2011 San Francisco Fleet Week

Photo Gallery

Each year, the whole Bay Area buzzes with anticipation as the Blue Angels and Fleet Week come to town. This year, the hype and excitement was even higher with the celebration of the 100 years of naval aviation. We were treated by the sight of the US carrier Carl Vinson, followed by a string of U.S. and Canadian vessels in the Parade of Ships Saturday. The air show over-flowed with awesomeness as 3 major precision jet demonstration teams, 2 different tactical fighter demonstrations, USCG helicopter and V-22 Osprey demo, various fly-bys, and Sean Tucker performed to packed crowds.

For this page, I'm going to try something different. That is, I'm picking only the best shots and fitting all 4 days of shooting onto one page. It really shouldn't be that hard, but sorting through tens of thousands of shots is tiring work; and selecting from those only a handful to post is downright painful! Hope you like 'em.
- Bernard Zee
Nikon D300 w/ Sigma 150-500mm OS lens, Nikon D200 w/ 18-105mm VR lens

As I mentioned earlier, I'm combining 4 different days of pictures from various locations on to the same page. Items are therefore not in strict chronological order. Hopefully, it'll have a nice logical flow though!

Making its way in the USCGC Hawksbill cruises by with the Port of Oakland behind it.

Docking here at Yerba Buena Island, many of the USCG boats come from surrounding areas to help out during Fleetweek.

On Marina Green, various organizations and groups set up booths and displays to interact and inform show goers. The group with the biggest presence had to be the Marines - with heavy emphasis on their emergency disaster response capabilities. Here showing a water purification and storage system.

Contrary to expectations, nary a weapon was in sight. Instead of tanks, there were trucks and construction equipment (fine, combat engineering vehicles). I was happy to see this D7 bulldozer though. Not just earth moving equipment - it's an ARMORED dozer!!

The young Marines there were happy to talk to you and answer any questions.

Following the fitness theme, there were other stations where kids can indulge in various physical activies like hoola hops here.

In acknowledgement of the upcoming Americas cup to be held in San Francisco, here's a shot of USA 76, one of the new advanced construction America's Cup class racing yachts. Out and about for Fleet Week, probably more for brand awareness than racing prep. Hey, maybe someone will invite me to help cover the upcoming 2013 race! :-)

For the parade of ships, I made a special effort to get close to the bridge to catch them coming in. Unfortunately though, the fog really messed up my shots. Would have been better off staying further towards Marina Green, where it was clear. Anyhow, here's CVN 70 - Carl Vinson crossing the threshold.

Nowhere as big as the Carl Vinson, the guided missile cruiser USS Antietam (CG-54) is still an awesome sight.

The Carl Vinson did send aloft a pair of Seahawk helicopters which circled the bay while the ships made their way in.

This was a pretty special shot which I was thrilled to be able to capture from my location close to the bridge.

Another view of the Antietam.

One of the larger patrol boats the out was USCGC Orcas WPB-1327. That golden domed structure is the Palace of fine arts.

I had a really enjoyable time cruising the bay aboard the USCGC Dorado (Sunday). Would have been wonderful positioning for the Blues show - except that the late afternoon fog put a damper on things by causing the Blues to cancel.

Also part of the parade of ships were the USS Milius (DDG-69) seen here docked at the pier 27.

One of the larger ships the Canadians brought was HMCS Ottawa (341). The Ottawa is the latest ship of the Halifax class produced under the Patrol Frigate program.

The pair of Coast Guard cutters - USCG Alert, and USCG Bertholf at Pier 35.

The first planes to do a Fly-by were a pair of EA-6B Prowlers.

In service for 40 years, the Prowlers main mission include radar jamming, and gathering signal intelligence.

With its crew of 3, the Prowler can take out enemy air defenses with Shrike and HARM missiles - which home in on radar emissions. The Prowler may soon be replaced by a F-18 derivative called the Growler soon though.

Similar to years past, the Coast Guard HH-65 helicopter made an appearance at the show - here with the iconic Alcatraz behind it.

It wasn't quite the regular rescue swimmer demo, as the show schedule was so tight this year. It hovered low for a while, then flew off.

Looking better than many state sponsored demonstration teams, the Patriots flew a 6 ship formation at this years' show.

Sponsored by Fry's Electronics and Hot Line Construction, the Patriots started flying in 2004 with 2 planes, then 3 in '04, 4 in '06, and now 6 planes!

For me, the Patriots are a nice blend of the Snowbirds precision aerobatics and the high energy power of the Blue Angels.

The Gloss black planes are L-39 Albatros trainers developed in Czechoslovakia.

On the water, you can sometimes get a really different (and cool) perspective on the performers.

At this show, the Patriot lead solo flew VERY low over the water. Lower (dare I compare?) than the fabulous Blues sneak pass!

The opposing solo follows up, but somewhat higher than the lead plane.

This shot shows the Patriots crossing at the bottom of the loop. Earlier, at the top of the climb, 5 planes went CCW, and 1 plane went CW.

I intentionally made this shot black and white, because shooting into heavily backlit scene does terrible things to the color! I did like the Downtown San Francisco scenery though!

While the trademark red, white, and blue smoke looks really awesome - it'll add to the general haziness of the sky if there is no wind to blow it clear.

This is sort of an unusual head-on shot - from a boat perspective.

The previous shot lead to the 6 plane merge at show center (seen here from a different angle).

Is it a plane, is it a helicopter? It's both! No longer the stuff of Sci-Fi, the V-22 Osprey has been operationally deployed for a few years now.

The concept is relatively simple, tilt the rotors upward, and it'll function as a helicopter. Tilt it forward, and it'll fly like a regular plane. The devil is in the details though, and the V-22 had a lot of details to work through.

Despite a long, controversial, and expensive development process, the V-22 is beginning to prove its worth in such far off places like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. This is an interesting shot of the Osprey pulling some vapor on the top wing!

The V-22 can carry between 24 and 32 troops (depends on how you pack 'em in!), and fly at up to 241 knots with a combat radius of 426 miles.

A flight of Yak-18/Nanchang CJ-6s made a couple of passes over the Bay.

The B-2 Spirit made a special guest appearance Saturday (only).

Flying quite high, it was hard to frame any San Francisco landmark with it. But here's an attempt with the foggy Golden Gate Bridge.

Not too often you'd get to see a B-2 in the same shot as a boat mast.

This B-2 is the 'Spirit of Indiana'.

The very popular Snowbirds are Canada's military jet demonstration team.

Based out of CFB Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, the Snowbirds are officially called the Royal Canadian Air Force 431 Air Demonstration Squadron.

The Snowbirds fly the CT-114 Tutor as their demonstration aircraft. Aptly named, the Tutor served as Canada's primary jet trainer until 2000. Would be much cooler looking if they transitioned to their new advanced Hawk trainer though!

For the show, the Snowbirds operate 9 aircraft flying in a variety of set formations.

Not as sleek looking or loud as a front line fighter, the Tutor nevertheless does a nice job showing off the skills of the Snowbird pilots in precision formation flying.

With their on-board smoke generators, the Snowbirds act has been described as a beautiful ballet dance across the sky.

Similar to other teams, the Snowbirds have their share of solo crosses.

They however, throw in much more complex interweaving style of flying - which looks thrilling and dangerous at the same time!

This looks like some giant sheers in the sky.

Not only do they do solo crosses, they do multi-plane crosses! Which looks really awesome!!

A view of the Snowbirds making a roof shaped trail with coit tower and the Bay bridge in the background.

It was a special treat to have the Snowbirds flying at Fleet Week, and it was a pleasure to watch their performance!

One parting shot of the Snowbirds, with Alcatraz in the foreground.

One of the undisputed superstars of the show had to be the F-18F Super Hornet.

The Superbug entered fleet service in 1999, and effective replaced the aging (but nevertheless awesome) F-14 Tomcats. The Tomcats were officially retired in 2006.

Although the Super Hornet looks a lot like the legacy F-18 Hornet, it is largely a whole new aircraft.

20% larger, it has a 41% greater range, and 50% greater endurance. Also called a 'Rhino' to distinguish it from the smaller legacy F-18s.

What made the Superbug demo so awesome was the high speed pass. The F-18F is not quite Mach 2 capable, but it can accelerate to the speed of sound pretty darn quickly! As he gets to the transonic region, vapor starts to form in the low pressure regions of the pressure waves.

Here's a real close view as he passes by our boat on Sunday.

From a farther view, the F-18F is just under the speed of sound, and have generated this huge vapor cone (otherwise technically called a Prandtl-Glauert singularity).

As this sequence of shots show (left to right, top to bottom), the vapor cone is not static, but collapses and reforms in a strobe like fashion. There should be some real good video of this out there somewhere!

Now typically, we don't see such a huge vapor cone - but the humidity and conditions were just right that weekend, and boy were we ever treated to a spectacular sight!! This shot also shows a cute dimple in the rear portion of the cone.

On the final pass, the Super Hornet pilot flashed a peace sign as he flew by. I'm sure it's because he saw me and my camera! :-) I know, I know...I still like the shot.

A regular (well, 2nd time anyway) at Fleet Week, this United 747 made a couple of passes. This one framed with Alcatraz and the USS Potomac.

While quite obvious to some, others weren't quite sure if the large Jumbo jet was part of the show or not. The answer is yes, it's part of the entertainment.

Coming in last and low, the F-15E Strike Eagle makes a dramatic entrance.

The F-15E evolved from the original F-15 air superiority fighter to be a deep strike ground attack aircraft.

Very loud and powerful, the Strike Eagle never fails to impress! Able to carry up to 23,000 lbs of ordnance, the Strike Eagle is still a lethal fighter, and can more than take care of itself against enemy aircraft.

Much of the vapor came when he did high G pull-ups or turns.

No huge vapor cone like the Superbug, the F-15E demo nevertheless ranks as one of my favorites to watch!

Screaming close overhead in afterburner, the prudent would put cover up their ears. Me? I'm not so sensible! Love that noise!!

Here's the Strike Eagle in a pretty photo pass.

A little more vapor before leaving the area.

May not be common knowledge that the Blues and other military demonstration teams take off from SFO.

Spent a little time there, and was able to catch them on the take off for the survey flight.

Flying the Oracle Challenger, Sean Tucker puts on one jaw dropping exhibition of incredible aerobatic flying!

Sean flips, rolls, and tumbles his plane across the sky like a gymnastic floor routine - with smoke!

As Sean flies past the Pier 39 area, huge crowds can be seen gathered all over to watch the show.

It's always a treat to see Sean Tucker take to the sky - never a dull moment!

On the water, USCGC Sockeye and Hawksbill enforcing the air show safety zone.

After a short break, the Blue Angels C-130 transport 'Fat Albert' flies over the city from behind Aquatic Park to begin its demonstration routine.

As the Blue Angels travel from city to city, Fat Albert transports the ground personnel and support equipment.

Humidity was just right to get the swirly prop tip vapors.

This shot is pretty interesting as it shows Fat Albert and the ever present pesky sail boat masts and the GGB. Those masts really have a tendency to throw off the camera auto-focus. 3D focus tracking helps, but is sometimes a 2 edge sword. Set the duration to too long, and you'd loose even more shots if the auto-focus got fooled!

A clean shot of Fat Albert and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Here's Fat Albert retracting his landing gear and pulling up hard.

In this signature banana pass, the C-130 is front lit nicely and the yellow prop tips are quite prominent.

A little backlit is ok too, as this shot really sparkles.

This is Fat Albert's high speed pass. Well, as high speed as a C-130 turbo prop transport can go!

After repositioning, Fat Albert starts his final pass flying from Alcatraz side towards the city.

Here's a nice head on view.

Picking up speed on the pass. Note the spiral patterned prop swirls!

He then pulls up sharply and levels off almost directly overhead.

As this is Fleet Week, I have to include a shot of the Jeremiah O'Brien - one of only 2 liberty ships still operating. This liberty ship was part of the historic D-Day Normandy invasion during WWII.

The Blues circle the city prior to starting their show. Well, since this shot was from Sunday, it's technically before they cancel their show - boo! :-)

George Cobb (WLM 564) Coast Guard Buoy tender.

The Blues ground team getting ready for the show to start.

And here they come! Flying over Angel Island State Park in formation.

The solos seperate from the main formation then split up.

They circle around, then cross in front of show center.

Flying in from the east, the 4 ship Diamond can be seen with the old and new Bay Bridge.

The Blues in their Diamond 360 in front of Alcatraz.

They're really tight there, with a reported 18" canopy to wingtip!

Got lucky with the opposing Knife edge pass. My timing is usually less than 1/10 of a second off - but at those closing speeds, is enough to not even have the other plane in the picture, at least not the whole plane!

Transamerica building with some of the Blues circling behind it.

About to start the Diamond Dirty Loop - where the 4 jets loop in a carrier landing configuration (gear down).

Here the lead solo starts the Minimum Radius turn.

From a higher vantage point close to the Golden Gate Bridge, you can get a 'big picture' look at the Blues with the Berkeley hills as a backdrop. Good for some shots, but really quite far from most of the action.

The solos break aggressively generating a wonderful vapor show by the Golden Gate Bridge.
The Double Farvel is a diamond formation flat pass with #1 and #4 inverted.

From this angle, the 4 planes looked fairly stacked together in the Echelon Parade.

This is what air show junkies like me so look forward to each time! Even at the beginning of his run, there's a vapor cone forming already. Look at the huge number of people on those tour boats. Unfortunately, the vast majority of them will be looking the wrong way - and missing the awesome sight of the SNEAK PASS!

You can just feel the speed and power in this shot.

A rather pretty shot of the Sneak Pass with just the Golden Gate Bridge.

The F-18 looks ethereal wrapped in wispy vapor. The lead solo isn't pushing the supersonic limit quite as hard as the Super Hornet was, as there's not the telltale vapor cone.

Between the tall tour boats, and multitude of sail masts, it's often a challenge to get the focus locked and stay locked through the pass. Sometimes I get luckier than others. And other times, it's all my fault as I have just a wee bit of panning difficulties.

I think these are some of the most exciting shots I got this year at Fleetweek! In most air shows, it's impossible to get this close to the sneak pass. I was super excited when the shots not only came out framed right, but sharp too!

It was flying so fast, and so close that I only had maybe 1 second from the time I first saw him crest the hill (this from a spot close to the GGB), to when he zoomed past me. My camera shoots at 6 fps, and I only got 3 shots of it! It was Glorious, Magnificent, and LOUD! What a thrill!

No vapor cone, but visual distortions from the pressure waves can be seen against Angel island. Being super critical, I think the shot could have been a bit sharper!

Oh how I long for the days of the super low pass!

Blowing past!

Always catching me by surprise, the opposing solo blast from behind in a perpendicular path to the lead solo. ALWAYS surprises me. I guess I don't learn very fast! :-)

One of the more unique shots I got this year, the opposing solo flies close by the Golden Gate Bridge.

High Section Alpha Pass - show's slowest maneuver.

Close up of the GGB tower with the Blues behind it.

Almost a head on view of the F-18, pulling hard in the turn.

Yes, he was CLOSE!

The opposing solo making its own weather.

Slightly backlit, the 5 ship formation looks almost like they're painted black instead of blue.

Lead solo at the end of one of his many passes.

The #4 slot pilot making a high G turn.

Guest on the Royal Star enjoying the Blues show.

Regrouping behind Coit tower.

The Blues are so tough they don't use G-suits when they fly the show. Some of these maneuvers have sustained 9Gs, which would put me to sleep in a couple of seconds flat!

An exciting look at the Loop Cross Break

The Blues crossing at show center after the Loop Cross Break.

The Delta Breakout looks striking with Alcatraz in the foreground.

The Delta Breakout from a different angle.

Delta formation lining up for the finale.

The final pass of the show!

Thanks for the memories!!

SFPD officer with his police Harley.

Coasties folding the flag soon after we got underway.

With the fog obliterating visibility by the bridge, the Blues had to cancel the Sunday's show. They did make one pass, and this is it!

Blues 6 ship Delta with all of San Francisco behind it. No fog on this part of the Bay!

One of the many law enforcement boats on the bay keeping the boaters back from the air show box.

The Alameda Sherriff patrol boat heads back after the air show is over.

USCGC Dorado heading back to YBI, about to pass under the Bay Bridge.

Another shot ofthe Orcas. Look at all that fog back there... sigh.

The Carl Vinson was anchored far from shore, so no ship tours for the carrier.

The end of another spectacular Fleet Week in San Francisco. Hope you liked it as much as I did!

BZ Chino 2011 Gallery Index