Zone to watch Angels moved

Dispute with neighbor leads academy to shift air show off-limits area

April 15, 1999|By Neal Thompson | Neal Thompson,SUN STAFF

The annual Blue Angels air show at the Naval Academy almost came to a screeching halt last year when a riverfront Annapolis area resident -- prominent lawyer Brendan Sullivan -- refused to move his lawn party out of the show's off-limits "aerobatic box."

This year, to avoid another last-minute showdown, the academy is moving the off-limits box 150 feet to the south and east.

That means Sullivan, whose practice is in Washington, can have his annual Blue Angels party.

But it also means the academy's Dewey Field, a grassy riverfront rectangle and the prime spot for watching the Blue Angels, is off-limits. Thousands who have flocked to Dewey Field in years past will have to sit elsewhere for the aerial performance May 24.

"I'm sure people who are used to seeing the air show from Dewey Field will probably not be as satisfied with this year's air show," said Cmdr. Mike Brady, academy spokesman. "The viewing area will not be as good as previous years."

The Federal Aviation Administration requires air shows to keep a 3,000-foot-wide area free of people, in case of a crash. Over the years, the FAA has waived that requirement and allowed the Blue Angels to perform with a narrower safety zone, roughly 2,700 feet wide.

The FAA also had bent its rules in years past to allow Sullivan and a few other riverfront residents to remain in the safety zone. But last year, the FAA tightened the rules and told Sullivan, who lives on Homewood Road across from the academy, and a few other residents to leave their properties and watch the show elsewhere. Sullivan said no.

A compromise was negotiated with the academy, and Sullivan agreed to watch the show from his balcony, and not his back yard. But hours before the show, the FAA said that wasn't acceptable and Sullivan would have to move, or the show would be canceled.

Former Superintendent Adm. Charles R. Larson took a Navy boat across the river and spoke to Sullivan. The academy made plans to call off the show.

"I was quite nervous that, with all those people sitting out there [on Dewey Field], we'd have to get out the microphone and tell everybody it's been canceled," Larson said.

He said Sullivan was angry that, after 20 years of watching the show with friends in his back yard, a government agency was telling him what to do.

"My rejoinder to him was that I promise we won't put you through this again," Larson said.

After discussions between the academy and FAA, a decision was reached to move the 2,700-foot safety zone toward the academy, and away from Sullivan's house.

"We shifted it in order to avoid last year's situation," said FAA spokesman Jim Peters.

Some academy officials said they were dismayed that their show had been affected by the conflict between Sullivan and the FAA. Spectators will be able to view the show from other sections of the academy grounds, such as Farragut Field and Hospital Point.

But the most thrilling venue has long been Dewey Field, which gave viewers a front-row seat to the Blue Angels' gut-wrenching, high-speed maneuvers.

The Blue Angels -- who now fly six F/A-18 Hornets -- have performed choreographed stunts before the academy's graduation for 46 years.

"Now I can see why he and Oliver North got along so well," said W. Minor Carter, an academy graduate and president of Annapolis' Ward One Residents' Association, who watched last year's show from Dewey Field. "It inconveniences thousands of people. It's sad. It does not win the graciousness of the year award, let's put it that way."

Sullivan, known mainly for representing Oliver North during the Iran Contra hearings, could not be reached for comment.

Last year, sitting in his back yard 90 minutes before the show, he said it was his policy not to talk to reporters.

Patricia Wall, president of the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Conference and Visitors Bureau, said out-of-town visitors might be affected by the new restrictions, but residents will enjoy the show at the many backyard parties that have become an Annapolis tradition.

"It's the kind of event that people who live locally have their favorite spots," Wall said. "I don't see it really causing any concerns for us."

Pub Date: 4/15/99

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