The skies above Seattle will be a lot quieter this upcoming Seafair weekend without the Blue Angels, but their replacements can still light up the sky.
Federal budget cuts forced the Navy to cancel nearly all of the Blue Angels performances nationwide this year. That left Seafair to turn to the Patriots, a California-based civilian jet team that performs at air shows around the West. And while they're not the Blues, the guys in the cockpits have some serious skills.
"We have a mix of talents, we have two former Thunderbirds, one former Blue Angel, one former Royal Canadian Air Force Snowbird and two highly skilled civilian pilots," says lead pilot Dean "Wilbur" Wright, a retired Air Force fighter pilot who flew for the Thunderbirds.
The all-volunteer, six-plane team flies the Czech-built L-39 jet, a smaller trainer used primarily by eastern European countries. They don't have the speed or range of the F/A-18 flown by the Blue Angels, but they're still extremely fast and maneuverable, Wright says, with a top speed of about 450 miles per hour.
"It's a very versatile jet, it's very suited for what we use it for. It's got speeds that keep us right in front of the crowd all the time. Unlike the other teams, we don't leave for two or three minutes before we appear at show center."
Wright says he knows they can't make people forget the Blue Angels, but their jets actually give them some advantages, allowing them to do maneuvers the bigger jets can't.
"We can fly at lower altitudes. We can fly closer together. We can fly closer to the crowds. So there (are) a few things in our quiver we can pull from to really entertain the crowd."
The one thing they can't do is buzz the city like the Blue Angels. The high cost of fuel keeps them fairly constrained, so we missed the usual flyby's over the area throughout the wee.
Still, he promises some high-speed thrills, as long as people can keep an open mind and not compare them to the Blue Angels.
"It sucks that this has happened," he says of the budget cuts that canceled the Blues across America. "The same thing has happened down here in the Bay Area with our own Fleet Week, but you know, get out and enjoy the day. I think people will be pleasantly surprised at how well we can entertain them," he says.
The Patriots Jet Team will perform at 1:45 p.m. over Lake Washington on Saturday and Sunday. The FAA requires the WSDOT to close I-90 from 1:15 p.m. to 2:40 p.m. each day, much like in the past with the Blue Angels. Tolls on 520 will remain in effect during the I-90 closures.
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