Fleet Week returns to San Francisco this week for the 30th time with new events and the same mission to support humanitarian assistance and disaster response, while saying thanks to the men and women of the United States Naval Services. This year marks the 100th anniversary of Naval Aviation and to celebrate San Franciscans will not only get to see the impressive maneuvers of Blue Angels pilots, but also the Marines AV-8B Harrier and the Canadian Snowbirds. All the action begins when they practice on Thursday and festivities will continue throughout the weekend.
The makings of fleet week began over 100 years ago when President Theodore Roosevelt sent what was known as the “great white fleet” around the world. The fleet consisted of 16 battleships manned by 14,000 sailors and arrived in San Francisco on May 6, 1908. The City of San Francisco threw one of the largest celebrations California had seen at the time. As each ship passed Fort Point it fired a 21-gun salute, and the crowds that had gathered along the shore to watch would respond with shouts of support. The officers were received with lavish receptions at places like the Ferry Building, Union Square’s Westin St. Francis Hotel and the Fairmont just up the hill. The sailors were entertained at local clubs, music venues and athletic events. In return, the people of San Francisco were allowed to tour the visiting ships. The aerial component of the celebration began 100 years ago when Eugene B. Ely successfully landed his plane aboard the USS Pennsylvania in the San Francisco Bay. The current iteration of Fleet week began in 1981 under Mayor Dianne Feinstein as a way to encourage patriotism and honor the men and women of the United Forces.
One of the newer elements of this week-long celebration is an emphasis on disaster preparedness. This week, Bay Area first responders are given the opportunity to meet and exchange ideas with people from the U.S. Military who bring experience and knowledge from disaster response and humanitarian assistance operations around the world. Several events, seminars and trainings are centered on raising awareness and helping to prepare the Bay Area should a disaster arise. While some of these events are by invitation only (generally geared toward those who work in the field of disaster relief and city leaders). Others are open to the public, and there will be an informative display on the Marina Green all weekend.
In addition to these helpful and educational activities, many festive events will take place throughout the week starting with the Blue Angel’s arrival and practice on Thursday afternoon. Don’t panic if you hear a loud roar whizzing through the sky near your Downtown office building. That will be the Blue Angels zooming around San Francisco, getting ready for their big performances this weekend. This will continue on Friday when they’re joined by the Canadian Snowbirds. Also on Friday, Pier 39 will host the Navy Band Southwest Concert. The weekend isn’t only about airplanes, though, it’s also about the Navy’s impressive ships, which will parade through the bay on Saturday morning at 11:00 AM. Afterward, of course, you can catch the first of two air shows both beginning at 12:30 PM on Saturday and Sunday. The Canadian Snowbirds will appear at 1:30 PM each day, and the Blue Angels will appear at 3:00 PM. Concerts will take place at Pier 39 both afternoons as well. Nautical enthusiasts should also enjoy opportunities to tour naval ships during the weekend. As always, there will be festivities throughout the City, and, of course, sailors exploring our neighborhoods and enjoying a break from their duties. A full schedule of activities is available here.
Whether you’re not such a big fan of the extremely loud rumblings of the Blue Angels as they rocket around the City or you look forward to seeing them every year, you have to admit that this event is a part of San Francisco history. It is one of San Francisco’s great traditions, and the new disaster relief activities as well as the many thousands of people who come here to enjoy the celebrations make it a valuable and relevant event for the city.