On April 24, 1946 the Chief of Naval Operations
, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, ordered the establishment of a Naval
Air Demonstration team. The team was formed with haste and first performed only two months later, on June 15, 1946 in Jacksonville
. Over fifty years later, the team still regularly tours around America. When a tour took the original team to New York City
, the name "Blue Angels" was chosen, based on NYC's Blue Angel Nightclub
. Originally designed to be a recruiting tool
for the Navy, and a sign of the United States' military superiority, the Blue Angels have inspired
millions around the globe
The Blue Angels crew is made up of 16 officers and 110 enlisted crew members. These 116 men and women have dozens of different jobs, from piloting to medicine. The demonstration pilot, Maintenance Officer, Event Coordinator, and Flight Surgeon all serve for two years. All other members, including the Narrator Pilot, serve for three. When a crewmember's time is up with the Angels, he or she returns to the fleet. Every position is voluntary, and members receive no additional pay.
In order to be even considered for selection, each pilot must be career-qualified, career-orientated, and be an active Navy or Marine tactical jet pilot with a minimum of 1,350 flight hours. TOPGUN training is not required, though it is a definite advantage for applicants. Applicants submit their information directly to the team. They visit the team early in the show season. Finalists are selected by the team and interviewed at the Pensacola NAS (Naval Air Station) by the pilots. New demonstration pilots must be selected by unanimous vote. The new boss pilot is selected by the Commanding Officer, and must have at least 3,000 tactical jet-pilot flight hours and must have been a tactical jet squadron commander. Although there are seven Angel pilots, only jets 1 though 6 fly in shows. Since they were founded, there have been over 210 demo pilots.
The three pilots of the C-130 Hercules aircraft must be qualified Marine aircraft commanders with at least 1,200 flight hours.
Blue Angel #1
Position: Flight Leader/Commanding Officer
Responsibility: Oversees the entire Blue Angels crew and flies the number one jet.
Blue Angel #2
Position: Right Wing
Responsibility: Coordinates flight planning for team transit and flies the number two jet.
Blue Angel #3
Position: Left Wing
Responsibility: Makes sure each pilot is up-to-date with all physiology and Navy aviation requirements and flies the number three jet.
Blue Angel #4
Responsibility: Trains demonstration pilots and flies the number four jet.
Blue Angel #5
Position: Lead Solo/Operations Officer
Responsibility: Serves as Operation Officer, plans all squadron actions and flies the number five jet.
Blue Angel #6
Position: Opposing Solo/Applicants' Officer
Responsibility: Serves as Applicants' Officer and flies the number six jet.
Blue Angel #7
Responsibility: Travels to performance area one day ahead of the rest of the team to ensure all is ready for the Angels and flies the number seven jet.
Blue Angel #8
Position: Events Coordinator
Responsibility: Plans and coordinates all Blue Angels appearances.
Position: C-130 Pilot
Responsibility: Transports and maintains Blue Angel team supplies.
Position: C-130 Pilot
Responsibility: Organizes in-flight refueling for the Blue Angel jets.
Position: C-130 Pilot
Responsibility: Serves as the team's Aviation Safety Officer.
There are five different Blue Angel Support Officers. Each supervises separate areas for the team. They are chosen based on ability, military bearing, and communication skill. The Support officers are as follows:
The enlisted personnel volunteer three years of service to the Blue Angels team. These crewmembers each belong to one of several individual departments. Each department is expected to work beyond what is required, and all are responsible to be ready at any time. The departments are:
Since 1946, the Blue Angels have flown nine different varieties of aircraft. They are as follows:
- Grumman F6F Hellcat
- Grumman F8F Bearcat
- Grumman F9F-2 Panther
- Grumman F9F-5 Panther
- Grumman F9F-8 Cougar
- Winter 1954/55 - Mid-season 1957
- Grumman F11F-1 Tiger
- McDonnell Douglas F4J Phantom II
- McDonnell Douglas A-4F Skyhawk II
- December 1974 - November 1986
- Boeing F/A-18 Hornet
One may expect that the Blue Angels would use the ever popular Grumman F-14 Tomcat to go along with their long Grumman tradition. However, this was not so, as Tomcats are not as fuel- and cost-efficient as the Hornet. They are also larger, which would make it difficult to perform tight moves.
The F/A-18 seems just perfect for the Angels' style. They cost about US $30,000,000 and can reach speeds of just below Mach II. A Hornet can fly 1,200 miles without even having to refuel, and in-flight refueling is quite easy. Each of the Hornets is equipped with a refueling probe on the right side of the craft. This makes it especially convenient for the crew, as the pilots of the F/A-18s fly their own aircraft to the show locations. In all, the squadron (including the C-130) burns about 3,100,000 gallons of fuel a year.
The planes are slightly demilitarized. This allows them to fly more fuel-efficiently. The regulation cannon is removed from their nose, and they have no decorative munitions. A smoke-oil tank is added and the controls are altered so that less involuntary movement can be made. More pressure must be applied to instruments in able to operate them. However, if the need should arise, a Blue Angel Hornet can be ready for active military duty in only 72 hours. This was the case in 1950, when the squadron was sent to Korea.
All of the jets, and the C-130, are painted blue and gold, the official colors of the US Navy. Each of the Hornets is identical except for the two #7 planes, the Narrator's, which have a second seat. The Narrator can carry an extra passenger; be it a new pilot, a member of the press, or a celebrity. Famous people are selected to ride in support the Navy's recruiting program. In case of problems, the Blue Angels always have three spare Hornets.
As for where the Blue Angels get their F/A-18s, they're definitely never new. Usually, an old Hornet is donated by the Navy or the Marines. By old, I mean a jet with 1,350 or more flight hours. As a retired Naval pilot once told me, "The newest thing you'll probably see on an Angel is its coat of paint."
In 1970, a Marines C-130 Hercules was added to the team. It was made to carry supplies and equipment for the Blue Angels. The C-130 was eventually given the nickname "Fat Albert" by its pilots because of its shape and size. Fat Albert has been incorporated into the Blue Angels shows, mainly to show off its impressive 45-degree climb. Eight crew members are assigned to Fat Albert: 3 pilots, 2 flight engineers, a navigator, a flight mechanic, and a loadmaster.
Every September, the Blue Angels receive thousands of requests for their appearance. After sifting through the requests and discarding those that do not meet eligibility, the rest are sent to the Blue Angels Officers. They look through and consider each request. In December, the Officers and other Navy personnel meet with Department of Defense officials in Washington D.C. They then plan the shows and gain final approval during a conference.
The Blue Angels perform at over seventy shows a year. In addition to that, they make approximately 120 test runs during the winter. The team can work with five pilots if one is ill or injured, but if the boss cannot fly, the show is completely cancelled.
Three different shows can be performed, depending on visibility. Rain is usually not a factor, unless if it drastically cuts visibility. With a minimum ceiling of 8,000 feet and a visibility of three nautical miles, the team can perform a "high show", which includes all maneuvers. With a ceiling of 3,500 feet and visibility of at least three nautical miles, the team can perform a "low show", which is mostly rolling maneuvers. At a ceiling of 1,500 feet and three nautical miles of visibility, a "flat show" will be performed. This is the lowest that they can perform at.
- Diamond Formation: Four jets in flying in a diamond shape.
- Line Abreast Formation: Four jets flying banked side-by-side.
- Echelon Formation: Six jets flying side-by-side.
- Delta Formation: Six jets flying in a triangular formation.
- Diamond Formation Landing: Four planes land on the runway in a diamond formation.
- Inverted Lead and Slot Diamond: Diamond formation except the slot and lead jets are up-side-down.
- Maximum Performance Climb: A fast climb, almost vertical.
- High-G Turn: A quick loud bank where water vapor surrounds the aircraft.
- Sneak Past: A 700MPH pass directly over the crowd at only 50 feet!
- High Speed Cross: Two opposing pilots jet towards each other and cross.
- Crossover Break: Two opposing pilots jet towards each other and roll away at the last second.
- Slow Speed Calypso Pass: A jet and an up-side-down jet pass slowly, side-by-side.
- Vertical Rolls: One jet screaming up vertically into the sky, spiraling as he does so.
There are many other great tricks, but I don't know the names of them. I shall get the information soon. Much apologies.
Over fifty million people come to see the Blue Angels at shows in the USA each year. The team rarely flies elsewhere. Their last international tour was in 1992 when they visited 10 or so European countries including Germany, the UK, and Spain. The pilots also reach out to over 50,000 individuals a year. When they're not touring with their jets, they're visiting hospitals and schools.
So, it's no wonder that in their mission statement The Blue Angels are told to be Ambassadors of Good Will.