Aviation geeks will be seeing some new twists when the Blue Angels soar at Seafair

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Blue Angels jetsThe Blue Angels’ F/A-18 Hornet fighter jets are lined up in the parking lot of Seattle’s Museum of Flight. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

The sights and sounds of the Blue Angels flying their aerobatic fighter jets through August skies are a Seattle tradition – but this weekend, there are a few new twists.

The biggest twist in the Boeing Seafair Air Show takes place on the ground rather than in the air: The I-90 floating bridge is no longer being closed for the Blue Angels’ hour-long demonstrations on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

To minimize disruption to light-rail construction work on the bridge, the flight path for the air show over Lake Washington has been moved slightly south. That means the bridge is now outside the Federal Aviation Administration’s safety zone, known as “the box,” and traffic no longer needs to be halted. That also means spectators will no longer be allowed to stop and gawk from the bridge.

“Pedestrians and cyclists will be able to access the bridge’s pathway for the duration of the flights. However, it may not be used for stopping and viewing the Blue Angels. The path is a heavily used route for commuters and should be viewed similarly to a roadway,” the Washington State Department of Transportation says in an advisory.

State patrol officers will be monitoring traffic to make sure motorists don’t stop to watch the show. And it goes without saying that drivers should keep their eyes on the road rather than trying to snap a smartphone picture while they’re at the wheel. That’s what passengers are for:

One thing’s for sure: The pilots doing the flying for the Blue Angels are unfazed by the change. “It’s just part of the routine,” Navy Lt. Jim Cox, who’s flying the No. 3 jet, told GeekWire today.

“This is my first time here to Seattle, so I have really nothing to compare it against from last year,” he said. “With our show center being a little bit different, all of our pilots are going to use different checkpoints on the ground for our individual maneuvers and whatnot. But it’s pretty much transparent to us, because we just take what we’re given at each show site each year, and we can fly from there.”

The Blue Angels change up their show depending on the flying conditions. If there’s limited visibility, they might go with a “flat” show that stays closer to the ground. But if the skies are clear – as they’re expected to be for the 3 p.m. shows – there’ll be more of the high-arcing, smoke-trailing loops that are visible from miles away.

“We will do as much as we possibly can with the weather that we’re given,” Cox said.

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There’s one traditional plane that won’t be making an appearance this weekend: “Fat Albert,” the C-130T Hercules plane that traditionally transports the Blue Angels’ gear and personnel. After 17 years of service, Fat Albert was retired in May. In its stead, the Blue crew is relying on the Navy’s fleet of C-40s and C-130s to carry their stuff.

By next year, a C-130J Super Hercules transport plane acquired from Britain’s Royal Air Force should be ready to take its place as Fat Albert’s faster and more efficient successor. The Blue Angels are also getting ready to phase in a squadron’s worth of F/A-18E Super Hornets in 2021.

Another of this weekend’s twists has to do with where the Blue Angels’ jets will hang out when they’re not flying. Boeing needs to use the tarmac that’s traditionally set aside for the jets next to the Museum of Flight, so this year, the jets will be lined up in the museum’s main parking lot. That means museumgoers will have to use alternate parking lots (just follow the signs). But on the bright side, they’ll get a great view of the flying machines as they walk into the museum.

“This is almost making lemonade out of lemons,” Trip Switzer, the Museum of Flight’s vice president of development, told GeekWire. As an added sweetener, the museum is planning a host of events with a Blue Angels theme.

The Blue Angels aren’t the only aerial attraction, of course. The Boeing Seafair Air Show features an hours-long lineup of flight demonstrations, starting at 1:25 p.m. on Friday, 11:55 p.m. on Saturday, and 10:30 a.m. on Sunday. There’s even a mystery guest: Boeing plans to send an “X” plane flying overhead at 1:15 p.m. Sunday.

“We’ll fill in the name on Sunday when it flies,” said Patrick Harrison, Seafair’s director of marketing and communications.

Then there’s the hydroplane races: Genesee Park serves as the epicenter for Seafair activities, including the HomeStreet Bank Cup competition. The Seafair Festival website provides the full rundown on ticket prices, events and tips for getting around amid the congestion. If you can’t make it to the park, the Seafair Log Boom or the shores of Lake Washington, you can watch coverage of the thunderboat races from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday on KONG-TV and via King5.com, or listen to Log Boom Radio on 88.9 FM all weekend long.

And if you’re not a fan of loud planes or loud boats, there’s lots more to do this weekend – ranging from the Seattle Art Fair to the Lusio Festival at Volunteer Park to Concerts at the Mural and the Seattle Russian Festival at Seattle Center.