The 2019 US airshow season will kick into high gear this weekend when the Blue Angels perform at NAF El Centro in California. The team has been at the base for months, flying the 120 practice flights that make up their winter training syllabus.
We visited El Centro last week to get a look at the team, and you can watch one of their full practices below. Unfortunately the winds prevented us from catching the usual jaw dropping low takeoff, but it’s still a rare treat to watch a performance from the end of the runway, on the 1500-foot show line! Listen to the radio comms in the video to hear the wind callouts at various points during the routine.
We have also heard that the team’s famous C-130 Hercules “Fat Albert” has been spotted flying demonstrations in practice, but there is no official word from the team as to her status during the season. Previously, rumors held that they do not plan to fly demonstrations this year as they work to preserve airframe hours until the planned purchase and acquisition of a C-130J from the Royal Air Force is finalized.
Fat Albert performances have been sporadic and rare since 2016, when corrosion issues were discovered that lead to the aircraft being sidelined for a months-long overhaul period. Less than a month after resuming performances in July of 2017, a Marine Corps KC-130 crashed in Louisiana, killing 16. The crash investigation discovered widespread problems with the propellers, and Fat Albert was again grounded, along with the rest of the C-130T fleet.
Bert resumed transportation duties with the team in mid-2018, but did not really perform. Flying the demonstration profile requires a significant investment in training time, so if the crew is flying practice demonstrations now, it seems all but certain that at least a few will be performed in 2019. Of course, they may be extremely limited, rare treats for the home town crowds in El Centro and Pensacola.
For their part, the US Air Force Thunderbirds have been busy with their own winter training as well as several high profile flyovers of the Super Bowl, Daytona 500, and the premiere of the new Captain Marvel movie. The movie is special because it includes a number of tributes to fallen Thunderbird pilot Major Stephen Del Bagno. They open their show season next weekend at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, AZ.
Of course, there are many airshows without jet teams and those are kicking into high gear as well. We attended the MCAS Yuma Airshow last weekend, and the Space Coast Warbird Airshow in Titusville, FL will be taking place this weekend.
Want to know where you can see the Blue Angels, Thunderbirds, and other major performers in 2019? Head over to our airshow calendar and search for events near you!