2012/10/05-10/07 San Francisco Fleet Week


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 Francisco.

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 prison.

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 north.  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 air-show acts.

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.

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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 destroyed.

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 see.

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.

And T-33.

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 B747.

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 some more.

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 practice. 

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 though.

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 for fun.

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 year.

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