For three years, there have been no diamond rolls or sneak passes in the skies above Annapolis.
But that is changing this week as the Blue Angels elite aerobatic team returns to the Naval Academy for an air show scheduled for Wednesday, weather permitting, and for Friday’s Naval Academy commencement, when they’ll they soar over Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium and the capital city at hundreds of miles per hour.
A practice run Tuesday generated a buzz throughout Annapolis — and some deafening screeches from the Navy jets. The downtown historic district filled with people craning their necks skyward to catch a glimpse.
Sonny Santiago of Laurel was among them. He held up his pinky finger as he said, “There’s like this many people who can do this in the world.”
A series of issues kept the Blue Angels from performing a show in Annapolis the past three years. In 2013, the team was grounded because of the federal sequestration budget cuts. In 2012, a scheduling conflict confined their commencement appearance to a simple flyover. In 2011, a safety issue at a previous show forced the team to return to Pensacola for training.
“It’s something the whole city looks forward to,” said Annapolis Mayor Mike Pantelides, who grew up watching the air shows.
The Blue Angels are glad to be back, too — especially the four team members who graduated from the academy. Cmdr. Thomas Frosch, the team’s flight leader, said he loves performing over Annapolis, where he spent four years studying engineering and playing football as a punter for the Midshipmen.
“It’s a tremendous honor to be back here. . . . To be able to do it over the Naval Academy, words can’t express how exciting this is,” Frosch said.
The return of the Blue Angels means green for Annapolis merchants, who count on Commissioning Week sales as a kickoff to the summer tourist season.
Connie Del Signore, president of the Annapolis & Anne Arundel County Conference & Visitors Bureau, said Commissioning Week with the inclusion of the Blue Angels means a $2 million boost to the economy. Having the Blue Angels in the city, she said, draws people who aren’t necessarily affiliated with the academy and its graduating class.
The Blue Angels have been displaying skills as a community outreach and recruiting tool for the Navy since 1946. The team includes six F/A-18 Hornets and one C-130 cargo plane — nicknamed “Fat Albert.” The pilots are all Navy and Marine Corps officers, although dozens of enlisted personnel serve support functions.
The Blue Angels pilots conduct maneuvers at altitudes as high as 15,000 feet for vertical rolls and as low as 50 feet for a “sneak pass.” In their tightest formation, the Diamond 360, the jets are just 18 inches apart.