The British Royal Air Force's Red Arrows precision flying team thundered across the metropolitan skyline yesterday morning, fiery red streaks presenting a colorful display over Washington and the Potomac River.
"It sounded like a plane was going to fly right through my window," said Robert Gigliotti, who said the unexpected 9 a.m. show roused him from his Ridge Road home near the Pentagon. "They put on quite a performance."
The nine-plane team was flying in formation out of town en route to a scheduled performance at a North Carolina Marine base after drawing raves at Saturday's air show at Andrews Air Force Base.
The Red Arrows, on their first U.S. tour in 11 years, had been a star attraction at the Joint Services Open House at Andrews, which was jammed with hundreds of thousands of people who came to gawk at airplanes and watch flying demonstrations.
The Red Arrows, flying red British Aerospace Hawks, wowed the crowd with a 20-minute show of turns and rolls and loops and differing formations, sometimes trailing streams of red, white and blue smoke. On Saturday night, the flying team was honored at a reception at the British Embassy.
Also on the program were the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds in their first Washington appearance since a desert accident killed four of the group's six pilots in January of last year. The Thunderbirds have traded in their T-38 Talons for the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcons.
The crowd also saw a mass parachute drop by 304 paratroopers out of nine C-130s from the Army's 82nd Airborne Division, and later by members of the Golden Knights team.
On ground display were 54 military aircraft, some of them open for the crowd to examine. Some spectators retreated to the shade under fuselages and wings of the craft to escape the sun.
Next to the sleek high-technology military craft, were the more humble World War II flying machines reconstructed by members of the Confederate Air Force, an association of retired military officials.
Air Force spokesman Sgt. Leo Spielman said the Air Force estimated the crowd at 700,000, making it the largest military-sponsored air show this year, both in number of planes on display and spectators.
The crowd, which created a massive traffic jam entering and leaving the base, "was too large for us to handle," said a Prince George's County Police official. "We turned it over to the state police." State police reported that from the size of the crowd they had no reason to doubt the Air Force's estimate of attendance. Some motorists reported it took three hours to get from Andrews to Northwest Washington.
The military services held a special version of the air show Friday for handicapped persons and senior citizens, Spielman said. He said the base anticipated a turnout of about 5,000, but about 12,000 people--many neither handicapped nor elderly--turned out.