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2012 Air Shows

San Francisco Fleet Week Air Show, October 6-7, 2012

Location: San Francisco Bay, California
Admission: FREE
Parking: City streets and parking garages.
The annual San Francisco Fleet Week was held on October 4th through October 9th, 2012 with the Air Show taking place over the weekend of October 6-7. This year, among other events happening in San Francisco during that air show weekend, the America 's Cup World Series Races was an added bonus for spectators. Saturday morning began with the usual Parade of Ships entering the Bay under the Golden Gate Bridge. It included vessels from the US and Canadian Navy, the US Coast Guard, and the D-Day veteran Liberty ship “Jeremiah O’Brien”, all greeted by the water spray of a fire ship. The weather, despite forecasts, was perfect: blue skies with puffy white clouds and moderate temperatures. The air show featured a nice mix of military and civilian aircraft, from high speed jets to high-action aerobatic biplanes, and two performers from Canada as well. The airbox is located over San Francisco Bay, just north of the city’s waterfront. As such, there is no ground portion of the show, and no aircraft on static display. Fleet Week in San Francisco is quite different from the New York City Fleet Week held earlier in the year. In San Francisco you get to see a full air show on Saturday and Sunday against stunning backgrounds of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz, and of course the ever-present threat of fog, which disrupted parts of the Sunday show.
The San Francisco Bay area affords several good locations to see the event. Including practice day, held on Friday, there are three days of flying to watch, which allows you to go to different locations each day. Watching the air show from the iconic Golden Gate Bridge gets you up close to some of the participating aircraft as they manoeuvre to enter the airbox over San Francisco Bay. Fort Mason provides the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz as background. Being on the water during the air show provides unique views as well. Pretty much any place in the area provides a beautiful venue to photograph the action. From Fisherman’s Wharf, past Crissy Field, to standing on the Golden Gate Bridge itself, the sun is behind you making photography a joy. From Angel Island, Alcatraz or out on the water aboard the Jeremiah O’Brien you have beautiful views of the city skyline as a backdrop. There are no bad seats! Of course, pavilions with chairs, shade and catered food and drinks are available for those willing to pay for the comfort and convenience.
The Coast Guard started off the air show with a Search and Rescue operation by dropping a rescue diver into the water from a hovering MH-65C Dolphin and returning to retrieve him. On Saturday this was followed by three very nice passes by the B-2 Spirit “Spirit of Georgia” on a training mission from Whiteman AFB. The Marines sent an MV-22 Osprey from VMM-166 “SeaElk”, MCAS Miramar and a brace of AV-8B Harriers from VMA-311 “Tomcats”, MCAS Yuma.
There were four aerobatic performances during the show: Mike Wiskus in his bright red Pitts S-1, Canadian “Super Dave” Mathieson in his yellow MX-2, Greg “Wired” Colyer in his T-33 “Ace Maker”, and the incomparable Sean D. Tucker in the Oracle Challenger III biplane. The only manoeuvre missing from Sean’s routine was the triple ribbon cut, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he figures out how to incorporate that, too, in his over-the-water show.
The Patriots Jet Team, whose pilots include veterans of the Thunderbirds, Blue Angels and Snowbirds, put on a nice show in their six jet-black L-39 trainers, trailing red, white and blue smoke across the sky. This was followed by the Canadian CF-18 Hornet demonstration. This show was their season finale, and Captain “Paco” Gobeil pulled out all the stops, with a number of high-speed passes cloaking the Hornet in vapour. The bright sun and clear blue skies showed off the beautiful paint scheme to good effect.
With three international airports in the Bay Area, it’s common to see passenger jets of all types in the air, but it was still a treat when United Airlines sent their 747 Jumbo jet to perform a number of passes, including a low, slow, gear-down, flaps-down pass that seemed to defy the laws of physics by flying that slowly. During Friday’s practice it was a 777 that performed. Fry’s Electronics also sent their Boeing 727 for a flyby, giving the audience a blast from the past.
Maj Henry Schantz put on an incredible demonstration of the F-22’s aerial capabilities during the Raptor Tactical Demonstration. Seeing this fifth generation fighter perform a tail-slide, loop seemingly about its own axis or flutter downwards in a flat spin is indescribable. Photographers were treated to two very nice “banana” passes, one showing off the topside, the other displaying an open weapons bay. Following his demo, “Schadow” formed up with the circling P-51D Mustang “Wee Willy II” and the F-16C Fighting Falcon from “Viper West.” They returned in the Heritage Flight, performing the standard three passes, followed by individual barrel roll passes.
“Fat Albert”, with its all-Marine crew, demonstrated what this sixty-year old aircraft design can do. The brightly painted C-130 performed its usual steep climb and descent to open and close the show, with a number of passes in between. The final low pass over Alcatraz Island directly towards the city’s waterfront brought gasps from the crowds. The Blue Angels closed the show, putting on their high show under bright blue skies. Sunday’s air show was interspersed with the final races of the America 's Cup World Series and the schedule was further affected by the fog, delaying or curtailing some of the aerial performers.
Performers included:

USN Blue Angels

USN F/A-18E Super Hornet VFA-122 “Flying Eagles”, NAS Lemoore

RCAF CF-188A (CF-18) Hornet Flight Demonstration

USCG MH-65C Dolphin, SAR Demonstration

USMC MV-22 Osprey VMM-166 “SeaElk”, MCAS Miramar

USMC AV-8B Harrier (x2) VMA-311 “Tomcats”, MCAS Yuma

USAF F-22 Raptor Tactical Demonstration

USAF B-2 Spirit “Spirit of Georgia” Flyby (Saturday only)

USAF Heritage Flight: P-51D Mustang “Wee Willy II”, F-16C Fighting Falcon “Viper West”, F-22 Raptor

The Patriots Jet Team

United Airlines Boeing 747 (777 in Friday’s rehearsal)

Fry’s Electronics Boeing 727


    Greg Colyer, T-33A Shooting Star “Ace Maker”

    “Super Dave” Mathieson, Scheyden MX-2

    Mike Wiskus, Lucas Oil Pitts S-1

    Sean D. Tucker, Oracle Challenger III

Rating: 9 out of 10 (due to fog on Sunday)



Report by Norman A. Graf for ASR Media LLC
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