Naval Academy graduation has to do without the Blue Angels

He saw his first Blue Angels show in Detroit at age 6, and Thomas Frosch says the experience inspired him to want to become a pilot. He saw four more performances while attending the Naval Academy, including one the "Blues" put on before his graduation in 1992.

Now commander and flight leader of the Blue Angels, Frosch, a Navy commander, was looking forward to returning to Annapolis this week, where he would have led his team through its traditional jaw-dropping show as part of the Academy's graduation week.

But with commencement looming Friday, he's just one of many feeling disappointed — the Navy has grounded the Blue Angels for the rest of 2013 as part of the federal budget cuts known as the sequester.

For Annapolis business owners, the cancellation will mean fewer diners in restaurants and fewer customers on cruise boats. For residents, it means losing a spectacular centerpiece for picnics and parties.

"Every performance is significant, but that one has a special place in my heart," Frosch says. "The Annapolis [cancellation] is a real letdown for the graduates, the midshipmen, the parents and everyone else in that area who loves being inspired by aviation."

The move, which will cut $28 million from the defense budget, also eliminates the Angels' first-ever performances at the Ocean City Air Show, which were scheduled for June 8 and 9.

Announced by Frosch April 9, the Navy's decision marks the first time the Blue Angels — formally known as the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps Flight Demonstration Team — have been grounded since the Korean War.

The move eliminated 35 scheduled performances, including the team's just-about-annual show above the Severn River and environs during Commissioning Week, the seven days of pomp and circumstance that lead to graduation. The commencement itself traditionally gets a flyover as well.

It also dashed the hopes of the many who expected the Angels to return this year after two-year absence. The "Blues" missed their Annapolis gigs in 2011 due to a flight-safety concern and 2012 due to a scheduling conflict.

Tens of thousands normally pack downtown on the midweek show day to find good viewing positions on boats, on rooftops, on hillsides and anywhere else they can spread out a blanket. The shows have been a community tradition since the squad first came to town in 1954.

"It's part of growing up in Annapolis: you learn to fish, you learn to sail, and you watch the Blue Angels twice a year," says Sean O'Neill, a financial analyst who lives in town. "You heard those jets go overhead and you knew spring was turning to summer and a whole new season was under way."

Longtime resident Jeff Holland said the cancellation "isn't just a nostalgic disappointment; it's an economic blow."

Holland, a museum director and member of the Main Streets Annapolis Partnership, said he felt badly for the business owners, restaurant employees, marina workers and others who will lose money "because of this stupid situation."

Founded in 1946 as a way of boosting Navy morale and drawing public attention to Naval aviation, the Blue Angels flight team thrilled onlookers across the nation by performing low-altitude maneuvers in tight formations.

The Navy disbanded the team in 1950 because it needed its pilots and aircraft for the Korean War, but recommissioned the unit in late 1951.

Three years later, the "Blues" made their first appearance over Annapolis, and they've been back to perform a show during Commissioning Week and fly over graduation nearly every year since.

Over the decades, Annapolitans came to see the midweek show as an undeclared holiday.

Restaurants overflowed with customers. Boaters clogged the waterways, kids skipped school, caterers fed party-goers and marina workers pumped gas.

It's "wall-to-wall traffic" when the show happens, says Dick Franyo, owner of the Boatyard Bar & Grill in Eastport, which offers a close-up view as the Angels' F/A-18 Hornets do their 40 minutes' worth of barrel rolls, diamond formations and fall-away drops.

"It's deafening, and everybody is everywhere," he says.