Notorious SF: Blue Angels

The Blue Angels, diamond position.
The annual Fleet Week appearance by the Navy's precision flying team the Blue Angels has San Francisco buzzing for days at a time. The sheer military braggadocio of their awesome speed and power stirs tensions between hawks and doves. The sonic serenade of the F-18 Hornets' jet engines scares cats and veterans - pets and vets! But no reaction can match those of San Franciscans who witnessed the startling debut of the Blue Angels over the City skyline in 1983. Without notifying the public or then mayor Dianne Feinstein, the Navy obtained a waiver from Federal Aviation Administration restrictions against flying very fast at altitudes within 1000 feet of things like buildings and people. When a practice session began without warning in the skies of San Francisco on Wednesday, October 12, the public freaked. Hundreds of calls were received at police stations and San Francisco International Airport during the half hour the Navy jets (then A-4 Skyhawks) roared over and around downtown office buildings and City landmarks. One of the jets is said to have come within a few feet of Coit Tower. Feinstein ordered the Navy to land the jets but the session had already ended, and even if it hadn't, the matter wasn't within her jurisdiction. To be sure, many people thought the Blue Angels were cool then, as a millions do today. But in 1983, a lot of people thought the Russians were coming. Like San Francisco, Feinstein quickly became accustomed to the annual spectacle. One year after the cease and desist, Feinstein went on a ride-along with Lt. Commander Mike Gershon. The iron mayor described an exhilarating experience and said she wasn't at all queasy. Fleet Week started in 1981 to celebrate the anniversary of the U.S. Navy. San Francisco and the Bay Area have a rich naval history, though the Navy's presence, and that of all military personnel, has been reduced to almost nothing since the Bay Area base closures of the 1990s.

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