Tens of thousands of spectators crowded the flight line at Kaneohe Bay yesterday to catch the Navy’s Blue Angels, an Air Force F-22 Raptor and other high-flying acts.
Tai Crouch took in the show from a unique perspective — sideways in a C-130T Hercules, known as Fat Albert.
The 30-year Punahou School teacher was picked for a ride on the blue, yellow and white propeller plane, which begins each Blue Angels performance with an eight-minute demonstration of the extreme capabilities of the venerable aircraft.
That included 375 mph passes, sideways banks and near-vertical climbs and dives. Twice during the flight, crew members who weren’t strapped in floated weightless in the cargo bay — hanging on only with their hands.
"I thought it was great. The (steep) takeoff was exciting and the zero Gs was unexpectedly exciting," Crouch said. "I looked out the window and it looked like the wing was skimming the ocean."
Marine Maj. Brendan Burks, the senior Fat Albert pilot, said all the maneuvers performed are to standards to which all military pilots are trained for combat. Five Marine Corps crew members were on board.
Fat Albert is a nickname given to the plane by Marine Corps Blue Angel pilots in the 1970s because of its size and shape, and is a reference to the cartoon character created by comedian Bill Cosby.
The Marine Corps donated the first C-130 to the Blue Angels team in 1970.
"When they did that, the commandant of the Marine Corps at the time they got the aircraft said, ‘One condition, that airplane will be manned by an all-Marine crew,’ and it’s been that way since 1970," Burks said.
Yesterday’s attendance was expected to be about 55,000. The crowd was treated to a free day of aerobatic performances, helicopter flights and a wall of flame replicating a 2,000-pound bomb drop.
An F-22 Raptor from the Air Force’s flight demonstration team showcased the capabilities that will come to the Hawaii Air National Guard, which is slated to get 20 of the stealth fighters.
The F-22 pilot out of Langley Air Force Base in Virginia displayed the thrust-vectoring that can direct exhaust thrust up or down by as much as 24 degrees, flying the jet down the flight line and pulling up into an unbelievably sharp-angled climb.
The F-22 also practically stood motionless on its tail high in the air, and corkscrewed in a superslow-motion spin.
The Blue Angels flew from about 3:25 to 4:05 p.m. in neck-snapping passes as the six blue and yellow F/A-18 Hornets roamed over Kaneohe Bay and crisscrossed paths at nearly supersonic speed.
The lowest and loudest flyby — the sneak pass at 700 mph and at 50 feet — went by in the blink of an eye.
Micah Lilo, 8, was using his hands to mimic the flying jets and how close they came. "Whoah!" he said as three sped by low and split away high in the sky, trailing smoke.
Micah’s uncle, Stan Rhoden, 49, had his 2-year-old niece in his arms. The little girl was asleep — even with the jet noise — but it was what Rhoden had come for.
"Beautiful. Awesome," said Rhoden of the Blue Angels’ flying. "I waited all day for this."
Crowds grabbed shade under some of the bigger static display aircraft, and hundreds of bunched-up people made an airplane outline in the shade cast by one of the Air Force’s big C-17 cargo carriers.
One of the Blue Angels’ main missions is to enhance Navy and Marine Corps recruiting, and 20-year-old Geoffrey Hermano was suitably impressed.
"Very, very cool," Hermano, a Kapiolani Community College student, said as the jets zoomed overhead. "I wanted to join the Air Force before. I’m still thinking about that after I finish college."
Crouch, the Punahou teacher, said some might see as a waste the effort by the U.S. to continually build up the military capability represented by the Blue Angels and Air Force F-22s. But he said he feels "it’s necessary to remain technologically advanced so that we can defend ourselves and our allies."
"I think the whole concept (of the air show) is excellent," he said. "It shows the capability of our armed forces and it also reminds people that we are in conflict — and this is just the tip of that capability."
Musical acts and fireworks rounded out yesterday’s events.
The Kaneohe Bay Airshow will be repeated all over again today. The gates open at 9 a.m. and flying starts shortly after that. In addition to the aircraft, about 100 cars will be on display during the Hot Day @ The Bay Car & Bike Show.
"Everyone here is really glad to see so many of our neighbors here to be a part of this event and we hope to see even more folks here (today)," said Maj. Alan Crouch (no relation to the teacher), a spokesman for Marine Corps Base Hawaii.