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September 30, 2007

Angels Flight

Over the past five days, I’ve spent a great deal of time watching these guys:

Those would be the United States Navy Blue Angels, visiting the Salinas Valley for last weekend’s California International Airshow. My son and I went to see them on Saturday afternoon, and I also had the pleasure of seeing them prior to the airshow – as I’ll explain a bit later.

But first, a confession: I’ve been a Blue Angels fan for almost 20 years now – ever since they were featured in the music video for Van Halen’s “Dreams” [see the end of this post], which was one of the coolest videos of the late 1980s, and far and away the best song in the otherwise regrettable Sammy Hagar era of one of my all-time favorite rock bands. (I know, that’s a pretty lame reason to get hooked on something - but remember, I was a teenager. I also bought an insane amount of Crystal Pepsi just because they used VH’s “Right Now” song in their advertisements. I was pretty much a PR agency’s dream consumer – but we’re getting off subject.)

However, I grew up an Air Force brat, and was fortunate enough to see many shows by the Thunderbirds precision flight team as a kid. So I’ve always had some internal conflict about liking the Blue Angels.

I mean … it’s OK to like the teams from both branches of the military, isn’t it? Isn’t this the equivalent of drinking both Coke and Pepsi – where both are very good and very similar aside from some subtle differences, and you just enjoy whichever one is available to you at the time? Or is it a more serious offense - like a form of military bigamy, or like simultaneously cheering for both the Yankees and Red Sox? I’ve never been really clear on this. And yes, it troubles me sometimes.

(On that note - If anyone from the Air Force or Navy happens to read this and can give me some sort of ruling on the situation, I’d appreciate it. Otherwise, I’ll move on with the post.)

Here’s my favorite picture from the airshow. It’s a bit blurry, but keep in mind that the fighters are flying in excess of 800 mph, and I'm shooting them with a 3” x 2” camera. The fact that this shot captured anything besides vapor trails is a major accomplishment for me.

Anyway, the show was great, and my son had a blast – but that wasn’t my favorite part of the Blue Angels visit. Rather, the best part of Airshow Week for Salinas residents is the three days prior to the show, when the Angels conduct rehearsal flights above the Salinas Valley in preparation for the weekend’s event.

For my group of swimmers who train in an outdoor pool at midday, it made for some pretty impressive distractions from a couple of tough workouts. During backstroke sets, we saw the Angels buzz over the pool in a tight delta formation. While swimming breaststroke or freestyle, our normal breathing patterns allowed us periodic glimpses of solo fighters doing barrel rolls, or pairs doing inversion maneuvers in our visual periphery.

And for me individually, the Angels’ flights actually helped me get through the sessions more easily.

I’ve written before about how I have a tough time keeping up with the rest of my masters group. I’m frequently the last person to finish an interval, thereby getting the least amount of rest before starting the next one. I usually hit the wall just in time to hear the instructions for the following set, and rarely have a chance to catch my breath before pushing off the wall to keep up with the others.

Last Thursday, the situation was different, and worked substantially in my favor. Instead of me hitting the wall just as the next set was announced, here’s what happened several times:

Me: (touching wall, gasping for breath)

Swimmer #1, simultaneously: … next is 2x 300 leaving on the …

Swimmer #2, pointing: Here they come, from over there!

And we’d all pause as the Angels passed overhead in formation, before resuming our next set. Each time, I would stare toward the sky, savoring the few extra seconds of oxygen, thankful for the intermittent disruptions to the relentless grind of the workout.

The funny part is, it was never discussed – nobody ever said, “Let’s wait a few extra seconds so we can see them fly past.” But unanimously, and without hesitation, we all did. I guess if there’s any way for me to describe how captivating these precision flyers are, that’s the best thing I can say: the sight and sound of them just freezes you in your tracks, commanding your attention away from whatever else it is you’re doing – even if it’s a masters swim workout.

Those extra moments of rest were exactly what I needed to keep up with the group, and those sessions during the Angels’ flights were the best swim workouts I’ve had in several weeks.

It’s a crazy consequence of swimming during Airshow Week in Salinas – one I look forward to every September.


Van Halen - Dreams:


craig 9/30/07, 10:20 PM  

My folks took my brothers and I to see the Thunderbirds when I was a kid. Power, speed, precision, agility. What's not to like? Thanks for bringing back a great family memory.

21stCenturyMom 9/30/07, 10:22 PM  

Last time I saw a Blue Angels show I overhead some guy saying "Ah - it's all computerized now - it's no big deal". I felt like turning around and asking him how big a deal he thought it would be to go wing to wing with 3 other planes at 800 mph.

I have mixed emotions about airshows from an environmental perspective but from a sensory perspective they are magnificent.

Robb 10/1/07, 12:10 AM  

We've got the Snowbirds here in Canada...but I've seen the Blue Angels on a visit here. They are awesome. Great photo and memories of Van Halen...right on dude.

Deene 10/1/07, 7:41 AM  

great photos, thanks for sharing!

Taryn 10/1/07, 10:14 AM  

Back when I was a college student in Seattle, trying to get my summer tan on at Madison Park, I would curse the Blue Angles flying overhead while they were practicing for SeaFair.... it took marrying a Marine and living in Pensacola for a year before I came to appreciate their talent and love them! Very cool you got a bit of a free show while swimming!

Taryn 10/1/07, 10:14 AM  

Back when I was a college student in Seattle, trying to get my summer tan on at Madison Park, I would curse the Blue Angles flying overhead while they were practicing for SeaFair.... it took marrying a Marine and living in Pensacola for a year before I came to appreciate their talent and love them! Very cool you got a bit of a free show while swimming!

Paul 10/1/07, 10:19 AM  

I used to go see them and the thunderbirds (now defunct I think) at the Moffet Field air shows. Good times. Nice pics!

TriBoomer 10/1/07, 11:37 AM  

Always enjoy an airshow. What an experience, eh?

Stay tuned...

Addy 10/1/07, 7:57 PM  

I remember seeing the blue angels in a cabbage patch as a child :) Glad you had fun watching them!

the Dread Pirate Rackham 10/1/07, 8:24 PM  

I totally forgot about Crystal Pepsi.

Spokane Al 10/2/07, 7:34 AM  

I spent many years in the Air Force and never grew weary of watching air shows. Whether it was the Thunderbirds, the Blue Angels, Canada’s Snow Birds, or watching the Italian and the British teams while is Europe – I thoroughly enjoyed them all.

P.S. It does trouble me to see the San Francisco shenanigans in the attempt of some to stop the Blue Angels from performing there.

angie's pink fuzzy 10/2/07, 8:10 PM  

you captured one of my favorite things from growing up in salinas :)

Backofpack 10/2/07, 9:06 PM  

When I was a kid it was travelling to the Abbotsford Air Show up in Canada. I really don't know which teams we saw - it seems like over the years all of them - but they were so awesome. My favorite memory though is watching for the Goodyear Blimp every year. It would float over our house on it's way north -we'd know it was coming and spend the whole day watching for it. One of my brothers or sisters or my Dad would come running into the house shouting that it was in sight and we'd all run out to the front yard to lay in the grass and watch it go by. So cool...

Lauren 10/3/07, 6:56 AM  

HA HA HA HA :) Van Halen's Dreams. hahaha :)

You awesome 80's dork

Dying Water Buffalo 10/3/07, 6:59 AM  

Hiiiiiiiiigher! And Hiiiiiiiiigher!!!!!!!!!!!

Classic. I also loved their "Right now" swimming video. We used to watch it before meets. :)

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