HISTORY OF THE BLUE ANGELS

72 Years of Aviation Excellence

In 1946, the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Chester Nimitz, had a vision to create a flight exhibition team in order to raise the public's interest in naval aviation and boost Navy morale. In the 1940's, we thrilled audiences with our precision combat maneuvers in the F6 Hellcat, the F8 Bearcat and the F9 Panther. During the 1950's, we refined our demonstration with aerobatic maneuvers in the F9 Cougar and F-11 Tiger and introduced the first six-plane delta formation, still flown to this day. By the end of the 1960's, we were flying the F-4 Phantom, the only two seat aircraft flown by the delta formation. In 1974, we transitioned to the A-4 Skyhawk, a smaller and lighter aircraft with a tighter turning radius allowing for a more dynamic flight demonstration. In 1986, we celebrated our 40th Anniversary by unveiling the Boeing F/A-18 Hornet, which we still fly to this day.

In 1949, it became necessary for the Blue Angels to operate a support aircraft to move personnel and equipment between show sites. These support aircraft including the Douglas R4D Sky Train, the Curtiss R5C Commando, the Douglas R5D Skymaster, and the Lockheed C-121 Super Constellation. In 1970 the team received the Lockheed Martin C-130, affectionately known as "Fat Albert."

Significant Events in Blue Angels History

At the end of World War II, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Chester W. Nimitz ordered the formation of a flight demonstration team to keep the public interested in naval aviation.

In a short three months, the Navy Flight Exhibition Team performed its first flight demonstration June 15, 1946, at their home base, Naval Air Station (NAS) Jacksonville, Florida. Lt. Cmdr. Roy "Butch" Voris led the team and flew the Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat.

The new Navy Flight Exhibition team was only the second formal flying demonstration team to have been created in the world, since the Patrouille de France formed in 1931.

The team was introduced as the "Blue Angels" at a show in Omaha, Nebraska, in July 1946. Right Wing Pilot Lt. Maurice "Wick" Wickendoll came across the name in the New Yorker Magazine in a column called Goings On About Town. Voris said, "That sounds great! The Blue Angels. Navy, Blue, and Flying!"

That first year, the team also employed a North American Aviation SNJ-5 Texan (later known as T-6), which was painted and configured to simulate a Japanese Mitsubishi A6M Zero, and flown to simulate aerial combat. It was painted yellow and affectionately named "Beetle Bomb." The team continued to use the Beetle Bomb in their performances, but later traded it in for a Grumman F8F-1 Bearcat, the same aircraft the team transitioned to on Aug. 25, 1946.

A big loss came to the Blue Angels when on Sept. 29, 1946, Slot Pilot Lt. j.g. Ross "Robby" Robinson failed to recover from a dive while performing a Cuban Eight maneuver at NAS Jacksonville, and was killed. Robinson died only four shows before the end of the season and became the first of 26 Blue Angel pilot fatalities in the team's 70-year history.

In 1947, Flight Leader Lt. Cmdr. Robert "Bob" Clarke introduced the now-famous Blue Angels Diamond Formation. With the new formation, the team introduced two new maneuvers: the Diamond Loop and the Diamond Barrel Roll; two maneuvers still performed today.

The following year, in the fall of 1948, the team moved to NAS Corpus Christi, Texas.

In 1949, Flight Leader Lt. Cmdr. Raleigh "Dusty" Rhodes designed the first official Blue Angels insignia or "crest." It is nearly identical to the current design. Only the aircraft silhouettes in the cloud have changed with each aircraft the team has flown.

That same year, the Blue Angels acquired a Douglas R4D Skytrain for logistics to and from show sites and transitioned to their first jet aircraft - the Grumman F9F-2 Panther, which was the standard Navy jet fighter of the time.

New team member Lt. Cmdr. John "Johnny" Magda and the rest of the team debuted the Panther at an air show in Beaumont, Texas, on Aug. 20, 1949. Magda became the Blue Angels' new flight leader the following year.

On Sept. 10, 1949, the team moved to NAS Whiting Field, Florida.

The biggest era of change came in the 1950s and started when new Flight Leader Lt. Cmdr. Johnny Magda implemented the first single Solo maneuver, which happened while the Diamond flew out of the crowd's view.

On April 24, 1950, Blue Angels pilot Lt. Bob Longworth was killed while performing a roll on takeoff in the team's Grumman F8F-1 Bearcat, known as the "Beetle Bomb." Shortly after, the Beetle Bomb was taken out of demonstrations.

In response to the Korean Conflict, the Navy disbanded the Blue Angels and the team reported to Fighter Squadron 191 (VF-191), "Satan's Kittens," aboard the aircraft carrier USS Princeton in 1950.

On March 8, 1951, Flight Leader Lt. Cmdr. John "Johnny" Magda led a strike against North Korean and Chinese troops when gunfire struck his Grumman F9F-2B Panther. Magda was the first Blue Angels leader to die in combat.

That same year on Oct. 25, Lt. Cmdr. Roy "Butch" Voris came back to reorganize the Blue Angels as a flight demonstration team. The Blue Angels then reported to Naval Air Station (NAS) Corpus Christi, Texas, and began flying the newer and faster version of the Panther: the Grumman F9F-5 Panther.

Between 1952 - 1954, the team also operated a Lockheed TV-2 Shooting Star (T-33 trainer), solo Grumman F8F-2 Bearcat, and continued to perform in Panthers. The team transitioned for a short period to the Grumman F9F-6 Cougar and even tried to fly two Vought F7U Cutlasses as a side act during their 1953 season, but both pilots and maintainers found the aircraft unsuitable for the team. During this time, the Blue Angels also traded their logistics aircraft, a Douglas R4D Skytrain, for a Curtiss R5C-1 Commando, then quickly replaced it for a Douglas R4D-8 Skytrain.

Lt. Cmdr. Arthur Ray "Hawk" Hawkins took over as flight leader in 1952. He initially joined the team as a wingman in 1948, then served as executive officer for VF-191 during the Korean Conflict. Hawkins became the first naval pilot to survive a supersonic ejection when his Cougar became uncontrollable on a cross-country flight in 1954. The team reverted to the Panther.

On Armed Forces Day in May 1954, the Blue Angels performed for the first time with the Air Force's newly formed demonstration team, the Thunderbirds.

Later that year, when Cmdr. Richard "Zeke" Cormier relieved Hawkins as the flight leader, they performed an aerial change-of-command. Hawkins noticed the way the Diamond pilots split off in the Fleur de Lis maneuver, so he planned to tuck Cormier behind the Slot pilot. As each Diamond pilot split their ways, Cormier then headed up into the loop and the three wingmen joined Cormier to complete the loop.

In December 1954, the Blue Angels deployed to Naval Air Facility El Centro, California, for the team's first winter training away from their home base and transitioned to their second jet aircraft, the Grumman F9F-8 Cougar.

The Blue Angels' first Marine Corps pilot, Capt. Chuck Hiett, also joined the team in 1954; and at least one position has been reserved for a Marine ever since. In addition, an Opposing Solo position was also added to the team that year.

In June 1955, the team relocated from NAS Corpus Christi to their present home base at NAS Pensacola, Florida, and that following winter, stayed there for winter training.

The Blue Angels gave their first performance outside the U.S. in 1956 - in Canada. The team also upgraded its logistics aircraft to the Douglas R5D Skymaster.

At the year's end, Cmdr. Edward Holley became the new Flight Leader and the Blue Angels again held winter training at NAF El Centro, but continued to fly the Cougar until mid-season in 1957, when they began to transition to the Grumman F11F-1 Tiger. The new aircraft allowed the team to practice flying high, tight, and close. The aircraft also allowed new maneuvers to be added to the demonstration, including the Dirty Loop, a maneuver performed with the landing gears down.

Also in 1957, Left Wing pilot Lt. Bob Rasmussen designed a new paint scheme for the Blue Angels aircraft, when he added "Blue Angels," an arrow on the belly of the aircraft, and stripes on the side of the canopy.

The following year, in 1958, the first six-plane Delta maneuvers were added to the demonstration and the Solo pilots introduced the Back-to-Back pass.

At the end of 1958, Cmdr. Zeb Knott took over as flight leader for the Blue Angels. After another winter training at home in Pensacola, Knott led the team in their biggest air show season yet; 76 air shows in nine months and more than 200 days on the road. In 1959 alone, the team was seen by more than 5.9 million spectators in the U.S., Canada, and Bermuda.

After a decade of many changes, the 1960s brought with it more growth and world-wide recognition.

For several years, from 1958 - 1962, the Blue Angels held their winter training at Naval Air Station (NAS) Key West, Florida.

In 1962, when Defense Secretary Robert McNamara overhauled the system for designating U.S. military aircraft, the Grumman F11F-1 Tiger became the F-11A Tiger. The Blue Angels had been flying the Tiger since 1957 and after trading in the short-nose version of the aircraft for the long-nose version, the team continued to fly it until 1969; making the Blue Angels the only squadron besides training squadrons to continue to fly the Tiger.

Also in 1962, Flight Leader Lt. Cmdr. Ken Wallace and the Blue Angels team introduced the Farvel maneuver. The Wing and Slot pilots would fly straight and the Flight Leader would fly inverted above them. The maneuver was soon modified to have both the Flight Leader and Slot pilots fly inverted, a maneuver the team still flies today - the Double Farvel.

Due to the Cuban Missile Crisis and overcrowding at NAS Key West, beginning in 1963 and lasting until 1966, the Blue Angels held winter training at the Navy's so-called "Bone Yard" at NAS Litchfield Park, Tucson, Arizona.

The team reached a milestone when it performed its 1,000th air show in Lemoore, California, July 4, 1963.

A year later, in July 1964, the Blue Angels participated in the Aeronaves de Mexico Anniversary Air Show over Mexico City, Mexico, before an estimated crowd of 1.5 million people.

The team went to the Caribbean and Europe the following year, and two years later, in 1967, the team toured Europe again.

Also in 1967, the Blue Angels again found themselves deployed to Naval Air Facility El Centro, California, to conduct winter training. NAF El Centro has since become the permanent winter training home of the Blue Angels and the team continues to train there every January - March.

In 1968, the Douglas R5D Skymaster the Blue Angels had used as a logistics aircraft for 12 years was replaced with a Lockheed C-121J Constellation, but was only with the team for a year, when in 1969, it was upgraded to a Lockheed C-121 Super Constellation.

As efforts to integrate women more fully in military service progressed, the Blue Angels selected a young female officer to join the team in October 1968. Lt. Mary Russell reported to the Blue Angels as the Assistant Public Affairs Officer, and later worked as the Assistant Administrative Officer. Russell was the first woman ever to serve on the Blue Angels.

At the end of 1969, the team transitioned to the McDonnell Douglas F-4J Phantom II. It was the only aircraft flown by both the Blue Angels and the Air Force Thunderbirds.

The Phantom II also allowed the Blue Angels to perform the Dirty Loop maneuver, in which the aircraft's landing gear and flaps are left down, while they climb directly into a loop. Because the Phantoms were faster, the team was also able to add enough maneuvers to fill a 22-minute demonstration.

In 1970, after operating a variety of logistics aircraft, the Blue Angels transitioned to a Marine Corps Lockheed KC-130F Hercules - a tactical transport aircraft. It was operated by an all-Marine crew and affectionately named "Fat Albert." The team still recruits an all-Marine aircrew to operate its Fat Albert logistics aircraft today, but has upgraded to a Lockheed Martin C-130T Hercules.

Also in 1970, the Blue Angels performed their first South American air show tour. The following year, the team also conducted its first Far East tour, and performed at a dozen locations throughout Asia, including Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines.

In 1972, the team was awarded the Navy's Meritorious Unit Commendation for the two-year period from Mar. 1, 1970 - Dec. 31, 1971. Another European tour followed in 1973, and included air shows in Tehran, Iran, England, France, Spain, Turkey, Greece, and Italy.

Tragedy hit the Blue Angels in the 1973 season when the Flight Leader, Left Wing Pilot, and a crew chief all lost their lives during an arrival maneuver. The rest of the air show season was then cancelled. The incident also signaled the end of the Phantom-era.

Capt. Ken Wallace, a former 1954 - 1955 Slot pilot and 1961 - 1963 Flight Leader, returned to the team to help guide it into a new season.

On Dec.10, 1973, the Blue Angels flight demonstration team was reorganized and commissioned the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron in a ceremony held at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida. Cmdr. Tony Less became the squadron's first Commanding Officer. He added a permanent position for a flight surgeon and an administrative officer to the team. Less wanted to create a team where everyone felt like a Blue Angel. He also redefined the squadron's mission to enhance the recruiting effort.

That winter training season, the Blue Angels began flying the McDonnell Douglas A-4F Skyhawk II.

A few years later on Oct. 8, 1977, in Atlanta, Georgia, the Blue Angels hit another milestone for the team when they flew their 2,000th air show.

Then, in 1978, Aviation Electrician's Mate Penny Edwards made history when she became the first female enlisted Sailor to join the ranks as a Blue Angels maintenance team member.

In November 1985, Lt. Cmdr. Donnie Cochran became the Blue Angels' first African-American pilot. He flew in both the Left and Right Wing positions between 1986 - 1988.

For thirteen years, the Blue Angels had continued to fly the McDonnell Douglas A-4F Skyhawk II, and on Nov. 8, 1986, the team completed its 40th anniversary year and unveiled its present aircraft, the McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) F/A-18 Hornet.

The Hornet is the first dual-role fighter/attack aircraft and is still serving on America's front lines of defense. The aircraft is a unique combination of high power and light weight, which gives this multi-mission strike fighter impressive maneuverability, climb rate, and acceleration - important both in combat and shipboard operations.

As with the McDonnell Douglas F-4J Phantom II used previously, the team was again able to perform the Dirty Loop maneuver in formation with the landing gear down - a maneuver still not performed by any other flight demonstration team in the world. The Hornet also allows the team to perform maneuvers such as the Section High Alpha Pass, a slow, high angle of attack maneuver performed by both Solo pilots.

The Blue Angels continued to hit milestones when flew their 3,000th air show in Grand Forks, North Dakota, Sept.7, 1990.

In August and September 1992, the team performed 16 shows in eight countries throughout Asia and Europe. During this tour, the Blue Angels became the first U.S. military flight demonstration team to perform in Russia, Romania, and Bulgaria.

Two years later, in 1994, prior Blue Angels pilot Cmdr. Donnie Cochran came back to lead the team, and made history again when he became the team's first African American commanding officer.

The team celebrated its 50th anniversary year in 1996 and was led by Capt. Gregory Woolridge.

Historic steps continued to be taken by the team and on Nov. 11, 1998, Blue Angels Commanding Officer and Flight Leader Cmdr. Patrick Driscoll made the first Blue Angels jet landing on an underway aircraft carrier - USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75).

At the close of the 90s, the Blue Angels were looking ahead; ready to enter the new millennium.

In September 2004, Hurricane Ivan struck the Florida Panhandle. The Blue Angels stood down for two weeks to clean up their homes and work spaces. Then, they went back to work and continued their air show season.

Following sequestration in April 2013, the Navy announced the remaining air show season was cancelled as one of many steps to ensure resources would be in place for forces operating forward deployed. The Blue Angels remained committed to their mission though, reached out to the local community, and performed more than 500 community outreach events, totaling more than 5,000 hours of community service squadron-wide.

An executive officer position was added to the team in 2014, and for the first time in history, there were a total of 17 Blue Angels officers.

The team celebrated another milestone in history in 2015, when Marine Capt. Katie Higgins was selected to pilot the Blue Angels' Lockheed Martin C-130T Hercules transport aircraft, making her the first female Blue Angels pilot.

2018 is the team's 72nd anniversary and marks the Blue Angels' 32nd year flying the Boeing F/A-18 Hornet.

Since 1946, the Blue Angels have performed for nearly 500 million fans.

HISTORICAL AIRCRAFT GALLERY

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Butch Voris and the Blue Angels

Flight Demonstration Aircraft

  • F6F Hellcat 1946
  • F8F Bearcat 1946 - 1949
  • F9F-2 Panther 1949 - 1950
  • F9F-5 Panther 1951 - 1955
  • F9F-8 Cougar 1955 - 1957
  • F11F-1 Tiger 1957 - 1968
  • F-4J Phantom II 1969 - 1974
  • A-4F Skyhawk II 1974 - 1986
  • F/A-18 Hornet A/B 1986 - 2010
  • F/A-18 Hornet C/D IN TRANSITION

Support Aircraft

  • R4D Sky Train 1949 TO 1955
  • R5C Commando 1953
  • R5D Skymaster 1956 - 1968
  • C-121 Super Constellation 1969 - 1970
  • C-130 Hercules 1970 - PRESENT

Miscellaneous Aircraft

  • SNJ Texan 1946
  • T-33 Shooting Star 1952 - 1954
  • F7U Cutlass 1952 - 1953

From Hellcats to Hornets

Hellcat and Bearcat Heritage Flight

What a beautiful view, Fans!

Check out our video of one of our jets flying with our first two performing aircraft; the F6F Hellcat and the F8F Bearcat!

#FromHellcatstoHornets #71in17

Posted by U.S. Navy Blue Angels on Saturday, March 11, 2017
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