Blue Angels roar in on heels of storm

Precision fliers part of academy tradition

May 25, 1999|By Neal Thompson | Neal Thompson,SUN STAFF

As dark, late-morning skies spat lightning bolts, belched thunder and spewed rain, calls swamped the Naval Academy switchboard: Will they still come?

In time, the violent clouds rumbled east, the sun reappeared and the six jets of the Blue Angels aerobatics team screeched over Annapolis. It was almost as if the threatening storm had been scripted for dramatic effect.

The Navy's supersonic stunt flying team continued its 46-year tradition of performing spectacular aerial feats above the grounds of the Naval Academy as part of the school's pre-graduation Commissioning Week festivities.

The rites of years past were repeated. Annapolitans played host to Blue Angels bashes and barbecues. Children clamped hands over their ears to fend off the roar of the jet engines. Boaters bobbed on the front-row seats of the Chesapeake Bay. Police wrote tickets for the illegally parked cars. And midshipmen watched the skies as six of the Navy's best pilots rolled, looped and criss-crossed, sometimes within feet of their partner jets.

This year's performance was darkened by more than passing clouds. Many spectators were angry because they were not allowed to watch the show from a waterfront field that for decades has been the preferred spot for viewing the Blue Angels.

The academy's Dewey Field was off limits this year, the result of a dispute with a homeowner across the Severn River.

The dispute began last year, when Washington lawyer Brendan Sullivan, whose house is directly across from the academy on Homewood Road, refused to move a backyard lawn party.

The Federal Aviation Administration had ruled that Sullivan's house and two others on the eastern shore of the Severn were inside a spectator-free boundary required at air shows in case of a crash.

In years past, the FAA had let those homeowners stay in their yards and watch the show. But last year, the FAA clamped down and asked the homeowners to move. Sullivan, who is host of an annual Blue Angels show, refused.

Facing the possible cancellation of the show, Adm. Charles R. Larson, a former academy superintendent, crossed the river to plead with Sullivan, offering to take him and friends on a Navy ship to a VIP area at the academy. Twenty minutes before show time, Sullivan agreed to shift his festivities to his porch. But the FAA said that wasn't good enough.

Not until Sullivan and his party moved down the street did the F/A-18 jets roar over the water.

This year, to avoid another last-minute showdown, the academy and the Navy negotiated with the FAA and reached an agreement to move the 2,700-foot pedestrian-free zone toward the academy and away from Sullivan's house.

Moving the restricted area 150 feet to the southeast meant that spectators weren't allowed onto Dewey Field. Many of them watched from waterfront sites to the north and south. But most of the stunts are performed directly in front of Dewey Field, out of the line of sight of many spectators. Some pressed their faces against the chain-link fence around Dewey Field.

"I don't like it one bit," said Micki Hudson, who drove from San Antonio to see her son P.C. graduate tomorrow. She and a group of family and friends watched the show from another field at the academy, but trees and a fence blocked their view of most of the stunts.

Toni Robertson, P.C.'s godmother, said it was unfair that one person -- Sullivan -- could ruin the show for so many others.

"What everybody needs to do is go over and storm his party. That'll learn him," she said.

A phone call to Sullivan's house was not returned.

Spectators and academy officials pointed across the river to the lawn behind Sullivan's house that slopes toward the river, where guests could be seen seated or sprawled on the grass. The one restriction on Sullivan's guests was the yellow police tape stretched across the back yard, which prevented them from watching the show from the water's edge.

W. Minor Carter, an academy graduate and president of an Annapolis citizens' group, said many residents were angry that Sullivan inconvenienced thousands of others so that he could hold his party.

Pub Date: 5/25/99

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