Winter Blues: Blue Angels arrive in El Centro for intensive training


On the 3rd January 2023, the USN Blue Angels arrived in sunny California for their annual winter training. Over the next two months they will be flying the 120 training flights required to be certified to fly in front of the public during their 77th display season.

The team will fly twice a day, six days a week (Monday to Saturday) to accomplish this, with a short break in mid-February. Otherwise, operations are fairly routine and predictable, with a first flight before 10am and a second in the early afternoon, although timings are neither firm nor published. Spotters will notice that the Diamond and Solos will fly separately to begin with, but come together as training progresses. Later still, the team will start to fly maneuvers over the airfield, with wonderful views available.

Spotter and aviation enthusiasts alike often park outside NAF El Centro on Low Road on the Runway 12 extended centreline, having taken the Forrester Rd exit off Interstate 8. There used to be some famous hay bails here, and while these have since been removed, an elevated view over the perimiter fence can still be gained by using a stepladder or sitting on the roof of a vehicle. When the jets take off to the southeast, the formation passes low over the road as they transition from finger four to diamond formation, and the solos’ low transitions are equally impressive. If taking off in the other direction, then low approaches over the road can be memorable.

There is another runway (08/26) which is used for take offs and landings on occasion, and which can be seen from vantage points further along Low Road, but as the aerobatic box is over Runway 12/30, the view of the display itself would be far more distant.

It is not only the Blue Angels that use the airspace over El Centro for training. Aircraft from nearby MCAS Yuma and Miramar often visit, and in a few recent winter trips I have seen C-2 Greyhounds, SH-60 Seahawks, F/A-18 Super Hornets, AV-8B Harriers, F-35B Lightning IIs, T-45 Goshawks, CH-53 Super Stallions and more.

The annual El Centro Festival of Flight is scheduled for the 11th March 2023. This is the culmination of the winter training and the first airshow for the team in front of the public. Usually, the weekend prior (on or around the 4th March) the team will fly the demonstration twice over the airfield. In past years the team has also come out to Low Road to thank supporters and spotters for their support during that final weekend. This is one of the few occasions when seeing a full-blown display practice is virtually guaranteed.

The Blue Angels’ full 2023 airshow schedule can be found here.