Blue Angel commanding officer and flight leader Cmdr. Brian Kesselring speaks to media ahead of the Blue Angels Pensacola Beach Air Show on Thursday, July 8, 2021, in Pensacola, Fla.

Blue Angel commanding officer and flight leader Cmdr. Brian Kesselring speaks to media ahead of the Blue Angels Pensacola Beach Air Show on Thursday, July 8, 2021, in Pensacola, Fla. (Brandon Girod, Pensacola News Journal/AP)

PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) — There will be a lot of firsts at the Blue Angels Pensacola Beach air show this weekend.

It's the first time Pensacola will get to see the Navy demonstration team's brand new F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet jets, which are faster, more fuel efficient and sleeker than the old jets. It's also the debut weekend for the team's newest C-130J Super Hercules transport jet, better known as "Fat Albert." And it's the first full show since 2019, after Tropical Storm Barry forced a modified show in 2019 and the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered the entire program in 2020.

But it's also the first Pensacola show for Blue Angels "boss," Commanding Officer Brian Kesselring, who hails from Fargo, North Dakota, and will be flying jet No. 1 over the emerald green waters for the first time in an official show on Friday and Saturday.

"Certainly we practice (over Pensacola) over and over again, as many people saw last year. I was here on the team last year, and we practice over here, but no kidding, our first official air show in Pensacola is going to be my first one out here," Kesselring said on Thursday morning, standing in front of his shiny new Super Hornet at the Blue Angels' hangar onboard Naval Air Station Pensacola.

Kesselring, a 20-year Navy veteran who has done several tours with the military and taught at the elite Top Gun school in Nevada, spoke to reporters at the hangar on Thursday in advance of the Blues' practice show at 2 p.m. The team will fly Friday during the Pensacola Beach Air Show dress rehearsal, with the aerobatic acts beginning just after 11 a.m. and the Blue Angels overhead at 2 p.m.

Saturday marks the official 75th annual Pensacola Beach Air Show, and follows Friday's exact dress rehearsal schedule.

The Blues boss said that while fans can expect to see many of the same signature maneuvers this year, including the classic Delta roll or the fleur-de-lis, the new Super Hornet jets have allowed for some slight modifications to the classic moves that will delight even the most seasoned Blue Angels super fans.

"(The new Super Hornets are) bigger, they're easier to see, they've got a beautiful, wonderful paint job, they've got more thrust so that allows us to put a spin on maneuvers that look just a little bit different because of the way the Super Hornet flies," Kesselring said. "We're loving it. It's a better performing aircraft, it's a safer aircraft. It's got redundancy, electronics, hydraulics, all that, which just makes it a fantastic air show platform as well."

Tens of thousands of fans from across the country are expected to descend on Pensacola Beach this weekend, with many of them already crowding the beach Thursday to catch a glimpse of some of the practice. The weather is expected to hold out through the weekend, a promising sign for both the crowds and the pilots.

Kesselring said he's excited about performing his first official show for Pensacola, the cradle of naval aviation and the home of the Blue Angels.

"I remember being in flight school and coming down and seeing the show," he said. "And it's just, there's something about it. There's just kind of that family feel to it. Certainly, we get a lot of folks coming in from out of town, but just to be able to come back here and doing your show over the beach ball out at Pensacola Beach and the pier, it's something that's going to be super cool."

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