By Danielle DeSimone
1. There are only three air demonstration teams in the U.S. military that are sanctioned by the Department of Defense: the Navy’s Blue Angels, the Army’s Golden Knights and the Air Force’s Thunderbirds.
Each year, these teams perform at millions of air shows across North America, serving as ambassadors of their individual branches to the general public.
2. The Blue Angels team is the oldest U.S. military air demo team.
Of the three teams, the Navy’s Blue Angels team is the oldest, and was founded in April 1946. Many of its first pilots served in World War II. The Air Force’s Thunderbirds team was activated just a few years later in 1953, and the Army’s Golden Nights team was established in 1959.
3. These military aviation demonstration teams use everything from Super Hornets to parachutes for their performances.
The Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds are aviation demonstration teams that utilize the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets and the F-16 Fighting Falcons, respectively, for their performances. Conversely, the Army’s Golden Knights are an elite parachute unit.
4. Although each of these air demonstration teams is unique, they all have one thing in common: they perform high-intensity maneuvers and stunts that require a great deal of training and skill.
Both the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds perform difficult maneuvers under high g-force, the force of gravity or acceleration on a pilot’s body, sometimes flying their jets between 500-700 mph and only 18 inches apart.
The Golden Knights also perform high-pressure maneuvers. As they jump from their plane and are in a free fall, the team will form geometric shapes in mid-air with smoke cannisters attached to them for an added effect for those watching below.
5. The Navy also has its own parachute team, known as the Leap Frogs.
The Leap Frogs Navy Parachute Team is comprised of active-duty Navy SEALs, special warfare combatant-craft crewmen, divers, explosive ordnance disposal technicians and aircrew survival equipmentmen. Much like their Army counterparts, this elite parachute demonstration team specializes in free-fall parachuting and performs stunts at air shows all across the country.
6. In spring 2021, the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds teamed up to create a “Super Delta” Formation.
The formation required the two teams to fly their F/A-18s and F-16s alongside each other, with six Blue Angels in a triangle with three Thunderbirds flanking each side. This was especially significant because the two teams only occasionally fly together, and it required a great deal of training and cooperation across the two teams and the different military branches to execute.
7. All three military air demonstration teams break barriers.
From the sound barrier to world records, these three military air demonstration teams are known for breaking through barriers – literal or otherwise – that stand in their way. In fact, the Navy’s Blue Angels and the Air Force’s Thunderbirds regularly fly at 700 miles per hour (which is just under Mach 1, the speed of sound) and have occasionally broken through the sound barrier, although they are not permitted to do so at air shows due to safety concerns. Members of the Army’s Golden Knights team have broken 384 world records while competing in international parachute and skydiving competitions.
The Thunderbirds, too, have broken barriers of a different kind, with Lt. Col. Nicole Malachowski, in 2005, becoming the first female pilot to fly in a U.S. military air demonstration team as a pilot on the demo team.
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