Blue Angels mark a soaring return to Annapolis

For three years there have been no diamond rolls or sneak passes in the skies above Annapolis.

That's changing this week as the Blue Angels elite aerobatic team returns to the Naval Academy for an air show scheduled for Wednesdayweather permitting, and for Friday's Naval Academy commencement, when they'll they soar over Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium and the capital city at hundreds of miles per hour.


Just a practice run Tuesday generated a buzz throughout Annapolis — and some deafening screeches from the Navy jets. The downtown historic district filled with people craning their necks skyward to catch a glimpse.

Sonny Santiago of Laurel was among them. He held up his pinky finger as he said, "There's like this many people who can do this in the world."


He and his wife Annie parked their Ford F-350 truck at Susan Campbell Park at City Dock to watch the rehearsal. "It's neat to see them working," he said.

A series of issues kept the Blue Angels from performing a show in Annapolis the past three years. In 2013, the team was grounded due to the federal sequestration budget cuts. In 2012, there was a scheduling conflict that confined their commencement appearance to a simple flyover. In 2011, a safety issue at a show prior to Annapolis forced the team to return to Pensacola for training.

"It wasn't the same the last three years. The excitement level was down," said Michael Schwartz, food and beverage director at Pusser's Caribbean Grille, where all 44 tables on the waterfront deck were filled with customers watching Tuesday's practice.

"It's something the whole city looks forward to," said Annapolis Mayor Mike Pantelides, who grew up watching the air shows.

The Blue Angels are glad to be back, too — especially the four team members who graduated from the academy. Cmdr. Thomas Frosch, the team's flight leader, said he loves performing over Annapolis, where he spent four years studying engineering and playing football as a punter for the Midshipmen.

"It's a tremendous honor to be back here. … To be able to do it over the Naval Academy, words can't express how exciting this is," Frosch said.

The return of the Blue Angels means green for Annapolis merchants, who count on Commissioning Week sales as a kickoff to the summer tourist season.

Tour company Watermark sold out several public cruises and private charters from its fleet of boats for both Tuesday and Wednesday. Every employee is required to work Blue Angels days, said Debbie Gosselin, Watermark's president.


She said Naval Academy families, corporate teams, tourists and locals come for a view of the Blue Angels from the water, giving her company and others a welcome weekday bump.

"We've missed them. We're very glad to have them back," Gosselin said.

Connie Del Signore, president of the Annapolis & Anne Arundel County Conference & Visitors Bureau, said Commissioning Week with the inclusion of the Blue Angels means a $2 million boost to the economy. Having the Blue Angels in the city, she said, draws people who aren't necessarily affiliated with the academy and its graduating class.

"Annapolis is the only place where you can see them several times in a week," she said.

Tom and Fran Cinelli of Lothian were perched on the sea wall at City Dock on Tuesday for the first of those appearances.

"It's just amazing," Fran said as Tom snapped photos with his cellphone, the jets circling downtown and past the State House dome.


Fran Cinelli said she was touched by the power of the sleek blue-and-gold planes. She recalled the Sept. 11 attacks in New York City — where the couple lived before retiring — and said seeing the might of the jets makes her feel safe.

"It brings tears to my eyes," she said.

The Blue Angels have been displaying skills as a community outreach and recruiting tool for the Navy since 1946. The team includes six F/A-18 Hornets and one C-130 cargo plane — nicknamed "Fat Albert." The pilots are all Navy and Marine Corps officers, though dozens of enlisted personnel serve support functions.

The Blue Angels pilots conduct maneuvers at altitudes as high as 15,000 feet for vertical rolls and as low as 50 feet for a "sneak pass." In their tightest formation, the "Diamond 360," the jets are just 18 inches apart.

Aviation fans have long held the Blue Angels on a pedestal, but the team has experienced some recent scandal.

Last month, the Navy relieved former team commander Capt. Gregory McWherter of his duties at a base in San Diego. That followed an investigation into allegations that while leading the Blue Angels he fostered an "inappropriate work environment" that included allowing "lewd speech, inappropriate comments, and sexually explicit humor" in the workplace, according to a Navy statement. McWherter commanded the Blue Angels from November 2008 to November 2010, and again from May 2011 to November 2012.


The Blue Angels team is scheduled to perform at 2 p.m. Wednesday over Annapolis and will make the flyover of the graduation ceremony just after 10 a.m. Friday.

The show can be viewed from the academy grounds, as well as public places around Annapolis, including City Dock, Jonas Green Park and the World War II Memorial. Narration will be broadcast on WNAV radio, 1430 AM. No parking will be available at the academy, and the Naval Academy Bridge on Route 450 will be closed from 1:45 p.m. to 4 p.m., or the conclusion of the show.

The Blue Angels will return to Maryland in September for the Star-Spangled Spectacular in Baltimore to celebrate the War of 1812 and the writing of the national anthem. Practices are planned Sept. 11 and 12, with air shows scheduled for Sept. 13 and 14.

Ann Beegle, executive director of Star-Spangled 200, said she's "thrilled" the Blue Angels are returning for the conclusion of the multi-year celebration. More than 1 million visitors to Baltimore are expected for the air show and the other Star-Spangled Spectacular events.

Tribune Newspapers contributed to this article.