The Blue Angels (official name: US Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron) are the aerobatic team of the US Navy, flying six F/A-18 Hornets. They are the second-oldest formal aerobatic team in the world still flying, after the Patrouille de France, and one of only two formal Navy aerobatic teams along with the UK’s Black Cats. Along with China and Russia, the US is one of only three countries to have multiple fully-fledged jet aerobatic teams. More than ten million people see the Blue Angels perform from March to November each year. They are regarded as one of the world’s top aerobatic teams.
Country: United States of America
Home base: NAS Pensacola, FL
Size: 11 aircraft (6 in display)
F6F-5 Hellcat (1946)
F8F-1 Bearcat (1946-1949)
F9F-2 Panther (1950)
F9F Panther (1951-1955)
F9F-8 Cougar (1955-1957)
F11F-1 Tiger (1957-1968)
F-4J Phantom (1969-1974)
A-4F Skyhawk (1975-1986)
F/A-18A Hornet (1986-2010)
F/A-18A/C Hornet (2010-2020)
F/A-18E Hornet (2021-present)
*Primary display aircraft only
The Blue Angels were founded in 1946 as the Navy Flight Exhibition Team, first being introduced as the Blue Angels later that year. For the first few months, the Blue Angels flew three Grumman F6F-5 Hellcats and one SNJ Texan, painted as a Japanese Mitsubishi Zero, which was used to simulate aerial combat. The team upgraded to the F8F-1 Bearcat later the same year, replaced the SNJ with a fourth Bearcat in 1949. Later the same year, they upgraded to their first jet aircraft and began displaying with five F9F-2B Panthers, with the Bearcat used for solo aerobatics before the start of the main show until it crashed in 1950.
The Blue Angels temporarily de-activated in 1950 during the Korean War, but returned in 1951 with the F9F-2B. This was changed to the F9F-6 in 1953. In 1954, the Blue Angels moved to their current base of NAS Pensacola. In 1956, the Blue Angels became a six-ship formation team, adding the Opposing Solo position. In 1957, they upgraded to the F11F-1 Tiger.
The Blue Angels began performing internationally in the 1960s, including European and Caribbean tours in 1965. They visited Europe again in 1967. In 1969, they transitioned to the F-4J Phantom. In 1971, they conducted their first visit to Asia. In 1974, they transitioned to the A-4F Skyhawk II.
In 1986, the team transitioned to their current aircraft, the F/A-18 Hornet. Although their fleet today includes A, B, C and D model Hornets, the team generally use the F/A-18C model for displays. In 1992, the Blue Angels became the first foreign military aerobatic team to perform in Russia. The Blue Angels have upgraded to the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet for the 2021 airshow season.
Historically, the Blue Angels have not worn G-suits during their displays, as this might interfere with their movements of the control stick.
The Blue Angels’ display is split into two elements: #1-4 form the Diamond, who perform formation aerobatics and flypasts, while the lead solo (#5) and opposing solo (#6) perform more dynamic synchronised and opposition manoeuvres. The Diamond are well-known for their extreme close formation flying, with wingtip-to-canopy separation of just 0.5 metres in some cases. On occasion, the Blue Angels’ support plane performs a short display of its own before the start of the performance. The process of crewing in and starting up is also considered part of the Blue Angels’ show, giving the display a total running time of around an hour – although the jets are only in the air for around half of this. Favourite manoeuvres include:
- Fortus (two-ship mirror formation with gear and tailhook extended)
- Diamond Dirty Loop (four-ship loop with gear and tailhook extended)
- Opposing Minimum Radius Turn (one vs. one opposition 360 degree turn)
- Sneak Pass (solo high-speed pass when crowd are looking elsewhere)
- Line Abreast Loop (five-ship line-abreast loop)
- Opposing Hesitation Roll (one vs. one opposition four-point roll)
- Vertical Break (four-ship upwards bomb-burst)
- Barrel roll break (four-ship barrel roll and split)
- Delta Roll (six-ship barrel roll in Delta formation)
- Fleur de Lis (six-ship split and individual aileron rolls)
- Loop Break Cross (six-ship downwards bomb burst, reverse and cross at show centre)
- Delta Breakout (six-ship bomb burst)
The Blue Angels are the only major aerobatic team to commonly use their support aircraft as part of the display. Since 1970, the team have used a C-130 Hercules family aircraft known as “Fat Albert”, which has often performed a short solo demonstration before the main show. Up until 2009, this included a JATO demonstration. From 2018 onwards, Fat Albert’s participation became less frequent due to problems with the US Marine Corps C-130T that was being used for the role. In late 2020, the team took delivery of an ex-Royal Air Force C-130J Hercules to replace it.
The Blue Angels typically perform at around 30 venues per year, with the season running from mid-March to early November. The traditional season end is the Blue Angels Homecoming Airshow at Pensacola.
Training during the winter takes place at NAS El Centro in California, but the team are based at Pensacola in Florida. During the show season, they typically practice at Pensacola several times per week. These practice demonstrations are open to the public.
The Blue Angels have one of the highest fatality rates of any major jet team, with 27 deaths since inception.
- 29th September 1946: A pilot was killed when the wingtip broke off his aircraft, sending him into a spin
- 7th July 1952: A pilot was killed when two F9F Panthers collided mid-flight during a display in Corpus Christi
- 2nd August 1958: An aircraft landed with gear retracted after suffering engine problems; the pilot was unhurt, but the aircraft was written off
- 14th October 1958: The new team leader was killed during an orientation flight
- 14th June 1960: A pilot was killed when he crashed during a test flight
- 15th March 1964: A pilot was did not survive an ejection while attempting to make an emergency landing
- 2nd September 1966: A pilot was killed when he crashed his F-11A Tiger at the Canadian International Airshow
- 1st February 1967: A pilot was killed when he stalled and crashed during a practice display
- 18th February 1967: A pilot was killed when he struck the ground during a loop while practicing
- 14th January 1968: A pilot was killed while practicing a Double Immelmann
- 30th August 1970: An F-4 Phantom accidentally landed with gear retracted, but the pilot ejected safely
- 4th June 1971: A pilot ejected when his jet caught fire during a practice display in Rhode Island
- 14th February 1972: A pilot was killed when he struck the ground while practicing inverted flight
- 26th July 1973: Three pilots were killed when two aircraft collided in Lakehurst
- 25th February 1977: A pilot was killed when he crashed during a practice flight
- 8th November 1978: A pilot was killed while performing aerobatics as he arrived at Miramar
- April 1980: A plane made an emergency landing and overran the runway after a fuel line fire and hydraulic failure during a display
- 22nd February 1982: A pilot was killed while practicing a dirty loop at El Centro
- 13th July 1985: Two Skyhawks collided during an opposition pass at Niagara Falls; one pilot ejected safely, one other was killed
- 12th February 1987: A pilot ejected safely after an engine flame-out during a display practice
- 23rd January 1990: Two planes collided during a practice display; one pilot ejected safety, the other landed his aircraft, which could fly again
- 28th October 1999: A pilot and his passenger died when they crashed on arrival to Valdosta
- 1st December 2004: A pilot was slightly injured when he struck the water, causing catastrophic damage to his aircraft, and ejected
- 21st April 2007: A pilot was killed when he crashed at the Beaufort Airshow, injuring several spectators
- 2nd June 2016: A pilot was killed when he crashed his jet after take-off at the Great Tennessee Airshow in Smyrna