August 2nd to 5th, 2011
Seafair Fleet Week
What an awesome week! Navy ships sailing about the bay, tours on the ships, climbing about armoured vehicles and helicopters, whilst historic and current military aircraft flying overhead, never a dull moment! A true “boys own adventure” week for sure!
The first day involved watching some of the ships come into Elliot Bay and docking in Seattle, the second day was when the action started with the parade of ships involving:
USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) an amphibious assault ship (carries Harrier II fighters, various transport and gunship helicopters, LCAC hovercraft, amphibious armoured vehicles, humvees, trucks and tanks, 1800 marines and a navy crew of 1200). Its job is to deploy and land Marine forces in an amphibious assault and also in aid of humanitarian operations around the world.
USS Chafee (DDG-90) and USS Sampson (DDG-102) guided missile destroyers.
HMCS Whitehorse & HMCS Nanaimo – Canadian coastal defence ships (small ships, but amazingly can change direction sharply without having to go around in a big circle, very maneuverable).
Plus Marine Corps and Canadian Coast guard hovercraft, US Coast Guard ships and a tug boat spraying water into the air!
US Coast Guard helicopters (Dolphin & Seahawk), a US Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet, P-3 Orion, EA-6 Prowler and Seahawk helicopter and a Douglas A-26 Invader all flew over the top of the parade at various times. Prior to this boeing flew 2 of their new 787 Dreamliners across the waterfront.
The second and third days I went on ship tours of the USS Bonhomme Richard, both Canadian ships and USS Sampson (I was impressed by the number of missile launchers on this thing, no wonder they call it a Destroyer!). This was a bit different from Fleet Week in New York City last year, there they let you go onboard by yourself and you were pretty much free to explore the public access areas of the ships, in Seattle they took you in tour groups. For my first tour I was with 24 Chinese nationals who only some could speak English, they were going nuts taking photos, pushing and shoving, ignoring requests/instructions of the sailors allocated to us…great fun! Felt like I was back in Beijing!
The amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6)was the highlight as it had various vehicles and aircraft on board to check out including the brand new Bell AH-1Z Viper gunship helicopter (a significant upgrade of the old Super Cobra with new avionics and four rotor blades instead of two). It was also pretty cool to be inside a brand new V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft used for airlifting Marines and getting to discuss the aircraft with its pilot.
I also took a seat in the cockpit of the massive CH-53E Sea Stallion helicopter (after pushing in front of the Chinese!). Whilst onboard the assault ship the US Navy Blue Angels were practicing overhead and at one stage flew low right over us while I was standing on the deck, which caused quite a bit of excitement for all onboard!
August 6th, 2011
So up until last year I had seen the US Navy Blue Angels and their blue and yellow F/A-18C Hornets once at the 2010 New York Jones Beach Airshow, now I have seen them 7 times (NY, Pensacola NAS x 2 days, Seafair x 4 days – 2 practice days and 2 air show days). Am I bored of them….NO WAY, they are awesome (USAF Thunderbirds and their F-16’s are likewise – I have only seen them once at the 2009 Dayton Air Show in Ohio)!
The first day I ventured down to Boeing Field just south of Seattle, this is where all the aircraft were flying from to do their displays for the Seafair Boeing Air Show over Lake Washington. The airfield is where Boeing first started building aircraft and they still have lots of facilities there, it is also home to the Museum of Flight (an excellent collection of aircraft from WW1 onwards). The museum has incorporated the original factory – Boeing’s “Red Barn” into the museum.
Part of the day was spent exploring the museum and it’s excellently restored aircraft. The museum is split up into the WW1 Gallery (with a number being original aircraft, along with replicas), WW2 Gallery (immaculate aircraft such as the Mustang, Spitfire, Corsair, Thunderbolt, Lightning, Warhawk and ME-109), the spectacular Great Gallery with many aircraft suspended from the roof (the centre piece is the Lockheed M-21 Blackbird a spy plane used by the CIA to launch supersonic spy drones back in the 1960’s), outdoor displays (including a B-17F Flying Fortress and WB-47 Stratojet) and the Airpark across the road (Concorde, JFK’s “Air Force One”, the first 747 and 737, a 727 and a Super Constellation).
They were planning to display one of the retired space shuttle at the museum but NASA have allocated them all elsewhere. The Museum seems to have jumped the gun a bit here because they have built a new space gallery to house the shuttle! Doh! A shame as that would have been a huge drawcard, but luckily they will get the full fuselage trainer from NASA sometime in 2012, which is a full-scale mockup of the space shuttle minus the wings.
As for the actual space shuttles, NASA has decided that Atlantis will be displayed at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Endeavour will go to the California Science Center in LA, the Smithsonian Institution will display Discovery in Virginia (it will take the place of Enterprise, the shuttle prototype used for tests in the late 1970s, which I saw there last year, it will in turn go to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City). The other two shuttles Challenger and Columbia (the first to fly manned missions in April 12, 1981) were of course sadly lost in accidents in 1986 and 2003 respectively (I will never forget awakening to the news reports of Challenger exploding in the sky that day in 1986).
The rest of the day was spent watching various historical aircraft take off and land, they would also do a mini-airshow over Boeing Field for the large crowd in the Museum carpark. This included a Supermarine Spitfire and P-51B Mustang together (love the sound of those classic Rolls Royce Merlin engines), USMC Harrier II jump jet, a Bell UH-1 Iriquois and Bell AH-1 Cobra gunship from the Olympia Vietnam Memorial Flight, Douglas A-26 Invader “Sexy Sue” and an impressive display of “high speed” low level flight and a steep landing by “Fat Albert” the Blue Angels C-13o Hercules (a crowd favourite).
For all my previous viewings of the Blue Angels I was never at the airfield from which they took off (all the shows I have seen they have performed over water and the spectators line the waterfront, rather than being over an airbase or airport), so it was a lot of fun seeing them getting prepared, doing their precise walkdowns and preflight checks. The 6 F/A-18 Hornets were lined up in a row and when they all fired up their engines and smoke it was a spectacular and somewhat deafening noise!
They then taxied out to the runway in formations of four and two aircraft, after a few minutes the smoke was turned on again and away they went. They flew over the field a few times whilst doing their air show performance, but the highlight was all six aircraft ripping up the field prior to landing, then zig zagging off in all directions! Great stuff! One by one they all landed and regrouped into formation to taxi back to the secured area. What a day!
August 7th, 2011
The Seafair festival culminates into Seafair Weekend at Lake Washington. This is a three day event incorporating the Hyperboat Races (the Formula 1 of boat racing) and the Boeing Air Show. I have never seen these types of boats in action before, it was pretty exciting to watch, the speed and the amount of water they kick up is impressive. The location I had on the lake shore was opposite the pit docks, so I could see them being lowered in and out of the water by huge cranes for each race and the finish line. So I got to see most of the action (missed the boat that flipped over though! The driver was OK).
The air show occurred prior and after the heat races for the Hyperboats, this worked well and for most of the day kept the action up. My only complaint was that the aircraft generally flew a long way off from the shore, so not much close in action for photos (next time I think I would go on the I-90 bridge that crosses the lake as all the aircraft flew straight over that at some stage). Having said that it was still a great show!
Most of the aircraft I saw at Boeing Field flew (no “Fat Albert” though which upset the crowd) with additional stunt flyers (some spectacular flying) and military aircraft (2 x A-10 Warthogs and a C-17 Globemaster III). The Vietnam Memorial Flight with the Iroquois and Cobra helicopters did fly close to the crowd which was great. The Blue Angels did their high show as there was not much cloud about which was great to watch (goes for about 45 minutes). I was in the right place to see their big final display which occurred right in front of where I was standing. A major highlight to finish the air show was a flyover by the brand new Boeing 747-8 Freighter (the extended Jumbo Jet) and its tiny little T-38 Talon jet trainer chase plane.
So that was it, Seafair ends for another year. It wore me out, I fell asleep on the light rail heading back to Seattle on the sunday! My upcoming week is going to be a bit boring after all that…oh well.