Aircraft Currently Flown:
12 (numbers 1 through 6, 2 two-seat (#7) jets and 4 spare jets) F/A-18s
United States Navy
NAF El Centro
“Blue Angel Blue” and
April 24, 1946
The United States Navy’s Blue Angels (or Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron), formed in 1946, is the world’s first officially sanctioned military aerial demonstration team.
The Blue Angels first flew three aircraft in formation, then four, and currently operate six aircraft per show. A seventh aircraft is for backup, in the event of mechanical problems with one of the other aircraft, and for giving public relations “demonstration flights” to civilians, usually selected from a press pool.
This aerobatic team is split into “the Diamond” (Blue Angels 1 through 4) and the Opposing Solos (Blue Angels 5 and 6). Most of their displays alternate between maneuvers performed by the Diamond and those performed by the Solos. The Diamond, in tight formation and usually at lower speeds, performs maneuvers such as formation loops, barrel rolls, or transitions from one formation to another.
The Opposing Solos usually perform maneuvers just under the speed of sound which showcase the capabilities of their individual F/A-18s through the execution of high-speed passes, slow passes, fast rolls, slow rolls, and very tight turns. Some of the maneuvers include both solo F/A-18s performing at once, such as opposing passes (toward each other in what appears to be a collision course, narrowly missing one another) and mirror formations (back-to-back. belly-to-belly, or wingtip-to-wingtip, with one jet flying inverted).
At the end of the routine, all six aircraft join in the Delta formation. After a series of flat passes, turns, loops, and rolls performed in this formation, they execute the team’s signature “fleur-de-lis” closing maneuver.
The parameters of each show must be tailored to local visibility: In clear weather the “high” show is performed, in overcast conditions it’s the “low” show that the spectators see, and in limited visibility (weather permitting) the “flat” show is presented. The “high” show requires an 8,000-foot ceiling and visibility of 3 nautical miles from the show’s centerpoint. “Low” and “flat” ceilings are 3,500 and 1,500 feet respectively.
The first Blue Angel Flight Demonstration Squadron, 1946–1947 assembled in front of one of their F6F Hellcats (l to r): Lt. Al Taddeo, Solo; Lt. (J.G.) Gale Stouse, Spare; Lt. Cdr. R.M. “Butch” Voris, Flight Leader; Lt. Maurice “Wick” Wickendoll, Right Wing; Lt. Mel Cassidy, Left Wing.
On April 24, 1946 Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Chester Nimitz issued a directive ordering the formation of a flight exhibition team (the first such official venture by any of the Armed Services) to boost Navy morale, demonstrate naval air power, and maintain public interest in naval aviation. However, an underlying mission was to help the Navy generate public and political support for a larger allocation of the shrinking defense budget. In April of that year, Rear Admiral Ralph Davison personally selected Lieutenant Commander Roy Marlin “Butch” Voris, a World War II fighter ace, to assemble and train a flight demonstration squadron, naming him Officer-in-Charge and Flight Leader. Voris selected two fellow instructors to join him (Lt. Maurice “Wick” Wickendoll and Lt. Mel Cassidy, both veterans of the War in the Pacific), and the three spent countless hours developing the show. The group perfected its initial maneuvers in secret over the Florida Everglades so that, in Voris’ words, “…if anything happened, just the alligators would know.” The team’s first demonstration before Navy officials took place on May 10, 1946 and was met with enthusiastic approval.
On June 15 Voris led a trio of Grumman F6F-5 Hellcats, specially modified to reduce weight and painted sea blue with gold leaf trim, through their inaugural 15-minute-long performance at their home base which was Naval Air Station Jacksonville (NAS Jax), Florida. The group, known simply as the “Navy Flight Exhibition Team,” thrilled spectators with low-flying maneuvers performed in tight formations, and (according to Voris) by “…keeping something in front of the crowds at all times. My objective was to beat the Army Air Corps. If we did that, we’d get all the other side issues. I felt that if we weren’t the best, it would be my naval career.” The Blue Angels’ first public demonstration also netted the team its first trophy, which sits on display at the team’s current home at NAS Pensacola.
On August 25, 1946 the Blue Angels transitioned to the Grumman F8F-1 Bearcat and introduced the famous “diamond” formation at the World Air Carnival in Birmingham, Alabama.
The team soon became known worldwide for its spectacular aerobatic stunts. During a trip to New York, Lt. Wickendoll came across an advertisement in The New Yorker for the city’s popular “Blue Angel” nightclub. Voris liked the name and on July 19 officially made it the team’s moniker. On August 25 the squadron upgraded their aircraft to the F8F-1 Bearcat. Though Voris left the team on May 30, 1947 the “Blues” continued to perform nationwide (including one year, 1949, in a blinding all-yellow scheme with blue markings) until the start of the Korean War in 1950, when (due to a shortage of pilots) the team was disbanded and its members were ordered to combat duty. Once aboard the aircraft carrier USS Princeton the group formed the core of VF-191 (Satan’s Kittens).
The Blue Angels were officially recommissioned on October 25, 1951, and reported to NAS Corpus Christi, Texas. Lt. Cdr. Voris was again tasked with assembling the team (he was the first of only two commanding officers to lead them twice). By the end of the 1940s, the Blue Angels were flying their first jets, the Grumman F9F-2 Panther, but soon would be utilizing the improved F9F-5. The Angels remained in Corpus Christi until the winter of 1954, when they relocated to their present home at NAS Pensacola. It was here they progressed to the swept-wing Grumman F9F-8 Cougar. The ensuing 20 years saw the Blue Angels transition to two more aircraft, the Grumman F11F-1 Tiger (1957), which would be best known for its use as a demonstration plane, and the huge double-sonic McDonnell Douglas F-4J Phantom II (1969), the only plane to be flown by both the “Blues” and the United States Air Force Thunderbirds.
In December, 1974 the Navy Flight Demonstration Team downsized to more economical subsonic McDonnell Douglas A-4F Skyhawk II and was reorganized into the Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron. This reorganization permitted the establishment of a commanding officer, a flight leader, added support officers, and further redefined the squadron’s mission emphasizing the support of recruiting efforts. Commander Tony Less was the squadron’s first official commanding officer.
All six Blue Angel A-4F Skyhawks fly in delta formation, smoke on.
On November 8, 1986 the Blue Angels completed their 40th anniversary year during ceremonies unveiling their present aircraft, the sleek McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet, the first multi-role fighter/attack aircraft now serving on the nation’s front lines of defense since the F-4 Phantom. The power and aerodynamics of the Hornet allows them to perform a slow high angle of attack “tail sitting” maneuver, and to fly a loop with landing gear down in formation, neither duplicated by the Thunderbirds. The Blue Angels also operate a Marine Corps C-130T Hercules nicknamed “Fat Albert” to provide support and (at selected venues) put on a show of its own with a jet-assisted take off (JATO) before the “Blues” begin their demonstration. “Fat Albert Airlines” flies with an all-Marine crew of three officers and five enlisted personnel.
The Blue Angels perform more than 70 shows at 34 locations throughout the United States each year, where they still employ many of the same practices and techniques in their aerial displays as in 1946. Since their inception, the “Blues” have flown for more than 427 million spectators worldwide. Since the Blue Angels often perform directly over major cities such as San Francisco and Seattle during maritime festivals such as Seafair, they are often better known in many cities than other demonstration teams.
In their entire history, 24 pilots from the group have been killed in air show or training accidents.
April 21, 2007 Crash
Main article: 2007 Blue Angels South Carolina crash
On April 21, 2007, the Number 6 U.S. Navy Blue Angels’ jet crashed during the final minutes of an air show in Beaufort, South Carolina. The pilot, Navy Blue Angels Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Davis, was confirmed dead. It was reported early on that the aircraft had clipped a tall pine tree near Shanklin Road in Burton about 4 p.m. which caused it to go down outside Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. The cause of the crash is still under investigation and a official statement will be released in three weeks. The plane slid for two hundred to three hundred yards after it hit the ground crashing through homes and vehicles.
The “Blues” support crew watches the team perform in the Grumman F9F-2 Panther jet fighter.
- 1946: The “Navy Flight Exhibition Team” is formed and takes the name Blue Angels.
- 1946: September: Lt. “Robby” Robinson was killed while performing a Cuban Eight maneuver during an airshow when a wingtip broke off his Bearcat sending him into a death spiral.
- 1950: The team is ordered to Combat Duty Status in response to the Korean Conflict.
- 1951: LCDR Johnny Magda is the first Blue Angel killed in combat over Korea. The team is reactivated in October at NAS Corpus Christi.
- 1952: Two aircraft collide during a demonstration in Corpus Christi, Texas; one pilot is killed, but the team resumes its performances two weeks thereafter.
- 1954: “Blues” pilot LCDR Hawkins becomes the first naval aviator to survive an ejection at supersonic speeds. The first Marine Corps pilot, Capt Chuck Hiett, joins the team. Team is rebased at NAS Pensacola in the winter of 1954.
- 1956: The team gives its first performance outside the United States in Toronto, Canada.
- 1965: The Blue Angels are the only team to receive a standing ovation during the four-day Paris Air Show.
- 1968: LT Mary Russell becomes the first woman assigned to the “Blues.”
- 1973: CDR Harley Hall (1970 team leader) is shot down over Vietnam, and is officially listed as Missing In Action.
- 1974: The team transitions to the McDonnell Douglas A-4F Skyhawk II and is reorganized to add support officers and redefine the squadron’s mission, which emphasizes the support of recruiting efforts.
- 1985: 5 July: Aircraft 6 and 7 (A-4F) collide at Niagara Falls, killing Lt. Cmdr. Michael Gershon.
- 1986: The Blue Angels complete their 40th anniversary year in November and unveil their present aircraft, the sleek McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet.
- 1986: LCDR Donnie Cochran, is selected to join the Blue Angels. He is the first black Naval Aviator to be selected.
- 1990: January: Marine Corps Maj. Charles “Chase” Moseley was faulted for the Jan. 23 collision with team leader Cmdr. Pat Moneymaker near the team’s winter practice airfield at El Centro, California. One airplane was destroyed and the other badly damaged. Both pilots survived unharmed.
- 1992: The Blue Angels become the first foreign flight demonstration team to perform in Russia. More than a million spectators witness the “Blues” performances during a month-long European tour.
- 1994 CDR Donnie Cochran assumes command of the Blue Angels.
- 1998: CDR Patrick Driscoll makes the first “Blue Jet” landing on a “haze gray and underway” aircraft carrier, the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75).
- 1999: October: Lt. Cmdr. Kieron O’Connor and Flight Officer Lt. Kevin Colling crash while practicing maneuvers in Valdosta, GA. Neither survived. G-Loc is the rumored cause of the crash.
- 2000: Show season attendance tops 15 million spectators.
- 2004: Pilot ejects approximately one mile off Perdido Key after reporting mechanical problems. Lt. Ted Steelman suffered minor injuries and fully recovered.
- 2007: An April 21 airshow accident in Beaufort, South Carolina claims the life of solo pilot LCDR Kevin Davis (Number 6).
Blue Angels Charge
The Blue Angels fly their F-4J Phantoms cross-country between show sites in a line abreast formation.
Today is a very special and memorable day in your military career that will remain with you throughout your lifetime. You have survived the ultimate test of your peers and have proven to be completely deserving to wear the crest of the U.S. Navy Blue Angels.
The prestige of wearing the Blue Angels uniform carries with it an extraordinary honor — one that reflects not only on you as an individual, but on your teammates and the entire squadron. To the crowds at the air shows and to the public at hospitals and schools nationwide, you are a symbol of the Navy and Marine Corps’ finest. You bring pride, hope and a promise for tomorrow’s Navy and Marine Corps in the smiles and handshakes of today’s youth. Remember today as the day you became a Blue Angel; look around at your teammates and commit this special bond to memory. “Once a Blue Angel, always a Blue Angel,” rings true for all those who wear the crest of the U.S. Navy Blue Angels. Welcome to the team.
Creed written by JO1 Cathy Konn, 1991-1993
The solos make a “knife-edge” pass. The far aircraft is actually slightly higher than the near aircraft to make them appear in-line to the audience.
Solo aircraft assigned to the U.S. Navy’s Flight Demonstration Team, “Blue Angels”, perform the slowest maneuver in their show, the “Section High Alpha.” During the maneuver the two jets slow down to 125 knots as they pitch the nose of the F/A-18 Hornet up to 45 degrees.
- Fat Albert (C-130) – JATO Takeoff
- Fat Albert – Flat Pass
- Fat Albert – Short-Field Assault Landing
- Engine Start-Up and Taxi Out
- Diamond Take-off
- Solos Take-off (Blue Angel #5: Dirty Roll on Take-Off; Blue Angel #6: Low Transition, Split S on Take-Off)
- Diamond Pass in Review: Aircraft 1, 2, 3 and 4 are in their signature 18″ wingtip-to-canopy diamond formation.
- Opposing Knife-Edge Pass
- Diamond Roll
- Opposing Inverted to Inverted Rolls
- Diamond Aileron Roll
- Diamond Dirty Loop
- Minimum Radius Turn
- Double Farvel: Diamond formation with aircraft 1 and 4 inverted.
- Opposing Minimum Radius Turn
- Echelon Parade
- Opposing Horizontal Rolls
- Left Echelon Roll: The roll is made into the Echelon which is difficult and dangerous.
- Sneak Pass: the fastest speed of the show is about 700 mph (just under Mach 1 at sea level)
- Line-Abreast Loop
- Opposing Four-Point Hesitation Roll
- Vertical Break
- Opposing Pitch Up
- Tuck Under Break
- Section High-Alpha Pass: (tail sitting) Slowest speed of show is 120 mph
- Barrel Roll Break
- Double Tuck Over Roll
- Low Break Cross
- Delta Roll
- Fleur de Lis
- Solos Pass to Rejoin
- Delta Break (Downward Break): This is usually the final major maneuver of the show. After the break the aircraft separate in six different directions, perform half Cuban eights then cross in the center of the performance area.
- Delta Pitch Up Break to Land
Source: Air videos of these maneuvers
- Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat – June-August 1946
- Grumman F8F-1 Bearcat – August 1946-1949
- Grumman F9F-2 Panther – 1949-June 1950 (first jet);
- Grumman F9F-5 Panther – 1951-Winter 1954/55
- Grumman F9F-8 Cougar – Winter 1954/55-mid-season 1957 (swept-wing)
- Grumman F11F-1 Tiger – mid-season 1957-1969 (first supersonic jet)
- McDonnell F-4J Phantom II – 1969-December 1974
- Douglas A-4F Skyhawk – December 1974-November 1986
- McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) F/A-18A & F/A-18B Hornet – November 1986-Present
- Lockheed C-121 Super Constellation – 1969-1973
- Lockheed C-130 Hercules – 1970-Present
Water condensation in the strake vortices of a Hornet during a tight maneuver.
- The “Blues” aircraft are completely combat-ready, and can be repainted and armed for combat service in just 72 hours.
- The Blue Angels was a short-lived dramatic television series inspired by the team’s exploits and filmed with the cooperation of the Navy, that aired from September 1, 1960 to March 20, 1961.
- In 2005, the Discovery Channel aired a documentary miniseries, “Blue Angels: A Year in the Life”, focusing on the intricate day-to-day details of that year’s training and performance schedule.
- The video for the American rock band Van Halen’s 1986 release “Dreams” is comprised of Blue Angels performance footage. The video was originally shot featuring the Blues in the A-4 Skyhawk. It was later reshot after the transition to the F/A-18 Hornet.
- The Blue Angels don’t wear G-suits, because the air bladders inside them would repeatedly deflate and inflate. That would interfere with the control stick between a pilot’s legs. Instead, Blue Angel pilots tense their stomach muscles and legs to prevent blood from rushing from their heads and rendering them unconscious.
- The squadron leader changes the cadence and inflection of his voice over the radio to instruct his fellow pilots to add/remove power and for general performance direction.
- “Home of the Blue Angels” is Pensacola, Florida. The Blue Angels usually begin their flying season with their first show at NAF El Centro, California and end their flying season in Pensacola.
- Donnie Cochran
- LCDR. Jack Mason Gougar — Plane Commander and Engineering Officer, 1967-1968
- Adm. Patrick M. Walsh — Left Wingman and Slot Pilot, 1986-1987
- Campbell, War Paint, p171
- U.S. Navy “Blue Angels” jet crashes
- Blue Angels Pilot fascinated by flying
- Fox News Live: 22 April 07, 10:08 AM Live Interview
- (2005). “The First Blue Angel.” Miramar 50th Air Show Special Commemorative Program 18.
- (2005). “The Blue Angels History.” Miramar 50th Air Show Special Commemorative Program 22.
- Blue Angels Timeline (1946–1980) accessed November 10, 2005.
- “First Blue: Monterey resident Butch Voris formed the nation’s most-loved aviation team” article by Brett Wilbur in the April 1, 2004 edition of the Monterey County Weekly — accessed October 16, 2005.
- “Grumman and the Blue Angels” article by William C. Barto at the Grumman Memorial Park official website — accessed October 15, 2005.
- “First Blue: The story of World War II Ace Butch Voris and the Creation of the Blue Angels” by Robert K. Wilcox, Thomas Dunne Books/St.Martins Press, 2004, www.robertkwilcox.com
- Explore the Navy: Blue Angels official website.
- The Blue Angels — show schedules and other information.
- First Blue Angel story of World War II Ace Butch Voris and the Creation of the Blue Angels.
- U.S. Navy Blue Angels Alumni Association official website.
- Blue Angels at San Francisco Air Show Pictures
- BlueAngels.com Blue Angels Information, Airshow Schedule, FAQ’s, Pictures
- RTP-TV Aerospace Show on the Blue Angels (online video).