JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – This weekend the weather will be sunny and expect to see the Blue Angels pull out all their tricks. Flying at speeds up to 700 miles and as close as 18 inches from each other, weather is critical to the success of Blue Angels safety.
Visibility is the primary concern and the biggest factor on the types of maneuvers you may see. As long as pilots see at least three and a half miles, the Blue Angels will fly in rain unless it reduces visibility or becomes severe.
Three various programs are flown determined by cloud base called ceiling. Often the plan is decided shortly before the show begins. The "high show" is performed using the entire 15,000 feet of vertical airspace and includes all the aerobatics you are used to seeing. As clouds drop the show eliminates some aerobatics typically when the ceiling hovers around 4500 feet in the "low show." Don't expect to see any upward maneuvers with the "flat show" during overcast 1000 foot ceilings.
When conditions are borderline the lead solo will maneuver a left or right 360 roll in a stunt called the Dirty Roll to determine the weather conditions. Maneuvers are often flown higher during the first half of the season but can drop down to 200' as the season progresses.
Tragic accidents happen like the fatal crash during last summers air show in Tennessee. Investigations into what caused Capt. Jeff Kuss's jet to crash showed he was concerned about billowing clouds at 3,000 feet. The report said he asked a fellow pilot before takeoff if he could attempt the high-performance climb with clouds in the flight path.
"Weather conditions and fatigue were contributing causal factors, but ultimately, the mishap was due to pilot error." according to Navy Vice Admiral Shoemaker's report on the crash.
Streaks of jet smoke help solo pilots keep track of each other during haze or low visibility. This safety measure also highlights the flight track for spectators.
Contrails from high altitude jets are different from the smoke produced by the Blue Angels. Both pose no harm to the environment or humans. Heated air coming out of jet engines above 26,000 feet condense water into ice crystal contrail clouds. The Blue Angels fly low so smoke is produced by pumping biodegradable, paraffin-based oil directly into the exhaust nozzles of the aircraft, where the oil is vaporized into smoke.
Cold air doesn't stop the show but when temperatures drop to 40 or below the F/A 18's get stored in a hanger.
Temperatures at the coast this weekend will be in the low to mid 70s with breezy NE winds gusting to 25 mph Saturday. Don't expect perfect bikini weather but it should be great for flying.