Backed by the tail wind of a rejiggered Navy budget, the Blue Angels are once again in the air show business with Pensacola Naval Air Station as their home base to launch a nationwide tour during which they expect nearly 15 million visitors to view their 38 appearances.
Grounded for most of their 2013 tour because of federal spending restrictions, the elite Navy flight demonstration team kicked off the 2014 show season at the Naval Air Facility in El Centro, Calif., on Saturday.
El Centro is the traditional winter home of the Blue Angels, and an 35,000 people the first show. A Blues spokesman said the team's estimate of total attendance approaching 15 million for the entire show season is typical of other recent years.
The Blue Angels normally do about three dozen shows annually but got into the air only twice last year.
That was a disappointment not only to aviation fans, but to small communities in outlying areas that count on the tourist dollars they attract.
Last year's military budget cuts, known as sequestration, canceled all Blue Angels performances in the last half of the year, including Pensacola Beach's annual Fourth of July Blue Angels Air Show.
A smaller air show featuring civilian acts was organized for Pensacola Beach in July.
The 2014 season marks the 68th year of Blue Angels performances.
The team is scheduled to perform at the Pensacola Beach Air Show on July 12.
Practices at Pensacola Naval Air Station, which can be viewed by the public from an area near Sherman Field behind the National Naval Aviation Museum, are scheduled to begin March 26.
The Blues will perform at the Los Angeles County Air Show this week.
A full schedule of the Blue Angles shows and practices can be found here.