I visited San Jose from 10/8 to 10/10. I am regularly
attending a research conference called
International Meshing Roundtable.
I visited Paris for this
conference last year. My paper was accepted for the presentation
this year, too. And, I made a trip for that purpose. The
conference location, San Jose, is about an hour drive from San
What's special about this year's International Meshing Roundtable
was that the Fleet Week in San Francisco was on the weekend immediately
before the conference. Fleet Week is famous for Blue Angels
performing over the bay in front of Golden Gate bridge and Alcatraz
If my paper was accepted, the university was going to pay for my airplane ticket
and hotel. Also, I would have a good reason to visit California
during the semester. Yes, it's a business trip! (I was not
bold enough to charge hotel fee for during the Fleet Week though.)
I was desperate to get my paper accepted in this year's Meshing
Roundtable. However, I had many research-unrelated work nowadays.
Teaching is ok. I'm having so much fun teaching. It's one of
my hobbies. But, I've been having too much programming tasks that
have nothing or little to do with my research. Getting salary is not easy.
I had limited time to push my research forward. I ended up with
submitting a very small extension from what I presented last year.
It was indeed my least confident submission I have ever submitted to this
conference. Despite my zero confidence, my paper was luckily
accepted. And, I was able to visit California to see Fleet We.....
well, to present my paper in the conference.
The lighting condition of this Fleet Week air show is perfect.
You can watch the flight demonstration from the Fisherman's Wharf facing
The sun is always behind you. If you choose to watch
it from Alcatraz island, you may have a closer look, but the lighting condition
will be poor. What's difficult was finding the show center.
In fact, you can see the flight from almost anywhere in the Fisherman's
Wharf. By the way, when you visit an air show, probably the first
thing you need to find is the show center. All aircrafts will fly
so that they appear the best from the show center. In general,
you can find it by bunch of radio antennas and a raised stand from where
the air-show announcer is talking. Typically it is close to the
VIP seating. Obviously VIPs want to have the best view of the
But, the show-center location of the Fleet Week air show was unclear.
After my survey,
this place seemed to be the show center. It is across the park
from the intersection of Beach Street and Larkin Street.
View Larger Map
This time, I decided to stay for two nights in a hotel in the
Fisherman's Wharf. So, if you stay in a hotel in the Fisherman's Wharf area, you can
walk to the air show. I was wondering if I had to pay for entering
the area, but there was no perimeter and no ticket gate. I could
just walk in to the area.
My honest impression was: WHAT A LUXURY! I never
imagined there existed such a treat. I had a nice seafood for
breakfast, and then walked to the show center from hotel, and watched
Blue Angels over the bay! It's the all airplane fan's dream!
According to the Fleet Week schedule, Blue Angels were to arrive
and fly some fly-bys on Thursday. Friday was for air-show
practice. It is called a practice, but it's actually a full air
show. I don't know why they call it a practice. Saturday and
Sunday were for officially full air shows.
My wife and I left Pittsburgh in an early morning direct flight
from Pittsburgh to San Francisco on Friday. Due to three-hour time
difference, we were supposed to arrive at San Francisco at around 9am.
Giving more than enough time to get to Fisherman's Wharf to see the
air-show practice. When I went to
Waukegan last month, we left the apartment
really early and got to the Pittsburgh international airport two hours
before the flight. But, there was virtually zero wait to
get through the security line, and we didn't have checked luggage.
We ended up having too long time in the terminal. This time, we left
the apartment so that we were to arrive at the airport one hour before
the departure. As you can guess, I saw people filling up the
security checkpoint. I seriously worried about missing the
airplane, but we somehow made it. We got to the gate about 10
minutes before the boarding began. The United Airlines Airbut A320
then had some avionics problem. According to the captain, one of
the computer was thinking that the airplane was already flying although
it was still at the gate. The problem was fixed, and the airplane
departed with a little delay. Nonetheless, the airplane made up
some time while in the air and landed at San Francisco around 9:30am.
Then, for some reason, the gate where our airplane was supposed to park
was occupied by another United Airline airplane. We had to wait
just short of the gate for 15 minutes or so. It was not too
serious for us because it was our final destination, but other
passengers who were supposed to take a connecting flight looked
visibly irritated. I thought United Airlines could do a better job like
assigning a different gate for that. Anyway, airline industries
have no concept of customer satisfaction now a days. I wish I had
my own Cessna 182 to fly from Pittsburgh to San Francisco. That
would be much longer flight, but I would be more than happy to fly that.
We picked up our checked luggage and headed for the Fisherman's
Wharf. By the way, I think airlines should really charge for the
carry on luggage. I am very unhappy for paying some money to get
my suitcase thrown, dropped, kicked, crushed, and utterly destroyed.
This time, our suitcase survived luckily with only one of the wheels
Because we are living in Pittsburgh, we are craved for fresh
seafood. Every food in the Fisherman's Wharf tasted like heaven.
For the breakfast, we had a crab cake sandwich and a bowl of cram
chowder. Then, I heard jet noise of two AV-8B Harriers! Oh,
no! We were enjoying food too long. My wife and I walked toward
the presumed show center. The following picture of MV-22 Ospley
was taken while we were walking (or actually wandering) in the area.
Soon we came to the location that was supposed to be the show
center. But, the airplanes were very far. Much farther than
a regular air show. I was using a lens that is equivalent to 800mm
lens for 35mm film SLR. But, T-33 appeared like this:
If you want to have a better close-up, you probably need to be on a
boat. There are many air-show watching tour boats departing from the
Fisherman's Wharf, but I didn't know where exactly those boats were
going to be, and if there are room for swinging camera freely. Also the
boat may not be very stable. We didn't go for it.
Instead, we walked a little more to
this place. I had GPS. I should have recorded exact
latitude and longitude, but it's too late. According to the Google
map, we were near (37.80809,-122.42750). From our location, we
couldn't hear the air-show announcements. So, we had to scan the
sky to find for the next performance. There were many pine trees
and some small cottages, which blocked our view. Also, we couldn't
see the Golden Gate Bridge from the location. Nonetheless, we
could see airplanes flying in front of the Alcatraz prison. That
was good, too.
From our location, CF-18 of the Canadian Air Force appeared like
the following with 200mm lens + 2X teleconverter + 2X crop factor.
This particular CF-18 (#781) was the same one that flew in the
Cleveland Air Show.
Following the CF-18, a Pelican performed a fly-by in front of us.
Then came F-22 Raptor. F-22 makes a unique whistling noise at
low airspeed and high angle-of-attack. According to a person who
is working for NASA, it is most likely due to the unique quadrilateral
shape of the air-intake. You can know that the F-22 is nearby by
paying attention to this whistling noise. I guess it doesn't
matter for the stealth-ness because F-22 would fly faster at lower
angle-of-attack over the combat area. I remembered the signature noise
from the Cleveland Air Show, and I was able to spot the airplane while
it was circling above.
F-22's entered from in front of the spectator area. It made
slow left and right turns, just like a clearing turn that we do before
practicing maneuvers in a small airplane. Most of the maneuvers
demonstrated the low-airspeed maneuverability of the airplane. It
flew like a propeller bi-plane aerobatics including tail slide, flat
spin (sort of), zero-radius loop, etc. It is only possible with
thrust vectoring with three-degrees of freedom. Each nozzle can
turn up and down independently giving two degrees of freedom, plus the cross section
can be changed independently for the third degree of freedom. I
have seen this performance twice before, once in
Columbus, and once in
Pittsburgh. But, this
was the first time for me to watch it in a good lighting condition.
It appeared small, but I think I had the best shot that I could get
with my camera.
And, it was followed by the Heritage formation with F-22, P-51, and
F-16. By the way, the last formation break of the Heritage
formation was closer to the Golden Gate Bridge, and could not see from
my location. Probably it was over Pier 3.
One of the special treats of the Fleet Week was supposed to be a
fly-by of a United Airlines Boeing 747..... But Boeing 777 flew in place
for 747 on Friday. Because I couldn't hear the air-show
announcement, I was caught by surprise. I should have extended my
lens a little longer for the first entry. It was a rare
opportunity of seeing Boeing 777 in a clean configuration.
Then U.S. Navy F-18F Super Hornet showed aerobatics. I
wondered if it was the same airplane as the Cleveland Air Show.
But, the one flew in Cleveland was #226 and this F-18F was #216, a
different Rhino. And, Sean D. Tucker was not visible at all from
my location. It was flying much closer to the Golden Gate Bridge.
I knew Blue Angels were going to fly next. I really wanted take
pictures of Blue Angels flying in front of the bridge. I decided
to move. I moved farther up the hill. At near the top of the
hill, I saw the Golden Gate Bridge. I decided to stay there and
My choice was absolutely right. I couldn't see the main
performance blocked by the pine trees. But, Blue Angels are flying
in front of the Golden Gate Bridge!!!! I had been wanting to see
it! My dreams come true! I don't know how many dreams came
true in a short time.
And a solo airplane flew in for the surprise pass (officially
called the sneak pass).
It gradually accelerated, and...
What a vapor along the shock cone!
If only it were not for the pine trees.... Or, if only my
camera was faster. I'm now looking into buying the last model of
Olympus E-System, E-5. With accessories, it's going to be like
$2,200 in total, but I'm looking into the possibility of getting one.
By the way, look at the underside of the airplane.
The image behind the shock wave is distorted. This phenomenon
is explained by Einstein's General Theory of Relativity. According
to his famous equation, E=mc2, the energy and the mass are
equivalent. Therefore, when an object accelerates, it gets kinetic
energy, and at the same time, it gets heavier. This Blue Angels
solo airplane accelerated so much and the mass became heavy enough to
distort the space-time around the airplane, and it distorted the light
passing near the airplane. It is called the gravity-lens effect.
Which is not true. Don't believe it.
What actually happened was the air heated due to the shock wave,
which changed the refractive index. It is the same mechanism as
how heat haze obscures the image.
Six Blue Angels airplanes flew in front of the Alcatraz prison.
On Saturday, we woke up early because of the three-hour time
difference from Pittsburgh. We walked to Pier 39 for the
breakfast. There we saw a Blue Angels souvenir store in the middle of
the touristic place. I have only seen it in air-show airports.
That was new (to us).
We walked around and came to the same location as the day before at
around 12:30pm. Soon, B-2 flew by. Again, we couldn't hear
the announcement, and we were caught by surprise.
Due to the better lighting condition. Underside marking was
very much readable. It was followed by AV-8B and MV-22 fly-bys.
By the way, GEICO Skytypers were advertising GEICO insurance.
A few Sea Lions were also watching the air show.
I was using ISO400 for the first day, but I tried ISO200 this time
for F-22. I tried to make it a little more crisp. It would
be nice if the F-22 appeared bigger. This quality was just good enough to see on
the PC monitor.
A team with 6 L-39 Albatross called Patriots flew on this day.
They showed nice color smoke.
I was expecting to see United Airlines B777. But, actually
B727 of FRYS.COM showed a fly-by. It looked like the airplane was
fitted with winglets. I should have used a little longer focal
length, but it was too late. It was followed by United Airlines
I didn't get any good shots of CF-18 and F-18F this day. I
couldn't see Sean D. Tucker from my location. But, I heard
propeller noise of his red airplane. I wondered if I should move
to the location that I used on the previous day, or if I should stay.
I saw much more people coming to the area than the previous day. I
was worried to lose a position with a clear view if I moved. But,
if I stayed, I had no chance of getting Blue Angels in front of the
Golden Gate Bridge. I had some good shots, but I wanted to get
I decided to move. I walked up the slope and came to the
location where I watched Blue Angels on the previous day. There
were people, but everyone was sitting, and there were a few more spots
to sit. I took one spot. I tried to see if I could swing my
camera freely. But, because I had to sit, I couldn't use my waist
rotation to swing my camera freely. But, that was the best
condition I could get.
Then Fat Albert came in. This special C-130 didn't fly in the
Fat Albert was supposed to be followed immediately by 6 F-18s, but
nothing happened for long time. I saw five F-18s circling over the
area, but one was missing. It was clear that one airplane had a
problem and others were waiting for the stand-by airplane to join.
I wish I had my airband radio. I think it took more than 30
minutes for the main part of the show to start.
I tried to take the surprise pass again, but I couldn't chase it
longer mainly because I couldn't swing my camera freely. And, I
didn't see a clear shock cone around the airplane. I might have
seen it if I could chase longer.
I wanted to take all six airplane in a delta formation in front of
the Golden Gate Bridge, but one airplane left before the last pass.
I could only have five of them.
On Sunday. I wanted to stay all day, but I had to leave
before Blue Angels to move to San Jose. Actually the weather was
not so good, either. Right side of the show center was clear, but
the cloud was low on the left side. I saw three AV-8Bs, instead of
two. It looked like a missing-man formation, but I didn't know if
it was intentional or one airplane was not keeping the right distance.
I think a typical missing man formation starts with four airplanes, and
one makes a zoom climb. So, it was a bit odd to be an intentional
missing-man formation. Again, I couldn't hear the air-show
announcement from my location.
In such a humid condition, I was hoping to see a shock cone on a
high-speed pass. I tried to get it during CF-18 demo. But,
it didn't show a too-impressive shock cone.
F-18F also did high-speed pass twice, but this one didn't show an
impressive shock cone either.
I was able to fit Patriots delta and Alcatraz in one picture
I thought the condition was too bad for United Airlines B747.
But, it actually entered from the opposite direction.
It was a rare opportunity of taking a picture of B747 in a clean
configuration. It was nice.
Then, Americas cup, a yacht race, started. I was not much
interested in yacht race. I was there to see an air show. I
wished it to be on a different day, but for whatever reason, they
decided to do it on the same day as Fleet Week. Since I had to
leave early, I wanted to see as many flights as possible, but the race
continued until I had to leave.
My wife and I came back to hotel, picked up suitcases, and headed
for the airport. When the shuttle came close to the airport, four
F-18s in a diamond formation, followed by two solos side by side, took
off San Francisco International airport. They flew almost
immediately overhead of the shuttle. I thought they were flying
out of one of the Navy air bases, but they were flying from San
Francisco International. From the airport, I could see smoke trail
of the formation making a loop over the Fisherman's Wharf.
I don't know when I can come again, but I definitely want to come
to San Francisco Fleet Week again. Next time, I would just come
This was the last air show I could visit in year 2012. At the
beginning of the year, I was expecting to come to only two or three air
shows, but I ended up visiting six air shows in total. It was a
nice year for me. I hope I can visit four or five air shows next