Some fans showed up to watch what could possibly be their last practice of the season.
9,200 spectators, about twice as many as usual, gawked at the sky above Pensacola's Naval Air Station yesterday. They were worried it could be the year's final practice of the famed Blue Angels, naval aviators maneuvering a half-dozen F-18's in a Diamond formation at top speeds of 700 miles per hour.
They're daredevils. But no one has found a way to loop around sequestration, the mandatory federal budget cuts that will ground the squadron beginning next Monday.
“Major loss, major loss. Especially to this area, and especially to the Navy as a recruiting tool,” says John Hung, a Navy Veteran.
Since 1946, the Blue Angels and their acrobatic high speed stunts have wowed crowds and helped the Navy with its recruiting
But it's expensive P.R., and the Navy must slash four billion dollars, its share of the mandatory budget cuts. Part of that is cancelling the Blue Angels regular season, an estimated savings of twenty million dollars.
“Right now, we are just waiting for further guidance to find out what will happen to the Blue Angels’ practices as we go into April and May,” says Lt. Katie Kelly with the U.S. Navy Blue Angels.
But the Navy's not alone. The Air Force puts on a similar air show with the Thunderbirds, elite pilots demonstrating in F-16's. The same budget cuts have forced the Air Force to cancel the remaining twenty shows in this year's Thunderbirds season.
The Blue Angels typically perform in 70 shows a year. The Navy has already cancelled all four shows scheduled for April.
“If they don't fly, if they don't do air shows, they're still going to have to practice. They've got to be ready. They've got to be ready all the time,” says Troy Corter, a volunteer.
There's a growing chorus of complaints from fans. The Blue Angels hope to practice again next week. But for now, in air shows, budget cuts have silenced the familiar roar of aviation's best-known daredevils.