A flight demonstration team organized to showcase naval aviation and serve as positive role models and goodwill ambassadors for the United States military.
At the end of World War II, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, the Chief of United States Naval Operations, ordered the formation of a flight demonstration team to illustrate precision flying and maintain public interest in naval aviation. After several months of organization and practice, the first squadron demonstrated its initial public aerial performance on June 15, 1946, at the Southeastern Air Show and Exhibition at the Naval Air Station (NAS) at Craig Field in Jacksonville, Florida. They won the trophy for the most outstanding performance. The flight leader was Lieutenant Commander Roy “Butch” Voris. The other team members were Lieutenant Mel Cassidy (left wing), Lieutenant Maurice “Wick” Wickendoll (right wing), Lieutenant Al Taddeo (solo), and Lieutenant Gale Stouse (backup). The aircraft they flew was the Grumman F-6F Hellcat.
On August 25, 1946, the Blue Angels changed their aircraft to the Grumman F-8F Bearcat. By 1947, Lieutenant Commander Robert Clarke had become the flight leader. He introduced the diamond formation, which became the trademark of the Blue Angels. Near the end of the 1940’s, the squadron was flying their first jet aircraft, the Grumman F9F-2 Panther.
With the outbreak of the Korean War, the Blue Angels were assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Princeton in 1950, forming the core of Fighter Squadron 101, which became known as “Satan’s Kitten.” They adopted a squadron insignia that portrayed a fiendish cat riding the devil’s three-pronged fork and hurling lightning bolts at the enemy. In 1951, they were sent to the NAS in Corpus Christi, Texas, where they began flying the Grumman F9F-5 Panther. In October, 1951, a directive from the Chief of Naval Operations reactivated the Blue Angels to perform the same duties that they had performed prior to the war.
In 1954, the Blue Angels were assigned to their present home at the NAS at Sherman Field in Pensacola, Florida, where the crew began flying the newer, faster, swept-wing Grumman F9F-8 Cougar. In 1957, the Blue Angels began flying the Grumman F-11 Tiger. By 1969, they were doing their aerial shows in a dual-engine jet, the McDonnell Douglas F-4J Phantom II.
In December, 1974, the Blue Angels were reorganized as the United States Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, with Tony Less as the commanding officer. Further changes included the addition of a number of support officers and a new aircraft, the McDonnell Douglas A-4F Skyhawk II. The mission of the squadron became focused on Navy recruiting. In celebration of their fortieth anniversary in 1986, the Blue Angels flew the sleek McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet. This aircraft 3was the first dual-role fighter and attack jet serving on the front lines of U.S. defense.
After a nineteen-year absence, the Blue Angels were deployed on a one-month European tour in 1992. Over a million people in Sweden, Finland, Russia, Romania, Bulgaria, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom witnessed their performances. In November, 1998, the first Blue Angel jet was landed on an aircraft carrier, the USS Harry S. Truman, by squadron Commander Patrick Driscoll.
The only Marine Corps aircraft that performs with the Blue Angels is the Hercules Transport C-30, nicknamed “Fat Albert.” It is flown by an all-Marine crew consisting of three pilots and five enlisted personnel. In the course of a show season, Fat Albert is flown over 140,000 miles. It transports the necessary personnel and equipment that support the Blue Angels from one performance site to another.
The flight demonstrations of the Blue Angels exhibit choreographed refinements of Navy-trained flying skills. Flight shows include graceful, aerobatic maneuvers of the four-plane diamond formation, in conjunction with the fast maneuvers of its two solo pilots, and the renowned six-jet delta formation. During the show season (April to December), the Blue Angels are stationed at Pensacola, Florida. During the other three months of the year, they are stationed for training at the NAS at El Centro, California.
At the beginning of a Blue Angels show, Fat Albert often demonstrates its jet-assisted takeoff capability. Eight solid-fuel rockets are attached to the sides of the aircraft. When they are ignited, Fat Albert climbs at a 45-degree angle to an altitude of 1,000 feet in a few seconds. Shortly thereafter, six Blue Angel Hornets engage their afterburners and climb into the sky to perform their maneuvers. Each Hornet is 56 feet in length, 15 feet high, with a wingspan of 40 feet, and the capability of reaching speeds well in excess of supersonic velocities.
Since the inception of the Blue Angels in 1946, there have been twenty-three pilots killed in air shows or training. Two Blue Angels were killed on October 28, 1999, in southern Georgia while trying to land during a training flight. The last fatality prior to that incident was on July 13, 1985, when one pilot died in a fireball crash after two planes collided during an air show.
During 2001, the Blue Angels performed in nearly seventy shows at thirty-six locations in the United States and Canada under the direction of Commander Robert A. Field. In 2000, they performed before more than 17 million fans. Since their first show in 1946, the Blue Angels have performed for more than 374 million spectators.
Bledsoe, Glen, and Karen E. Bledsoe. The Blue Angels: The U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron. Mankato, Minn.: Capstone Press, 2001. Excellent overview of the Blue Angels, their history, and aircraft; written for younger readers. Van Steenwyk, Elizabeth. From Barnstormers to Blue Angels. New York: Franklin Watts, 1999. Discusses the air shows and aircraft of the Blue Angels and contains many photos. Veronico, Nicholas A., and Marga R. Fritze. Blue Angels: Fifty Years of Precision Flight. Osceola, Wis.: Motorbooks International, 1996. The history of the Blue Angels over their first fifty years, discussing and showing pictures of the people, places, and aircraft.
Navy pilots, U.S.