The United States Navy’s Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, popularly known as the Blue Angels, was formed in 1946 and is currently the oldest formal flying aerobatic team. The squadron’s six demonstration pilots currently fly the F/A-18 Hornet in more than 70 shows at 34 locations throughout the United States each year, where they still employ many of the same practices and techniques used in their aerial displays in 1946. Since their inception, the “Blues” have flown a variety of different aircraft types for more than 427 million spectators worldwide.
The mission of the Blue Angels is to enhance Navy and Marine Corps recruiting, and credibly represent Navy and Marine Corps aviation to the United States and its Armed Forces to America and other countries as international ambassadors. The Blue Angels’ show season runs each year from March until November. They perform at both military and civilian airfields, and often perform directly over major cities such as San Francisco’s “Fleet Week” maritime festival, Cleveland’s annual Labor Day Air Show, and Seattle’s annual Seafair festival.
During the aerobatic demonstration, the Blue Angels operate six F/A-18 Hornet aircraft, split into the Diamond (Blue Angels 1 through 4) and the Lead and Opposing Solos (Blue Angels 5 and 6). Most of the show alternates 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, and transitions from one formation to another. The Solos fly many of their maneuvers just under the speed of sound, showcasing the high performance capabilities of their individual Hornets 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) and mirror formations (back-to-back. belly-to-belly, or wingtip-to-wingtip, with one jet flying inverted). The Solos join the Diamond near the end of the show for a number of maneuvers in the Delta formation.
The parameters of each show must be tailored to local weather: in clear weather the high show is performed; in overcast conditions a low show is performed, and in limited visibility (weather permitting) the flat show is presented. The high show requires an 8,000-foot (2,400 m) ceiling and visibility of 3 nautical miles (6 km) from the show’s centerpoint. Low and flat ceilings are 3,500 feet (~1 km) and 1,500 feet (460 m) respectively.ambassadors of good will.
When initially formed, the unit was called the Navy Flight Exhibition Team. The squadron was officially redesignated as the United States Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron in December 1974. The original team adopted the nickname Blue Angels in 1946, when one of them came across the name of New York City’s Blue Angel nightclub in The New Yorker magazine; the team introduced themselves as the “Blue Angels” to the public for the first time on July 21, 1946, in Omaha, Nebraska.
The official Blue Angels insignia was designed by then team leader Lt. Cmdr. R.E. “Dusty” Rhodes and approved by Chief of Naval Operations in 1949. It is nearly identical to the current design. In the cloud in the upper right quadrant, the aircraft were originally shown heading down and to the right. Over the years, the plane silhouettes have changed along with the squadron’s aircraft. Additionally, the lower left quadrant, which contains the Chief of Naval Air Training insignia, has occasionally contained only Naval Aviator wings.
Originally, demonstration aircraft were navy blue (nearly black) with gold lettering. The current shades of blue and yellow were adopted when the team transitioned to the Bearcat in 1946. For a single year in 1949, the team performed in a blinding all-yellow scheme with blue markings.3 The current paint scheme, including yellow stripe markings along the top of the fuselage, and “U.S. Navy” on the bottom of the wings, was designed by team member Robert L. Rasmussen in 1957.