The air show was this weekend, so yesterday I headed on over to Quonset to view the festivities.
I took the side roads across town rather than the highway route I usually take and that turned out to be a terrific decision. As I crossed the bridge over the Quonset connector on my way in, I could see that traffic on it was at a standstill*. In fact, traffic coming from the north on Post Road was similarly jammed, although it was completely clear coming from the south. Which is how I came. I had no problem getting to my workplace, and then I rode my bike the rest of the way, a mile and a half or so.
* It turned out that traffic was backed up Rt. 4** and then north on Rt. 95 all the way to freakin' Cranston. 50,000 people showed up on Sunday, after only about 30,000 showed up on Saturday. The weather was much less promising Saturday, and the forecast Sunday was for it to be gorgeous***. That turned out not to be the case, but by then everybody was already there. Or not, because they closed the roads in once they ran out of parking, and started turning folks away. First time that's happened in the 21 years they've been running the show. I'm still stunned by how easily I managed to make it in.
** Rt. 4 is also the main route to the beach in these parts, so that added to the mess. It was even worse later on when the show let out just as everyone was headed home from the beach.
*** The fact that the Air National Guard, who run the event, charge neither for admission, nor for parking also helped to pack 'em in. Everybody loves a bargain.
Once there I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around taking photos and video clips. I can remember going to a show in the 80's and chiding myself at the extravagance of going through four 36-shot rolls of Kodacolor. Yesterday I took 485 photos, plus 59 video clips, between my two cameras. And the only reason I don't have more video is because the battery in my new little Lumix ran out of juice right in the middle of the Blue Angels' routine. I'm posting three of the better shots here, with a few more up on my LJ Scrapbook.
The weather was dicey. Despite the forecast, clouds rolled in around noon, which was good in terms of keeping the temperature down, mid-70's with a nice breeze, but at times there were also occasional drops of rain sprinkling down on the 50,000. One neat thing about it was that the cloudy backdrop makes some of the photos, like the one of the two Bearcats up above, look like they were taken at 20,000 ft or so.
The highlight for me was the pair of Bearcats. The Grumman F-8F Bearcat is one of my favorite aircraft, and I'd never seen one in person before, much less two of them performing high speed passes. The Bearcat had a very short military career (it was developed at the very end of WWII), but it was the fastest piston-engined fighter the Navy ever had. A lot of them wound up having second careers as air racers. That other stalwart of the air race circuit, the P-51 Mustang (the second photo), is another favorite, and I have seen this particular one at previous shows. The problem is that they never really put it through its paces like the Bearcats were. It's used used as a member of the Heritage Flight, an ensemble of the P-51 and whatever current USAF hot fighter jet happens to be at the show that do slow passes over the crowd, basically a display of then and now. Cool, but it's sort of treated like an old lady.
The finale was the Blue Angels, who flew Bearcats back in the 40's. Now they fly F-18 Hornets, another favorite of mine. The Angels have had kind of a tough year. Back in May the Flight Leader resigned after the diamond of four aircraft performed a maneuver too close to the ground at one show. They brought back last year's Flight Leader to take over, and missed a couple of shows while getting him back up to speed. Saturday, apparently, three of the aircraft were unable to fly for various reasons. On Sunday, everyone got off okay, and then halfway through their routine, they just started orbiting the field. One of the planes then broke off and then landed. It was the #1 plane, the Flight Leader's. He taxied over to the the backup, #7, and switched planes. The #7 plane is the two seater they normally use for PR rides for local reporters. He took off again, and finished the routine in that.
Of course, given the traffic getting in, the traffic getting out was abysmal. Even by cunning bicycle plan didn't look so hot when the MP's refused to let me take the crossroad over to where my workplace is. I had to go out on the main road, riding the thin strip between the curb and the mass of vehicles trying to get out. My only advantage was that I was moving faster than they were, so I suppose that helped. Once I got back to my truck, and had taken a few gasping breaths of relief, I had to go out into that same mass of traffic. I wanted to take the local exit, reversing my route coming in, but this time the MPs had it blocked for some reason, and I had to take the jammed connector back to Rt. 4. Fortunately, when I got there, I was heading south, while everyone else and their brother was trying to merge into the returning beach traffic.