US Navy Blue Angels 70th Anniversary: 1946 – 2016

The US Navy Blue Angels demonstration team have been thrilling crowds with their aerial prowess for 70 years now. Growing up in Australia it took me quite a while to ever see them perform (2009) but since then I have certainly made up for it, catching demonstrations around the United States, including on their home turf at NAS Pensacola in Florida during the US Naval Aviation Centennial in 2011 (2 days of practicing all their routines for around 3 hours a day. Quite a time!). For me the pilots and ground crew of the Blue Angels are the best of the best!

Blue Angels Aircraft 1946 to 2016
Blue Angels Aircraft 1946 to 2016 (US Navy image – US Navy All Hands magazine February 1996, pg. 24)
US Navy Blue Angels Pilots
US Navy Blue Angels pilots – Sun n Fun Air Show 2014
The Blue Angels taking delivery of their new Grumman F8F Bearcat aircraft in Bethpage, 1946 (Photo Source: Grumman History Centre via the Blue Angels website)
The Blue Angels taking delivery of their new Grumman F8F Bearcat aircraft in Bethpage, 1946 (Photo Source: Grumman History Centre via the Blue Angels website)

The Blue Angels have flown some great aircraft in their time (stripped of weapons and any extra unrequired weight to enable some spectacular flying displays). In the early years Grumman dominated the stable starting out with the Grumman F6F Hellcat in 1946, they soon moved to the more powerful Grumman F8F Bearcat (1946 to 1949), then into the jet age with the Grumman F9F Panther (F9F-2 1949 to 1950 and F9F-5 1951 to 1955), the Grumman F9F-8 Cougar (1955 to 1957) and the Grumman F11F-1 Tiger which had a very long lie with the team (1957 to 1968). Initially they flew as a 4 ship team but during the introduction of jets the team increased in size to 6 aircraft and continues that tradition today.

Blue Angels 1946 to 1949: Grumman F6F Hellcat & F8F Bearcat
The Early Years – 1946 to 1949: Grumman F6F Hellcat & F8F Bearcat (US Navy photos)
The Blue Angels enter the Jet Age - 1949 to 1957: Grumman F9F-2/5 Panther and Grumman F9F-8 Cougar
The Blue Angels enter the Jet Age – 1949 to 1957: Grumman F9F-2/5 Panther and Grumman F9F-8 Cougar (US Navy photos)
US Navy Blue Angels Grumman F11F-1 Tiger
The Tiger years – 1957 to 1968: Grumman F11F-1 Tiger (US Navy photos)

1969 saw the Blue Angels change manufacturers and upgrade to a much bigger and more powerful beast in the form of the McDonnell Douglas F-4J Phantom II (1969 to 1974) but the 1970’s oil crisis saw a major step back in speed and size to the more economical aircraft. This was the nimble little Douglas A-4J Skyhawk,  which saw a long and famous period of service with the team (1974 to 1986) and introduced a fantastic routine of sharp maneuvers not possible in the big Phantom II. The A-4 years to me were immortalised in the fantastic 1986 Van Halen music video for the song Dreams.

US Navy Blue Angels McDonnell Douglas F-4J Phantom II
Phabulous Phantom years – 1969 to 1974: McDonnell Douglas F-4J Phantom II (US Navy photos)
Blue Angels Douglas A-4J Skyhawk Mt Rushmore
The Skyhawk Years – 1974 to 1986: Douglas A-4J Skyhawk (US Navy photos)

Since 1986 the team has flown the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet. They first flew the A/B models (1986 to 2010) and now the C/D models. The Hornet took over from the Skyhawk in spectacular style and brought back “big jet” flying to the team without losing too much on the spectacular maneuverability the Blues are renowned for.

US Navy Blue Angels F/A-18 Hornet
The McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet has been the steed of the Blue Angels since 1986 but that will change in 2017…

Having recently seen the team flying their current McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C/D Hornets at the Seafair Boeing Air Show 2016 in Seattle, Washington I thought it would be cool to share some of the images from the different times I have seen the team fly and some ground shots of historical aircraft. This starts with the Jones Beach Air Show in New York in 2009 and ends with this years Seafair. Unfortunately the budget sequestration in 2013 put a stop on demonstration flying that year but luckily they were back in style in 2014 and beyond!

US Navy Blue Angels Sun n fun air show 2014
These guys are incredibly skilled and a formation like this shows it so well! US Navy Blue Angels at the Sun n Fun Air Show 2014 in Florida
US Navy Blue Angels Sun n fun air show 2014
US Navy Blue Angels
US Navy Blue Angels Lakeland FL Sun N Fun Air Show 2014
The Angels have landed – Sun n Fun 2014
US Navy Blue Angels inverted
Letting it all hang out (even whilst inverted)!
Blue Angels Seattle Practice 2016
The F/A-18 Hornets always look great in Blue Angels livery
Blue Angels Seattle Practice 2016 F/A-18C
Blue Angels F/A-18C Hornets – Seafair 2016

I cannot forget “Fat Albert“, their famous Lockheed C-130 Hercules support aircraft either. Not only does it provide logistical support for the team, it also does its own routine during air shows! Unfortunately due to a mechanical issue “Fat Albert” didn’t make it down from Alaska to Seattle this year. He was missed of course!

US Navy Blue Angels Sun n Fun Air Show Lakeland FL 2014 Fat Albert
Hey, hey, hey, here comes “Fat Albert”! Sun n Fun Air Show 2014 in Florida
C-130 Fat Albert US Navy Blue Angels
US Navy Blue Angels C-130 “Fat Albert” – Sun n Fun Air Show 2014

The Blue Angels support aircraft were first introduced in 1949 with a Douglas R4D Skytrain transport aircraft (1949 to 1955). In 1953 they also operated a Curtiss R5C Commando. By 1956 they had upgraded to the Douglas R5D Skymaster which had a long run with the team (1956 to 1968) but gave way briefly to the Lockheed C-121 Super Constellation (1969-1970) before the vastly more capable and practical Lockheed C-130 Hercules entered team service in 1970.

US Navy Blue Angels Lockheed C-121 Super Constellation support aircraft in 1968
US Navy Blue Angel 8 – Lockheed C-121 Super Constellation support aircraft in 1968 (Photo Source: US Navy)

Next year the Blue Angels upgrade to the larger Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. I cant wait to see what they bring to the show with that machine in the near future!

The future: US Navy Blue Angels Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet (image via Airshow News)
The future: US Navy Blue Angels Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet (image via Airshow News)

On this 7oth anniversary it would remiss not to pay our respects to the 27 Blue Angels pilots who have lost their lives for the cause during training and air show accidents. The most recent was sadly on June 2nd, 2016. Vale Captain Jeff Kuss USMC, Blue Angel 6, a hero to the end. Thankyou for your service and ultimate sacrifice.

References:

Blue Angels – Official Site

Wikipedia – Blue Angels

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