The roar of F/A-18 Hornets immediately grabs your attention - as the Blue Angels come screaming in toward the crowd at speeds so fast you’ll miss them if you blink!

The Blue Angels, known officially as the U.S. Naval Flight Demonstration Squadron (USNFDS), put on awe-inspiring performances that dazzle crowds and display the team’s amazing precision flying skills.

The Blue Angels’ schedule can include as many as 70 air shows across the United States and Canada, during a season. More than 17 million spectators typically see their performances during a season. Since 1946, the Blue Angels have performed for more than 300 million spectators.

According to the Navy, the mission of the Blue Angels is to enhance Navy and Marine Corps recruiting and to represent the naval service to the United States and foreign nations. The Blue Angels serve as positive role models and goodwill ambassadors for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, everywhere they fly.

During Blue Angel flight demonstrations, which run just over an hour, these aerial daredevils provide a thrilling mix of disciplined formation flying and solo routines with their F/A-18 Hornets. Among the team’s fast-paced, high-performance, choreographed maneuvers are the four-plane Diamond, a formation so tight that there is only 18 inches between the wing tip of one plane and the cockpit of another, and the exacting six-jet Delta Formation, in which the Blue Angels perform a series of maneuvers while locked in formation.

The aircraft that the squadron flies are the same as those based in the fleet, except the Blue Angel F/A-18’s have their nose cannons removed and smoke-oil tanks installed. A spring is also installed on the stick to apply pressure for better formation and inverted flying. Otherwise, each Blue Angel aircraft is fleet capable and able to return to combat duty aboard an aircraft carrier anywhere in the world within 72 hours!

The $18 million F/A-18 is capable of flying a combat radius of 500-plus nautical miles and has a combat ceiling of approximately 50,000 feet. With a crew of one, it can reach speeds of Mach 1.7+ (1,200 mph). It is equipped with Hughes APG-65 radar that has long-range detection in both head-on and tail-on aspects. It is powered by two General Electric F404-GE-400 low-bypass, turbofan engines, each in the 16,000-pound thrust class. The prime contractor for the aircraft is Boeing. The principal airframe contractor is the Northrop Corporation .

During the show season, the Blue Angels are stationed at Forrest Sherman Field Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida.
The squadron spends January through March training pilots and new team members at the Naval Air Facility
in El Centro, California.

The Blue Angels were formed in 1945 at the end of World War II, when Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Chief of Naval Operations, ordered the formation of a flight demonstration team - to keep the public interested in Naval Aviation.

Flying Grumman F6F Hellcats, The Blue Angels performed their first flight demonstration less than a year later in June 1946 at their home base, Naval Air Station (NAS) Jacksonville, Florida. They were under the command of Lt. Cmdr. Roy "Butch" Voris, a World War II flying ace, who had commanded a naval air squadron in the Pacific.

On August 25, 1946, the Blue Angels transitioned to Grumman F8F Bearcats and introduced their famous "diamond" formation.
By the end of the decade, the Blue Angels were flying their first jet aircraft, the Grumman F9F-2 Panther. When the Korean War broke out in the summer of 1950, the squadron reported to the aircraft carrier, USS Princeton - as the nucleus of Fighter Squadron 191 (VF-191), known as, "Satan's Kitten."

The team was reorganized the following year and reported to NAS, Corpus Christi, Texas, where they began flying a newer and faster version of the Panther, the F9F-5. The Blue Angels remained in Corpus Christi until the winter of 1954, when they relocated to their present home base at NAS Pensacola, Florida. It was here that they progressed to the swept-wing Grumman F9F-8 Cougar. During the subsequent 20 years, the Blue Angels transitioned again to two more aircraft, the Grumman F11F-1 Tiger (1957) and the McDonnell Douglas F- 4J Phantom II (1969). In December 1974, the Navy Flight Demonstration Team began flying the McDonnell Douglas A-4F Skyhawk II and was reorganized as the Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron under the command of Tony Less.

The Blue Angels completed their 40th anniversary year in 1986 and on November 8th of that year, the sleek McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet, the first dual-role fighter/attack aircraft - which now serves on the nation's front lines of defense, was unveiled. That aircraft is still in service with the squadron, today and as the Blue Angels flash through the skies in their bright blue and yellow fighters, they continue to thrill crowds wherever they fly!

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by Mel Fenson
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