were too strong to fly through.

"It wasn't so much the weather here and the weather in Pensacola as much as it was the weather in between," Tickle said. "Some of those storms had heights up to about 55,000 feet so it's not like you could just climb and fly above them. Those storms had hail storms, strong winds and embedded tornadoes -- not the kind of stuff you want to try to fly through.

The air show, hosted by the air station every other year, begins at 11 a.m. Saturday and Sunday and is free and open to the public.

Despite the delay Thursday in getting to Beaufort, Tickle said the Blue Angels plan to treat air show spectators to a pair of great performances this weekend.

The squadron likely be able to perform their "high" show, which includes a series of high-altitude rolling maneuvers, Tickle said.

"The weather forecasts look really promising," Tickle said. "It's looking like there isn't going to be a cloud in the sky, and it should be a great show."

The Blue Angels must have at least three nautical miles of visibility and a cloud ceiling of at least 1,500 feet to perform. Under these conditions, the Blue Angels can perform a "flat" show, which features a number of limited maneuvers, according to the squadron's web site.

With a minimum ceiling of 8,000 feet, the Blue Angels can perform their "high" show.

The air show's other aerial acts and static displays were expected to begin arriving and practicing today., The Blue Angels will practice at about 10 a.m., according to air station officials.