U.S. Navy Blue Angels

Team History

It can be said that the U.S. Navy Blue Angels had their start in 1912, when the Navy staged a simulated aerial dog fight to demonstrate the capabilities of the newest weapons in its arsenal. After a break for World War I (1914-1918), airshows and flight demonstrations started again and reached a peak in November 1918, when more than 200 aircraft performed a fly-over at San Diego. After seeing Army aviator Jimmy Doolittle perform a solo aerobatic act and the Army's aerobatic team, the "Three Musketeers," at an airshow in 1927, Navy officer D.W. Tomlinson helped to form the first official Navy flight demonstration team. The team flew Boeing F2B-1 fighters and made their first appearance in January 1928 at San Francisco, California. Because of their daredevil stunts, there were soon being called the "Suicide Trio," but they shortly were given the official name of the "Three Sea Hawks." This short-lived team was followed by other Navy aerobatic teams, which included the "High Hatters," the "Three Gallant Souls," and the "Three Flying Fish." But as worldwide tensions grew and World War II became a grim reality, all military airshow performances came to a stop.

After World War II, Admiral Chester Nimitz (then Chief of Naval Operations) ordered the formation of an official U.S. Navy flight demonstration team to maintain the public's interest in naval aviation. The job of actually forming the team was given to Lt. Commander Roy "Butch" Voris, who had flown off the carriers USS Enterprise and USS Hornet during the war. At the time, the top Navy fighter was the Grumman F6F Hellcat, and Voris decided on an Insignia Blue/Yellow Gold color scheme for the planes (actual Gold Leaf was used on those first planes). The first public appearance of the new Navy Flight Exhibition Team was on May 10, 1946. A contest was held shortly after to select a name for the team, and the story goes that because none of the submissions was to the liking of the Navy Chief of Staff at the time, he instructed Voris to name the new team the "Blue Lancers." But when a team member saw an ad in New Yorker Magazine for a nightclub called the "Blue Angel," all the team members agreed that this was a better name. With some help from the aviation press assembled for an airshow in Omaha, Nebraska, the name "Blue Angels" was publicized and soon became the team's official name. The last airshow with the F6F Hellcats (originally the team had only three aircraft) was flown on August 15, 1946.

[Photos from "Blue Angels: 50 Years of Precision Flight"
by Nicholas A. Veronico and Marga B. Fritze]

Blue Angels - F6F Hellcat
Grumman F6F Hellcat

About 10 days later, the "Blue Angels" flew their first show in the Grumman F8F Bearcat, a sleeker, more powerful, and faster fighter aircraft that was just joining the Navy's carrier squadrons. Unfortunately, only a month later the "Blue Angels" suffered their first fatal crash. Lt. "Robby" Robinson was killed while performing a Cuban Eight maneuver during an airshow in September 1946, when a wingtip broke off his Bearcat sending him into a death spiral. Lt. Commander Voris initially was involved in the selection of the "Blue Angeles" team leaders, and his replacement took over in May 1947. For the 1947 airshow season, new maneuvers, including the 4-plane Diamond Loop and Diamond Roll, were introduced. Also, during Voris's term as team leader, the "Blue Angels" had added a show element where the "Blues" would pursue a North American SNJ trainer painted up to look like a Japanes Zero in simulated dog fights, and this was expanded on for the 1947 season.

Blue Angels - F8F Bearcat
Grumman F8F Bearcat
1946 - 1949

During June 1949, the "Blue Angels" underwent jet training in San Diego and soon were given their first jet-powered aircraft, the Grumman F9F Panther. The first airshow with the F9F Panther was flown on August 20, 1949 at Beaumont, Texas. During the 1949 season, a solo performer was added to the show. But the Korean War soon intervened and by November 1950, they were aboard the carrier USS Princeton enroute to Korean waters as the core of Fighter Squadron VF-191 "Satan's Kittens." Tragically, Lt. Commander Johnny Magda, who was the team leader at the time, was killed in combat. VF-191 returned from a second combat tour in Korea in October 1952.

When the "Blue Angels" team was reformed in 1952, they were given an upgraded version of the F9F Panther (the F9F-5 as opposed to their original F9F-2 versions). At the time, the Navy was beginning to put the Vought F7U Cutlass into operation and two of the radical design jets were given to the "Blue Angels." But the Cutlass was difficult to fly in formation and had many mechanical breakdowns, therefore it was used very infrequently and only during 1952. In 1952, the "Blues" also added a Lockheed TV-2 Shooting Star for use by the team's public information officer (who was flying an F8F Bearcat until this time).

Blue Angels - F9F-5 Panther
Grumman F9F Panther
1949 - 1950 and 1952 - 1954

Blue Angels - F7U Cutlass
Vought F7U Cutlass

Blue Angels - TV-2 Shooting Star
Lockheed TV-2 Shooting Star
1952 - 1956

In December 1954, the "Blue Angels" began transitioning to the Grumman F9F-8 Cougar, a swept-wing version of the Panther. By this time, the demonstration team consisted of six aircraft, the 1-4 "Diamond" team and the 5-6 "Solo" performers. Eventually, a seventh (2-seater) Cougar was added for the team's public information officer, replacing the TV-2 Shooting Star. A new element made possible by the Cougar was the addition of colored dye to the fuel so that fuel dumps from the tips of the Cougars' "wet wings" resulted in colored smoke marking the planes' flight path. In the Winter of 1954, the "Blue Angels" moved to NAS Pensacola, Florida, which has been their home base since then. And in September 1956, they marked their 10th Anniversary with their first airshow outside the United States -- at Toronto, Canada.

Blue Angels - F9F-8 Cougar
Grumman F9F-8 Cougar
1954 - 1957

During early 1957, the "Blue Angels" began evaluating more advanced aircraft to replace the Cougar, among them the North American FJ Fury (a Navy version of the Air Force's venerable F-86 Sabre) and the McDonnell-Douglas A-4 Skyhawk (which they would fly later in the team's history). The team eventually settled on the Grumman F11F Tiger, a sleek, high-powered aircraft that provided them with supersonic capability for the first time. For the new planes, right wingman Lt. Bob Rasmussen designed a new paint scheme which has been used ever since. The new design consisted of the words "Blue Angels" in script lettering on the sides of the nose with the team logo in front of this text, "US Navy" in block lettering on the sides of the rear fuselage, stripes on either side of the canopy, an arrow drawn down the center of the underside, and large block lettered "US Navy" under the wings. All of these elements continued to be in Yellow Gold against the Insignia Blue base color.

The first airshow featuring the Tiger was flown on March 23, 1957. The power of the Tiger allowed the "Blue Angels" to use a greater amount of vertical movement to its maneuvers, and high speed climbs and loops became a trademark of the years that the team used the Tiger. The solo pilots also began to add more daring maneuvers, including the "Back to Back Pass," in which one solo flew down the centerline of the show area wings level and the opposing solo flew from the opposite direction inverted. The story goes that the "Blues" didn't unveil this new maneuver until an airshow at Andrews Air Force Base, where General Curtis LeMay is reported to have thrown down his cigar and said, "I don't believe this," in shock at the daring of the opposing solos. 1961 was the 50th Anniversary of Naval Aviation, and the "Blue Angels" joined in the celebration by performing 74 shows that year for an estimated 5 million spectators. The team flew its 1000th show in 1963, and in 1965 they made their first European tour. Unfortunately, fatal accidents in 1966 (during a show in Toronto) and two in 1967 (during practice) closed out the Tiger's otherwise successful 12-year tour of duty with the "Blue Angels." 1969 also marked the end of an unbroken 23-year (1946-1969) stretch in which the "Blue Angels" used aircraft manufactured by Grumman Aircraft. Grumman's follow-on aircraft to the F11F Tiger were the A-6 Intruder and the F-14 Tomcat, neither of which was a practical choice for the "Blue Angels."

Blue Angels - F11F Tiger
Grumman F11F Tiger
1957 - 1969

A bit of interservice rivalry played a part in the selection of the next type of aircraft to be used by the "Blue Angels." By 1969, the United States was deep into its involvement in Vietnam, and most front-line aircraft were needed by the active combat squadrons. But at the time, the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds were beginning to use the McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantom II. Lt. Commander William Wheat argued that the Phantom had originally been designed and built for and had been deployed first by the Navy and, therefore, it was unfair for the Department of Defense to allow the Air Force to use the Phantom for its flight demonstration team, but not the Navy. Washington agreed to look into the matter and found six Phantoms at NAS Oceana, Virginia, which were assigned to the "Blue Angels." With their raw power and thundering, flame-belching afterburners, the Phantoms were real crowd pleasers. A favorite maneuver, which was impossible in all previous aircraft flown by the "Blues," was the Dirty Loop, in which the diamond took off, left their gear and flaps down, and climbed directly into a loop. The team took their Phantoms to the Far East in 1971 and to Europe in 1973. But the high cost of fuel because of the oil crisis of the early 1970s and a series of three tragic accidents in 1972 and 1973 resulted in the "Blue Angels" leaving the Phantoms by 1974.

Blue Angels - F-4J Phantom
McDonnell-Douglas F-4J Phantom II
1969 - 1974

After the tragic 1972-1973 seasons, the Secretary of the Navy was of the opinion that the "Blue Angels" should be disbanded, but the strong support by the Chief of Naval Operations and the former "Blue Angels" team leader Ken Wallace finally convinced the SecNav to continue the team -- but with the condition that a low-cost and safe aircraft be chosen to replace the F-4 Phantom. Wallace wanted that aircraft to be the Grumman F-14 Tomcat, the Navy's premiere fighter aircraft. But the Tomcat was such a sophisticated and expensive plane that it had to be ruled out. Eventually, the "Blue Angels" settled on the McDonnell-Douglar A-4 Skyhawk. A small, but very nimble attack aircraft that had been the backbone of the Navy's Vietnam efforts. The Skyhawk debuted on May 18, 1974, during an airshow at Offutt AFB, Nebraska. In 1976, the "Blues" performed overseas at NAS Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico and in Canada. Although the Skyhawk was an economical aircraft and its performance allowed the "Blue Angels" to develop a tight routine that kept the show close to the spectators, fatal accidents in 1978 and 1985 resulted in the acceleration of a transition to the F/A-18 Hornet.

Blue Angels - A-4 Skyhawk
McDonnell-Douglas A-4 Skyhawk
1974 - 1986

The team took delivery of their newest and (as of April 2007) current aircraft, the McDonnell-Douglas F/A-18 Hornet. The Hornet has the power and speed to make an exciting show, and the slow-speed maneuverability needed for "close to the ground" maneuvers. In its first 20 years (1986-2006) with the "Blues," the Hornet also had one of the best safety records, with the non-fatal loss of two aircraft in 1990 and a fatal practice accident in 1999. One of the highlights of the recent history of the "Blue Angels" was a 1992 tour of Europe that included never-thought-possible visits to Russia, Romania, and Bulgaria, in addition to shows in Sweden, Finland, England, Italy, and Spain. During the stop in Russia, members of the "Blue Angels" exchanged rides in their F/A-18 Hornets for rides in the MiG-29 Fulcrums of the "Russian Knights" flight demonstration team. The rousing cheers to which the blue jets, their pilots, and their support crews arrived in the former Soviet-bloc countries proved conclusively that the men and women of the U.S. Navy Blue Angels are true U.S. ambassadors of good will to the world. As of April 2007, the "Blue Angels" have been in existence for 61 years and have performed for more than 430 million spectators around the world! Tragically, the team suffered a fatal accident during an air show in South Carolina on April 21, 2007. Solo Blue Angel #6 crashed into a ticket of pine trees near the end of the show as the team was reforming into a delta formation after completion of the famous bomb burst maneuver. The pilot of Blue Angel #6 was killed in the crash, which also injured residents of housing near the crash site.

Blue Angels - F/A-18 Hornet
McDonnell-Douglas F/A-18 Hornet
1986 - Current

| Blue Angels Formation Photos > |

For More Information

For more information about the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, check out the following books, videos, and web site:

~~ Books ~~

Reflections of Blue
by Carol Knotts
SKM Publications: Bossier City, LA, 1979

Blue Angels: 50 Years of Precision Flight
by Nicholas A. Veronico & Marga R. Fritze
Motorbooks International: Osceola, WI, 1996

~~ Videos ~~

Blue Angels: A Backstage Pass
Pacific Video/Cabin Fever Entertainment

Blue Angels: Around the World at the Speed of Sound
Hosted by Dennis Quaid
A&E Network/History Channel Video
New Video Group: New York, NY, 1994

~~ Official Blue Angels Web Site ~~

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Last Updated: March 30, 2008