The Blue Angels and their lean F/A-18 Hornet fighter jets are in town today - as if anyone in greater Annapolis could miss them.
Between yesterday morning's flyover maneuvers low over the city and the afternoon practice for today's 2 p.m. air show, the Navy's precision fighter jet team drew a crowd at various points around the city on the second day of Naval Academy Commissioning Week.
At first, the crowds that gathered on the Naval Academy grounds along the Severn River yesterday afternoon found a placid spot where it was quiet enough to hear the church bells.
But then came a purr, a roar, and a great whoosh. Fat Albert, a blue C-130 Hercules equipment carrier, glided past Rickover Hall, appeared to part the trees and announced to the clear blue sky that the show was about to begin.
"Probably the only better thing would be to watch them in Iraq or Afghanistan," said John "Boomer" Groenenboom, an aerospace engineer who works on F/A-18s at Patuxent River Naval Air Station in St. Mary's County and was in Annapolis for his daughter's graduation. "But here, it's not the sound of fear. It's the sound of freedom."
Groenenboom watched the practice with Bobby Franklin, a representative in the Georgia legislature whose son is to marry Groenenboom's daughter a day after their Naval Academy graduation.
"I don't know how they do it," Franklin said. "The diamond formation, the trailing smoke - it really is something to behold."
The fliers in the daredevil group whizzed past each other at 450 mph, coming so close at times that the plane's noses appeared to kiss.
The smoke they left behind contorted into shapes resembling the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, a half-eaten pretzel and a puffy fleur-de-lis.
As onlookers yelled "Swwweeet!" and "Oohhhh!" many held their cameras far from their eyes and clicked away.
Bailey Bohl, 5, sat on his father's shoulders, clicking his camera and clutching his toy Blue Angels plane. He wore a pilot's helmet that his father, an academy engineering professor, had borrowed from his lab.
"They did this," Bailey said as he moved his little plane into circles. "And then they passed each other."
Naval Academy families mixed at City Dock with Annapolis' regular lunch crowd of tourists, merchants and office workers to catch a glimpse of the theatrics. Most knew what the roars and booms meant - the Blue Angels fly every year during commencement week.
But the fifth-graders on a field trip from Bel Air Elementary School in Harford County didn't know what was going on when, during their tour of the State House, the planes drowned out their guide.
"I was kind of scared. I closed my eyes and screamed," 10-year-old Rachel Kierzewski said.
"It sounded like they were bombing us," chimed in her classmate Emily Rate.
When the class went outside, the pupils' fear turned to awe. Rachel is even going home with a toy Blue Angels plane, courtesy of her father, Mike, an Army reservist and one of the class chaperones.
The Blue Angels' free flight demonstration is scheduled for 2 p.m. today, weather permitting.
Viewing areas are on the academy grounds; visitors should take photo identification.
The show is dedicated to Cmdr. William C. McCool, Class of 1983, who died in the space shuttle Columbia crash.
For information about weather-related cancellations, call 410-293-1000.