Some 10,000 spectators are expected at El Centro’s Festival of Flight, starring the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron — the Blue Angels. By mid-November, when its season ends, more than 500 million people will have seen the team perform since its 1946 founding, including at the MCAS Miramar Air Show in late September.
But Thursday, the Blues thundered above a far smaller audience — occupants of 75 vehicles parked along a dusty farm road near runways of Naval Air Facility El Centro.
Among them: Gary Davis of Calgary, Alberta, and his 25-year-old daughter, Amanda, who spend their winters in Las Vegas.
“She’s never seen the Blue Angels before,” the Canadian said. “She was just amazed.”
Her favorite part? The bone-shaking takeoff.
Since Amanda doesn’t do well in air show crowds, Gary said, he brought her to this Imperial Valley town two hours east of San Diego. He’s been following the Blue Angels (and Air Force counterpart Thunderbirds) on Facebook.
Story continues below
The teams trained together for a week for the third year.
Capt. Brian Kesselring, Blue Angels commanding officer and flight leader, said:
“This week of joint training enables both of our nation’s aerial demonstration teams to collaborate and share best practices while leveraging off each other’s unique experiences flying flight demonstrations across the country.”
At Thursday morning’s session, observers like Bill Meister, a retired prison worker, gave the Navy/Marine pilots a thumbs up.
“Today they did well, but the air quality’s so poor,” said Meister, a photographer who’s witnessed the training hundreds of times. “Great show.”
He said he’d lived in the area 27 years — more than half the 50 years the Blue Angel have drilled here.
“I was out here every day” of the Blues’ winter training at El Centro, Meister said.
One veteran practice-watcher is spoiled by the close encounters of the F/A-18E Super Hornets kind above an onion field and other farmland.
“You lose enthusiasm for the air show after you’ve been here a few times,” the photographer said. (Navy police warn of dangers being in the “aerobatic box.”)
Some of the spectators dined with pilots recently as part of a $300-a-person event featuring steaks and schmoozing sponsored by the Imperial Valley Navy League.
Air field spokesman Kristopher Haugh said the free show will be simulcast via the base local FM transmitter and — 89.9.
“We expect about 9,000-11,000 that day,” he told Times of San Diego. “However, we know we are competing with the local Imperial County Fair, so attendance might be a little less.”
The Festival of Flight — Saturday, March 12 — starts at 10 a.m. and includes demonstrations by John Collver and “Wardog,” USAF A-10 Thunderbolt II and “Fat Albert Air Lines,” the Blues’ C-130J Super Hercules transport jet.
It’s the season debut for the Blue Angels, set to perform 61 flight demonstrations at 31 locales across the country.
After the Blues, festival-goers will be treated to a Food Fest, fireworks and a live concert by The Destroyers, “Navy Band Southwest’s “premier Popular Music Group.”
Ear protection is strongly suggested as are face masks — among modest COVID protocols in place, including enhanced spacing.
“We strongly recommend vaccinations or negative testing for all,” says the event’s website. “If you have tested positive for COVID, we ask that you do not attend this event, stay home, and give yourself a chance to recover.”
Updated at 3:58 p.m. March 8, 2022