Do the Blue Angels Fight in Combat? 8 Facts to Know About the Blue Angels Pilots

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.

Photo credit DVIDS/Petty Officer 2nd Class Kathryn Macdonald

Lt. Nate Barton, then-left wing pilot No. 3 of the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels, signs autographs for fans at the National Naval Aviation Museum at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., in 2013.

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.

Recently, despite air shows being canceled through 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 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.

Photo credit U.S. Navy Blue Angels

The Blue Angels squadron pictured in 1949.

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.

Photo credit U.S. Navy Blue Angels

The Blue Angels squadron flies in tight formations and executes maneuvers that require a great deal of skill, practice and precision.

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.

Photo credit DVIDS/Petty Officer 2nd Class Andrea Perez

U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels, solo pilots perform the Fortus maneuver at the Jacksonville Beach Sea and Sky Spectacular Air Show in 2015.

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.

Photo credit U.S. Navy/Petty Officer 2nd Class Ian Cotter

U.S. lead solo pilot of the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels, Cmdr. Frank Weisser participates in a heritage flight alongside an F6F Hellcat and F8F Bearcat aircraft, the first two aircraft models used by the Blue Angels shortly after the team’s inception in 1946.

In 2021, the squadron started flying Boeing’s F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet fighter jets, the newest highly capable, tactical aircraft in the U.S. Navy.

Photo credit DVIDS/Petty Officer 3rd Class Drew Verbis

The “Fat Albert” C-130J Super Hercules is the logistic support vehicle for the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels.

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 2020, 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.

Photo credit DVIDS/Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Lindsey

Pilots assigned to the U.S. Navy flight demonstration squadron, the Blue Angels, fly their F/A-18 Hornets in the Delta formation over Mt. St. Helens, Wash., in 2015.

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.

Photo credit DVIDS/ Petty Officer 2nd Class Cody Hendrix

Lt. Cmdr. Brandon Hempler, lead solo pilot assigned to the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels, talks with Aviation Structural Mechanic 1st Class Jace Gerrard, prior to a practice flight at Naval Air Facility El Centro, Calif., in January 2020.

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.

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