By Danielle DeSimone
As the U.S. Navy’s flight demonstration squadron, the Blue Angels stun audiences around the country every year with their high-speed air show exhibits. To be a pilot in one of those six performing jets, members of the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps must undergo an extensive application and training process to join one of the most elite flying teams in the world.
Here are eight facts to know about Blue Angels pilots and their work:
1. The Blue Angels serve as ambassadors of U.S. naval aviation.
As the U.S. Navy’s flight demonstration squadron, the Blue Angels’ mission is to showcase the skill and teamwork of the Navy and Marine Corps through flight demonstrations and community outreach.
On average, the squadron performs for 11 million spectators each year. During show season, which runs from March through November, team members visit an additional 50,000 people in hospitals and schools.
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, many people across the United States still got to see the Blue Angels in the series of flyovers they conducted over cities to honor healthcare workers combatting the virus.
2. The Blue Angels have roots in World War II.
Originally established in April 1946 by World War II hero and then-Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Chester Nimitz, the flight exhibition team was created to keep the American public interested in – and supportive of – naval aviation, as well as to maintain high morale within the Navy.
Many of the original members of the team were naval aviators who served in World War II.
3. Naval aviators must meet high standard requirements to be a part of the Blue Angels squadron.
Members of the Navy and Marine Corps who wish to apply to be a part of the Blue Angels team must meet certain requirements, including being an aircraft carrier-qualified tactical jet pilot with a minimum of 1,250 flight hours.
New members of the team must also prepare themselves for a strenuous and time-consuming practice and performance schedule, which often keeps them far from their families for long periods of time.
4. The Blue Angels are known for their flight formations and maneuvers.
The flight formations of the Blue Angels require a great deal of skill and precision, with many of them performed under high g-force, the force of gravity or acceleration on a pilot’s body, and very close to one another.
One of the squadron’s most famous performance maneuvers is the Opposing Knife-Edge Pass, in which two solo pilots on opposite sides of the runway fly their planes directly at one another toward a center point. Then, when they simultaneously reach that center point, they each quickly turn at a 90-degree angle.
In another maneuver, the high-speed Sneak Pass, the jet often startles air show audiences by flying at 700 miles per hour – that is, just under Mach 1, the speed of sound.
Another noteworthy maneuver is the Diamond 360 maneuver. In this move, four pilots fly by in a diamond formation with their planes only 18 inches apart from one another in a diamond shape. It’s a risky move and, in 2019, two jets actually touched while practicing the maneuver – however, no one was injured, and the incident just left a small scratch on one of the planes.
5. The Blue Angels are named after a nightclub.
Originally, the group was called the Navy Flight Exhibition Team. However, after seeing The Blue Angel nightclub’s name in New York City, members of the squadron changed the name to “the Blue Angels.”
6. The squadron’s aircraft have evolved from propeller planes to top-of-the-line fighter jets.
Originally, the Blue Angels flew the Grumman F6F Hellcat, a propeller plane used extensively during World War II. Over the subsequent decades, the team has flown several different kinds of aircraft as aviation technology has improved.
The Blue Angels’ support aircraft also recently got an upgrade. Affectionately known as “Fat Albert,” the team’s C-130T Hercules was retired after 30,000 flight hours in support of the Blue Angels. As of 2021, the team’s new “Fat Albert” support aircraft was the large, British-built C-130J, which can fly farther than its predecessor.
7. The Blue Angels do not fight in combat.
At the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, the Blue Angels squadron briefly disbanded and members joined Fighter Squadron 191 (VF-191), “Satan’s Kittens,” aboard the aircraft carrier USS Princeton, which was deployed to Korea. Today, however, the Blue Angels do not fly in combat.
Although squadron members do not fly in combat during their two to three-year tour on the team, all of the Blue Angels jets are aircraft carrier-capable and can be made combat-ready in approximately 72 hours, if necessary.
8. Blue Angels pilots do not wear G-suits.
A G-suit is a flight suit typically worn by aviators that is designed to rapidly inflate and deflate to counteract the effects of acceleration pressure in a plane, such as blood pooling in the lower part of the body and then rushing to their heads, which can cause pilots to pass out. However, Blue Angels pilots do not wear G-suits, as the inflation and deflation of the suit would interfere with the control stick between the pilots’ legs and impact flight safety.
Instead, Blue Angels pilots are trained to contract the muscles in their body, as well as trained in breathing techniques, to counteract the effects of acceleration themselves and keep blood flowing to their brains.
-This story was originally published on USO.org in 2021. It has been updated in 2022.
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