The beaches filled up well before dawn Saturday morning as an excess of 300,000 people set up camp for the Pensacola Beach Air Show.
The main Casino Beach parking lot reached maximum capacity around 5:30 Saturday morning, and it left fans scrambling to secure remaining parking spots elsewhere. By 8:00 AM, every parking lot within two miles of show center was filled, and some began to lose hope as thousands continued to file onto the beach.
Shortly after noon, Team Redline kicked the show off in their two RV-8's. They were followed by Red Bull Air Race Challenge Cup superstar Kevin Coleman dazzled the crowd with hardcore, heart pounding aerobatics in his Extra 330. On his 75th birthday, Gary Ward was next in his MX2, slipping it into knife-edge just feet off the water. The legendary Skip Stewart wrapped up the civilian acts in his highly modified Prometheus biplane, cutting a ribbon just inches above the railing of the Pensacola Pier.
The crowd enjoyed a nice hour break following Skip's performance, In which everyone cooled off in the beautiful Pensacola waters. Shortly before 2:00 PM, the United States Coast Guard took to the skies and cleared the waters for the headlining act, the Blue Angels.
When 2:00 struck, Fat Albert screamed over the Pensacola Beach water tower and went straight into a demonstration showcasing the capabilities of the Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules. Captain Katie Higgins had control of Fat Albert in her last Pensacola Beach Air Show as a member of the Blue Angels. She made sure to give everyone something to remember, as she positioned Fat Albert less than 50 feet off the water and crossed the pier with a separation of less than 20 feet! The crowd erupted as she pulled Fat Albert into the vertical during the head on pass, concluding Saturday's demonstration.
Moments after, Commander Ryan Bernacchi rolled the Delta formation out in front of the crowd and called "smoke on!" The Diamond broke off to air show left as Lt. Ryan Chamberlain made a grand entrance with a 270 degree turn. As the Diamond rolled out behind the crowd for the Diamond 360, MO came on the radio and gave the formation what they wanted to hear: "Clouds no factor. High show!" The Diamond responded with "High show! Let's crush it!"
The Diamond looked tighter than its been all year during maneuvers such as the Diamond 360 and the Left Echelon Parade. Lt. Ryan Chamberlain took advantage of his final sneak pass opportunity along the Pensacola beach as he screamed by the pier with vapor lining the wings.
Saturday's demonstration ended on an off note, as Commader Bernacchi rolled the Delta formation out for the Fleur-de-lis. As they closed in on show center, they never completed the necessary formation change for the maneuver, and instead completed a Delta flat pass from left to right. The team continued down the beach and made an unexpected right turn back to NAS Pensacola, never to be seen again.
Even with the shortened show, the entire beach gave their hometown team a round of applause. To many, it provided relief and assurance. The Blue Angels are back!