Plenty to keep air show lovers happy this weekend

Blue Angels, Air Race World Series, fireworks cap off Fleet Week activities

San Franciscans can celebrate The City’s 26th annual Fleet Week this weekend with tours of Navy carriers and destroyers, death-defying performances by the Blue Angels and the high-speed thrills of aerobatic pilots in the second-to-last competition of the Red Bull Air Race World Series.

Practice flights for the Angels and race pilots continue today with the first air show, including the Angels, beginning at 2:30 p.m. Spectators can see the blue and gold jets perform against the backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Marina Green, west of Fort Mason.

Hornblower Cruises excursions will run from 2 to 7 p.m. and a fireworks display will kick off about 9 p.m. Bring a jacket, as the weather forecast is overcast with temperatures in the mid-50s.

“Fleet Week is an enduring San Francisco tradition,” Mayor Gavin Newsom said. “It’s an opportunityto honor the service men and women of the Armed Forces for their tremendous contributions.”

A flotilla of Navy and Coast Guard vessels, including the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz and three guided missile destroyers will be on hand. The Canadian Navy, too, will have ships on display.

Six Blue Angels, flying F/A-18 Hornets, will continue the tradition started by Chester W. Nimitz — then the chief of Naval Operations — when he called for the formation of a flight demonstration team in 1945 to maintain the public interest in naval aviation following World War II.

The Angels will perform their formation rolls, climbs and dives around the San Francisco Bay — one of the more challenging tour stops due to the number of bridges, hills and antennas — on both Saturday and Sunday afternoons, according to Blue Angels’ spokesman Lt. Garrett Kasper.

If that’s not enough high flying, spectators can catch the second-to-last contest in the Red Bull Air Race World Series, with American pilot Kirby Chambliss leading the points standing.

Like slalom downhill ski racing, aerobatic pilots compete, speeding through pairs of inflated pylons, or gates, 60 feet tall, reaching speeds of over 300 miles per hour.

Air Race World Series makes only U.S. stop in S.F.

In a hurling, whirling blur of wings and propellers, some of the world’s best aerobatic flyboys will launch themselves at over 300 mph through a sea-level race course over San Francisco Bay during Fleet Week in hopes of winning the Red Bull Air Race World Series.

With the first four finishers typically separated by less than a second, top mental and physical preparedness counts, according to rookie Red Bull race pilot Hannes Arch. A European aerobatic championship already under his belt, Arch is in training with Red Bull teammate and current Air Race World Series points leader Kirby Chambliss to race next year.

While Chambliss, a Southwest Airlines pilot, and the other 10 World Series competitors checked out Saturday’s racecourse Wednesday, complete with its backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz, Arch, an avid base jumper and paraglider, gave The Examiner a taste of what it was like for racers inside the cockpit.

Strapped into Red Bull’s Edge 540 aircraft, Arch dove between inflated, 60-foot-tall pylons, pulling up with five to seven Gs and into a loop before performing multiple rolls. Next, he climbed straight up, nearly stalling before plunging back to Earth at about 250 miles per hour in a maneuver called a torque roll. While racers perform only a handful of aerobatics, they can experience up to 10 Gs and exceed speeds of 300 miles per hour on the slalomlike course in which pilots race for the quickest time while judges add penalty seconds for accuracy, Arch said.

“For me, it’s about flying in three dimensions,” said Arch, who stunned the world last month by winning the European Aerobatic Championship for freestyle in his rookie year. The key to winning the four-minute routine competition: his tumbling nose-over-tail entry maneuver, which grabbed judges’ attention, he said.

“The speed does not count for me. It’s a certain feeling I am looking for, a feeling that has to do with freedom, with peace of mind and a big wide horizon,” Arch, 39, said of flying.

ecarpenter@examiner.comBay Area NewsLocal

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