Blue Angels Maneuver Filmed From Alcatraz Looks Straight Out Of ‘The Rock’

A Blue Angels practice session filmed from Alcatraz evoked the finale of Michael Bay’s 1996 blockbuster in spectacular fashion.

byJoseph Trevithick|
The Rock F/A-18 Alcatraz
Hollywood Pictures


The U.S. Navy's Blue Angels are currently in the San Francisco, California area for Fleet Week and were out over the bay there yesterday ahead of their shows this weekend. As part of yesterday's practice session, the team's F/A-18 Super Hornets did the Delta Breakout portion of their routine right over Alcatraz Island. The resulting spectacle, filmed on the island itself, looked directly ripped from the climax of Michael Bay's 1996 blockbuster The Rock.

Adam Landau, an aviator photographer who is also the editor of the This is Flight airshow e-magazine, shared a video clip of Blue Angels zooming over the island and its famous now-decommissioned prison on social media earlier today. Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, which closed in 1963 and has since become a major tourist attraction, is also known as "the Rock."

The six Super Hornets flying in close formation "used Alcatraz as the datum point for their Delta Breakout during today's practice show – quite an experience for those of us on the island," Landau wrote in a post on X, formerly Twitter. While this in a usual occurrence for the team's yearly shows over the bay, the resulting video shot from the island, with the six-ship break framed perfectly by the prison's weathered walls, is truly spectacular and looks so much like the final scene in Michael Bay action flick.

A number of people, including The War Zone's editor-in-chief Tyler Rogoway, quickly drew attention to how similar the footage looked to a famous 'over-the-top' smoke-popping scene at the end of The Rock.

For those who might not be familiar with it (spoilers for a nearly 30-year-old movie follow), the plot of The Rock centers on a group of rogue U.S. Marines led by General Francis X. Hummel (Ed Harris) seizing control of Alcatraz, taking tourists there hostage, and threatening to unleash a VX nerve gas attack on San Francisco. Hummel's reason for this is to force the U.S. military to monetarily compensate the families of Marines who died under his command while conducting top-secret covert operations.

The U.S. military subsequently dispatches a team of U.S. Navy SEALs, accompanied by FBI chemist Stanley Goodspeed (Nicolas Cage) and ex-British Special Air Service (SAS) and MI6 officer and former Alcatraz inmate John Patrick Mason (Sean Connery). Their mission quickly goes awry, all the SEALs are killed, and Goodspeed and Mason have to put an end to Hummel's plans on their own (which they do).

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The U.S. government subsequently initiates a backup plan to neutralize the munitions loaded with VX on the island with an air strike, though this will also kill all the hostages. F/A-18 Hornets carrying bombs filled with "thermite plasma," an incendiary weapon that would burn hot enough to destroy the nerve agent completely without risking any accidental release, are tasked with this mission.

Near the very end of the movie, Nicolas Cage's character is able to get outside and signal the all-clear with green flares as the Hornets approach. Five of the jets are flying in a tight formation low over the bay, very similar to the Blue Angels' delta seen in the video. However, one of the fighters has already released a bomb by the time the flight gets the order to abort their strike, resulting in a trademark Michael Bay explosion.

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Unlike the very real Blue Angels Super Hornets flying over Alcatraz yesterday, the older Hornet fighters seen in The Rock were anything but. In fact, the Hornets and their pilots in the movie are erroneously depicted as belonging to the U.S. Air Force, which has never operated the type.

A Hornet seen in The Rock depicted in fictitious US Air Force markings. Hollywood Pictures capture

There is also some very broad truth to the idea of using air strikes involving incendiary munitions as a method of destroying chemical weapons, though the "science" in The Rock and its treatment of VX are anything but accurate. A prime example of this is the BLU-119/B bomb the U.S. military developed in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2002.

Also known as the Crash Prompt Agent Defeat bomb, or Crash PAD, the BLU-119/B is a modified 2,000-pound class bomb with a traditional high-explosive filler in front and white phosphorus, which burns at extremely high temperatures on contact with air, loaded in the rear end. The bomb was designed to penetrate into whatever was holding the chemical agents using the explosive portion and then neutralize them with the white phosphorus. The weapon was intended to be employed with the help of a Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) precision guidance kit.

What the Blue Angels' iconic breakout maneuver looks like from San Fransisco's shoreline. This was taken during a 2016 performance. The Blues headline Fleet Week each year. (USN)

Beyond any comparisons to The Rock, the Blue Angels' maneuvers over San Francisco bay yesterday also just highlight the team's extreme skills. A longer video of them practicing is available on the This is Flight YouTube channel.

For anyone who is currently in the San Francisco area, or can make it there on short notice, the Blue Angels are scheduled to perform shows tomorrow and Sunday as part of this year's Fleet Week. We'll have to wait and see if they 'recreate' any more scenes from The Rock.

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