Maryland Fleet Week and Air Show will be taking over Baltimore this weekend

Look in the skies over Baltimore this weekend, and it won’t be a bird, or any old plane, or even Superman you’ll be seeing, but rather some of the Air Force’s most elite flyers.

And yes, there will be a Navy combat ship docked at the Inner Harbor, even though we’re not under attack — except, if all goes as planned, by several thousand tourists.

Welcome to the 2018 Maryland Fleet Week and Baltimore Air Show. At the Inner Harbor and other waterfront locations, Charm City will be rolling out the welcome mat for more than a dozen ships from the U.S., Canada and Great Britain, all of which will be open for tours Thursday through Monday. Taking off from Martin State Airport in Middle River, the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds on Saturday and Sunday will perform aerial gymnastics in the skies above the city.

And at both locations all weekend, as well as at Fort McHenry (a great location for watching the Thunderbirds, by the way), entertainment and educational activities will abound — including concerts featuring everyone from the U.S. Marine Brass Band to local favorite Cris Jacobs.

“It’s basically celebrating the city’s and the state’s maritime heritage,” says Chris Rowsom, executive director of Historic Ships in Baltimore, which maintains the USS Constellation and USS Torsk and is producing the weeklong sea-and-air show.

Recalling the city’s days as a major shipbuilding center, as well as its role in defending the U.S. from a British naval attack during the War of 1812 — events that would inspire Francis Scott Key to pen “The Star-Spangled Banner” — Rowsom noted that “Baltimore definitely has a big Navy history, and this is a way to celebrate and commemorate that.”

The city’s also establishing a history of Fleet Weeks, chances for the Navy to show off a bit, maybe do a little recruiting and give their normally seafaring men and women the chance to step out on dry land for a while.

Technically, Baltimore staged its first Fleet Week in 2016, joining a host of other cities chosen by the Navy, including New York, Seattle, San Diego and Fort Lauderdale, Fla. But activities here celebrating the War of 1812 bicentennial in 2012 and 2014 were Fleet Weeks in all but name, including ship visits and airplane flyovers.

“We have about 3,000 sailors that will be coming to Baltimore and some of the Navy's most capable ships,” U.S. Navy spokesman Ed Zeigler said in an emailed statement. “Fleet Week is important to the U.S. Navy because it gives us an opportunity to show off our incredible sailors, our magnificent ships and demonstrate to the American public what the sea service is all about and why it's important to our national defense.”

Thursday through Monday, ships will be docked at the Inner Harbor, Fells Point, Canton and Locust Point. That includes the USS Milwaukee, a littoral combat ship that will be stationed along the Inner Harbor’s west wall, near the visitor center.

“I really wanted to have something very impressive right in the Inner Harbor,” Rowsom said.

Ship tours will be offered from 1 p.m.-6 p.m. daily; shuttle buses will take visitors from the Inner Harbor visitor center to Locust Point.

Baltimore will be playing host as well to Canada’s HMCS Moncton and the United Kingdom’s frigate HMS Monmouth. Also berthed here for the duration will be a replica of the square-rigged Godspeed, one of the three ships that brought the first English settlers to Jamestown, Va., in 1607.

Scheduled to arrive at Martin Airport on Thursday, the USAF Thunderbirds should prove the big draw for the air show, which is scheduled to run from 1 p.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Previous celebrations here featured aerial maneuvers from the Navy’s Blue Angels, but Rowsom promised the Thunderbirds would be just as impressive.

“They do some amazing stuff,” he said. “The Thunderbirds wanted to come to Baltimore, so the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds talked it out, and the Thunderbirds are here.”

Six jets will be in the air simultaneously, said Thunderbirds spokesman Staff Sgt. Ned Johnston, doing turns, rolls, loops and passes. They’ll be 250 feet off the ground, flying within 18 inches of each other.

“You can expect to see the epitome of Air Force flying,” Johnston promised.

If you go

Maryland Fleet Week and Air Show Baltimore runs Oct. 4 through Oct. 9. Ship tours are set for 1 p.m.-6 p.m. Oct. 4-Oct. 8 at the Inner Harbor, Fells Point, Tide Point and Locust Point. Flyovers by the USAF Thunderbirds and other aerial performances are scheduled for noon-4 p.m. Oct. 6-7. A Fleet Week Festival, with food, entertainment, kids’ activities and other cool stuff to do, runs 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Oct. 5-6, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Oct. 7 at the Inner Harbor, while an air-themed Open House is set for 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Oct. 6-7 at Martin State Airport, 701 Wilson Point Blvd. Free. mdfleetweek.org.

ckaltenbach@baltsun.com

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