BZ's SF Fleet Week '08 - Blue Angels page

Photo Gallery

These are my shots from the 2008 San Francisco Fleet Week air show, showcasing the Blue Angels in their F/A-18s! I've included Three days of the Blues' show here: Saturday, Sunday, and Fridays' pictures.

Working with the Airshow Network (who organized and setup Fleet Week air show), I was able to get some unbelievable access Thur, Fri, and Sat. On Sunday, I went out on the Bay with the Coast Guard on the Tern - which was a whole other level of challenge, fun, and incredible shooting!

So sit back, pop a cold one, and enjoy the most picturesque airshow in North America (if not the world!).

Used a Nikon D200 w/ a 70-300mm VR lens. Jets shot at ISO 200, shutter speed of 1/800 to 1/1000 sec.
- Bernard Zee

The Saturday Show

Here they come! Note their shadow on the hills...

After the 2 solo pilots part from the main formation, they separate and loop over downtown (the Transamerica building is behind the F-18)...

...then do a merge at show center.

The diamond formation loops around, but further away. You can see all the rooftops are popular spots for spectators (if the building management allows it)!

The San Francisco show is so special because of the wonderful backdrops to the planes. I believe that's Angel Island behind the Blues.

People on the cruise ship lined the decks to catch the airshow. Princess cruises, I believe.

Coming out of the Diamond Aileron Roll.

Can get some interesting shots from the roof tops, I think!

Ghirardelli building in the foreground.

Blue Angels' Fortus. I have no idea what 'Fortus' means!

Saturday is clearly the busiest day in terms of boat traffic. Here, the Blues are about to start the Diamond Dirty Loop.

Minimum Radius Turn baby! You can see the Afterburner lit for the maneuver. Nice and Loud!

Alcatraz is packed with spectators too! News reports indicate a million people watched the show. Trying to leave the city afterwards, I believe it!

Double Farvel. #1 and #4 are inverted. The San Francisco Belle had a good view of this pass.

The Double Farvel heads out towards the Golden Gate Bridge. Guests on the Potomac yacht can be seen in the foreground

#5 and #6 fly overhead to start their Opposing Minimum Radius Turns.

Here they are at the merge.

The 4 ship formation does the Echelon Parade pass.

The boats add a lot to the shots, but they can often also get in the way! Problem is my camera's autofocus will invariably prefer the high contrast mast of a ship to the planes, and I lose my focus for a few frames.

Here's the Opposing Horizontal Rolls merge.

Aha! The dreaded Left Echelon Roll - which is the feign for...

The Sneak Pass! Here's a very early shot of him, as #5 has just cleared the bridge and is heading for the deck. LOTs of people lined up on the Golden Gate Bridge watching the show.

Boats, boats, everywhere - except for the safety zone of course! As #5 starts to accelerate to near supersonic speed, most everyone is still blissfully unaware, and watching the far away Echelon Roll.

My anticipation grows as he streaks closer. Hoping I can keep up with him!

Smoke from the previous maneuvers still hang in the air as #5 hits his stride on the Sneak pass.

Here, he's around 700mph, in a scene unique to San Francisco Fleetweek! You won't see that many boats in the background anywhere else!

As the plane comes to the closest point, and a direct side view, visual distortions from the transonic flight can be seen coming off the fuselage. If the humidity was higher, we would be seeing vapor condensation cones where those distortions are!

With the hills in the background, the tops and bottoms of the visual distortions are more visible. You can see the effect coming off the cockpit as well.

Nowhere but SF is the sneak pass so picturesque!! I have a big smile on my face, as I happily click away at 5fps! So happy!!

Even at this point, there are people looking at the Echelon Roll (instead of the Sneak pass)... These passengers were on board the Potomac, which was in prime viewing position for the pass - but blocking me!! Of course, we (another photographer & I) figured that out before the sneak pass and made a run to reposition ourselves to clear the Potomac. Only lost a bit at the end, which is ok.

The Sneak pass has a twist, which is having the #6 plane fly up from directly behind (city side), which is very Loud!. This one almost always gets me, as the #5 pass is not yet completed.

Start of the Line Abreast Loop.

A nice banking shot of the solo aircraft with the GGB in the background.

One of the many breaks the Blues do.

Very cool how they break just after passing overhead!

Same as above, a split second later, but nicer light.

I think it's the Inverted Tuck Over Roll.

That's part of the Fort Mason visible in the foreground.

Another San Francisco landmark is of course, Coit tower. If you look carefully, you can see lots of people standing on the roof tops of homes!

I believe this is the Fleur de Lis

The Solos Pass to Rejoin

The Berekely hills can be seen in the start of the Delta Break pass

It was hard to get this shot, as he was passing almost directly overhead, and I was contorting like a pretzel to get him. I liked the shot because you can see the afterburner flames - which is hard to spot on an F-18.

Some more afterburner goodness!

Almost a monochrome color effect as I'm shooting a bit towards the sun.

The final Delta pass signifies the end of the Blues routine.

Another fun and exciting show!

See you tomorrow!! hehehe

The Sunday Show

A nice tight shot of one of the solos as he screams by overhead.

On the bay (in a boat), I'm much closer for this Opposing Pass! Good timing eh? :-)

The Diamond 360 starts out over downtown SF.

Another uniquely San Francisco shot on the Diamond 360 pass.

Lining up for the Opposing Knife-Edge Pass.

I was excited to get another nice shot for the Opposing Knife-Edge Pass.

Shot of the Diamond Roll.

Start of the Opposing Inverted to Inverted Rolls.

Oh yeah!

Still rolling!

Hmmm...wonder what airshow this is from?

From the Diamond Aileron Roll.

There's that Fortus thing again.

The minimum radius turn is always a treat for the Alcatraz viewers.

The Double Farvel. I also have no idea what Farvel means...

GGB shot!

Starting out for the Opposing Minimum Radius Turn.

This time, going clockwise around Alcatraz.

That big Coast Guard ship forms one corner of the rectangular safety zone.

I think that's Slacker Hill on the northern side of the Golden Gate Bridge span.

Left Echelon Roll: You know what this means...

The Sneak Pass is on the way!!

Being at the edge of the Safety Zone, the #5 plane seems to be coming directly at me...

As he gets closer though, his high speed suddenly translates to a very high crossing rate (in terms of angular acceleration from my point of view). See all that power coming off his twin GE F404 jet engines?


He's moving so incredibly fast now, I have never experienced anything like it! This is the last good shot in the sequence...

As I try to track him with the camera zoomed in, I get progressively further behind. Here's a nice shot of his tail, followed by many blank or out of focus shots!

By the time I catch up (over pan him), he's already started his pull up. Can't wait to try it again!!

Then I get surprised by the #6 jet flying a perpendicular path.

The 4 jets starting their Line-Abreast Loop maneuver.

The merge point of the Opposing Pitch up.

It's the Barrel Roll Break.

The Section High Alpha pass!

If I recall, they play the 'low rider' song during this section. Hope I'm not mixing it up with the T-Birds!
Update: ops! Wrong song. They play Foghat's Slow Ride for the High Alpha Pass. Thanks to Jody Snow for setting me straight!

I thought this was a cool shot with the light reflections and smoke.

I'm guessing that's a security guy on the roof keeping other people off. At least he got a nice show!

Coming in for the Low Break Cross.

Part of the Break.

#1 streaking away on afterburners

UC Berkely can be seen at the base of the hills.

Think that's the start of the Tuck Under Break.

Nice looking maneuver!

Really cool looking.

Sutro tower is another SF landmark. Many of the HD channels the Bay area receives are broadcast from there.

Doing the Fleur de Lis.

They get spread out really fast!

I've always like the angles on the Solos Pass to Rejoin.

A bit of a posterior view.

Lining up to start the Loop Break Cross (Delta Break). Again, love the background!

Here's the break!

Only got some of the planes as they crossed back in the center.

There's that elusive afterburner tail again from #5!

The Final Delta pass, almost in black and white.

One last Golden Gate shot!

They passed by pretty close!

Exciting angle!

Ah. All too soon, it's over. Till next year!!

Friday's practice

In case you havn't quite got enough Blues, here are some more shots from their practice run on Friday (yes, I jumped back in time!).
Would have been interesting to be in the high rise building with this head on pass.

Some crosses.

Can't quite make out the flag. I think it's from the Red and White Fleet cruises...

Diamond 360 and the GGB


Diamond Roll

Diamond Dirty Loop

Notice the inside of the air brakes painted red...

Alcatraz and the minimum radius turn. A little less people on Friday, but still crowded!

Double Farvel, and the top parts of the Potomac - which by the way, is sold out almost a year ahead for this event! The Potomac was used by FDR as a floating Whitehouse.

It's nice to have some clouds to brighten up the picture!

No security guard on Friday. Hmmmmm...

This must be the Echelon Parade.

OK, by now - you should know that if you see this...

You should be looking far left for this!

Very Few boats on Friday. Thursday too for that matter...where the Blues also did a survey flight and practice show. If you can get out there on Friday, that's the time to beat the crowds.

That's the fancy Alameda Sheriff’s gun boat in the background. Well, I don't know if that's what it's really called - but they did have twin .50 M2 machine guns mounted on the front. I have a better shot of it the 'Boats' section.

I don't know why the humidity is so low over the bay. But it is. Friday was a hair bit more humid than either Sat or Sun, and you can see a hint of condensation forming around the rear bits of the plane.

The opportunity to get shots like this is why I took the day off!

If not for Angel island hills, we wouldn't be able to see any of the optical distortions from the high speed pass.

Even though the plane is not supersonic, regions of the air flowing around it get accelerated to supersonic speeds as it hits an obstruction (like the cockpit). Shocks within the supersonic flow (often causing it to decelerate to subsonic conditions) produce large gradients in air density and index of refraction, bending the light differentially on either side of the shock. Really no chance of seeing the effect on a blue sky background...but with the low pass, and Angel island hills and Alcatraz as a backdrop? Yeah baby!!

If anyone is comparing, yes - this years' pass is much higher than last years'. I've heard through 2nd hand sources that someone had raised a stink about the pass being too close to boats (and maybe too low?). However, I heard back that there really wasn't anything to it, the pilot just had to answer a few questions.

Still, it was a very impressive display. Funny thing is, I hardly noticed the noise. I think I was so focused on taking the shots, that the jet sounds didn't really register. Happened on all the sneak passes - even on the boat (where the sounds should have been deafening!). I think my wife can relate... :-)

Oh look, a bit of vapor action!

Line-Abreast Loop – the most difficult formation maneuver to do well (according to Wiki)

The Opposing Four-Point Hesitation Roll

An interesting view of the Blues as they prepare for the Vertical Break

#6 preparing for the Opposing Pitch Up

No merge shot, but here's the pitch up with a tiny bit of vapor!

Hmmm... can't remember what island this is.

Barrel Roll Break

Section High-Alpha Pass

Which of course, is the show's slowest maneuver. A bit of reflection adds spice to the shot.

Very quickly afterwards, the 4 ship formation flies over the city for the Low Break Cross

Visually quite interesting!

The Tuck Under Break always looks good!

This would be the Delta Roll.

The Loop Break Cross covers a whole lot of ground, as after the break the aircraft separate in six different directions, perform half Cuban eights then cross in the center of the performance area.

The Delta Breakout is towards the very end of the show, and looks better no place else (than SF)!

We don't get to watch the takeoff or landing at the SF Fleetweek air show, so they do a Delta pass as the final act. Thanks for the wonderful and inspirational show!

Click on the link below to return to the 2008 Fleet Week main page.
SF Fleetweek '08 Gallery Index