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Fleet Week brings high-flying action, practical lessons to San Francisco

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When Adm. Chester W. Nimitz ordered the formation of a flight demonstration team by World War II’s end, no one really knew if the ploy to uphold civilian interest in naval aeronautics would stick.

But nearly 65 years after the inception of the Blue Angels Squadron, the blue and gold Navy fleet remains the heavyweight attraction at this year’s Fleet Week, San Francisco’s premier air show and display of military might. Though much has changed for Nimitz’s band of birds, his message remains the same.

Scroll down to see the maneuvers the Blue Angels will be performing and download the entire Fleet Week special section to take with you to the events.

“I would say the thing that has changed the most would be the actual aircraft that we fly,” said Lt. Cmdr. Ben Walborn, lead solo pilot of Blue Angel No. 5. “We have utilized eight different aircraft, ranging from propeller-driven fights from WWII to the highly sophisticated F/A-18 Hornet Strike Fighter.”

The six-member squadron has been a regular to both the early October festivities on the ground and in the sky during Fleet Week. Walborn and the rest of the squadron will perform numerous daring maneuvers scheduled throughout the weekend starting Oct. 7.

“For me, since I love flying, I could equate it to the ‘big game’ for anyone in their respective professions,” Walborn said. “I feel very fortunate to do this as my career and to be able to represent over 540,000 sailors and Marines deployed around the globe.”

But while large crowds will surely flock to San Francisco’s waterfront as this year marks the 30th anniversary of Fleet Week and 100 years of Naval Aviation, the event’s organizers hope to hammer home the importance of disaster-response preparations in case of a future emergency such as an earthquake.

Fleet Week Association Chairman and retired U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Mike Myatt is spearheading the humanitarian assistance efforts with Marina Green displays such as a field hospital and a chance “to take a drink of the pure water produced by the Marines using their special equipment.”

Aside from the various humanitarian displays, Myatt will host a Senior Leader Seminar aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard on Oct. 6. The meeting between appointed and elected local government officials and senior Navy, Coast Guard and Marine Corps officers is to “discuss how the U.S. Naval services will help us out should a catastrophic earthquake hit San Francisco again,” Myatt said.

One such military mind that will be at the seminar is Maj. Gen. Mark A. Brilakis, the commanding
general for 3rd Marine Division and commander of Operation Tomodachi, the Japanese relief effort in the wake of the havoc-wreaking earthquake and tsunami earlier this year.

“From our perspective down here, we saw this as a tremendous opportunity for us,” USMC Maj. Gen. Melvin Spiese said, adding that a San Francisco natural disaster could likely involve military assistance. “We do have a pretty reasonable record of supporting disaster relief situations throughout the world. For us this is a chance to work on a mission that can very well be given to us.”

Spiese also noted the natural geographic landscape and bridges of San Francisco make for a “perfect storm” when it comes to first responders providing relief.

“I don’t think this is a far-fetched scenario,” Spiese said. “This isn’t Wichita, Kan. This is a place that is going to be isolated very quickly.”

 

Snowbirds return from Canada for Fleet Week after two-year hiatus

After a two-year hiatus from San Francisco’s Fleet Week, the red and white Snowbirds are back from the frozen north.

The arrival of the 431 Air Demonstration Squadron, Canada’s leading aerobatic flying fleet, comes in the midst Fleet Week celebrating its 30th anniversary.

“It just shows how significant this event is and how much it means for us as Canadians to stand by our neighbors to the south and wave the flag alongside them,” said Capt. Marc Velasco, Snowbirds public information officer. “It’s really symbolic of how much the Canadian Navy and U.S. Navy work together.”

That military aviation pact began during World War II when the 431 acted as bomber squadron under the Royal Air Force Bomber Command. Through the Korean, Vietnam and Cold wars, “Canadians have stood shoulder to shoulder with their American brethren,” said the 28-year-old Velasco.

Despite the bomber squadron being disbanded in 1945, the 431 squadron was reformed in the 1950s, flying the F-86 Sabre. Today, Canadian forces employ the iconic CT-114 Tutor Jet, a plane they’ve used since 1971.

Despite the upgrade in flying equipment since the 1940s, that alliance dating back to WWII remains intact today, as U.S. and Canadian forces are currently deployed in Afghanistan and Libya.

Velasco, who joined the Canadian military shortly after 9/11, said the terrorist attack that took place in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., had a profound effect in Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan.

“It’s something that really affected the world,” he said, noting that Canadian civilians were also killed in the attacks. “It’s something we take very personally as well. We also believe on the war on terror and we wanted to act as a result of that.”

The pilots and technicians of the Royal Canadian Air Force will make their two-day stint in San Francisco before winding down their 41st air show season since 1971, Velasco said.

The Blue Angel maneuvers:

 

See the entire Fleet Week section: