The Blue Angels, the US Navy’s elite flying team, celebrate their birthday on 24 April every year. They fly the distinctive blue and gold McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornets in tight formations in more than 70 airshows at 34 locations throughout the US each year. Their mission is "To showcase the pride and professionalism of the United States Navy and Marine Corps by inspiring a culture of excellence and service to country through flight demonstrations and community outreach.”
How did that mission get started?
The Second World War was over. Naval aviation played an integral part in it. But a year later, the United States’ defense budget for the Navy had dwindled. Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Chester W. Nimitz was looking for both public and political support. Adm. Nimitz, wanted to showcase the importance of naval aviation so on April 24, 1946, he issued a directive ordering the formation of a flight demonstration team. The purpose of The Blue Angels was to boost Navy morale, demonstrate naval air power, and to insure public interest in it continued.
The team performed its first flight demonstration on June 15, 1946. Lt. Cmdr. Roy “Butch” Voris was its first flight leader.
He led the team flying the Grumman F6F Hellcat (a carrier-based 2000hp propeller driven fighter airplane and the main Navy fighter during WWII) at Craig Field at Naval Air Station (NAS) Jacksonville, Florida.
The team transitioned to the Grumman F8F Bearcat two months later. Cmdr. Bob Clarke introduced their signature Diamond formation in 1947. By the end of the 1940’s The Blue Angels began flying the Grumman F9F-2 jet aircraft.
Voris was given total control over who was on this first team. He developed the demonstration and trained the pilots. Lt. Maurice “Wick” Wichendoll, Lt. Mel Cassidy, and Lt. Cmdr. Loyd Barnard were recruited for the team. They perfected their routine over the Florida Everglades. Voris said, “if anything happened, just the alligators would know.”
Originally, the team was to be called “The Blue Lancers”. But the team members did not like it. Pilot “Wick” Wickendoll is credited with coming up with the name The Blue Angels. While preparing for the World Aviation Meet in Omaha, Nebraska Wickendoll was reading the New Yorker Magazine. The team’s next stop was New York and he was looking for things to do while there. He noticed an ad for the Blue Angel Nightclub. He liked the name and so did the team.
But their official name was still “The Blue Lancers”. The team members told the aviation press (who were big fans) about their name problem. The press wrote articles after the Omaha show referring to them as the Blue Angels. The team endured a minor “chewing out”, but the name stuck.
Voris was the commander of the Blue Angels from 1946 -1947. The demonstration team disbanded in 1950 because of the war in Korea. There was a shortage of pilots. Voris was asked again to reassemble the Blue Angels in 1951. They were officially recommissioned on 25 October 1951.
Lt.Cmdr. Raleigh “Dusty” Rhodes, in 1949, designed the first official Blue Angels insignia. The insignia remains nearly the same, but the aircraft silhouettes changed as the aircrafts changed.
The Blue Angels demonstration aircraft, when they began, were navy blue (almost black) with gold lettering. They changed to the current blue and yellow shades in 1946 after transitioning to the Bearcat. For one year, 1949, the demonstration team performed in an all-yellow scheme with blue markings.
Today, the Blue Angels’ six demonstration pilots fly the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet in more than 70 shows at 34 locations across the country. Many of the same practices and techniques used in the inaugural season are still used today. Each year approximately 11 million spectators see their show. During their show season (March – November) they visit nearly 50,000 people in hospitals and schools. Since their inception, The Blue Angels have flown for more than 260 million spectators.
DID YOU KNOW:
Upon formation it became the second oldest formal flying aerobatic team (under the same name) in the world. The oldest team was formed in France in 1931 and known as Patrouille de France.
Voris retired in 1963 and lived in Monterey until his death in 2005. Some of the stunts Voris developed for the Blue Angels routine are still in use today.
For the Korean War, The Blue Angels were assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Princeton. They became the nucleus of the Fighter Squadron 191 (Vf-191) known as “Satan’s Kittens.”
In August 1953, "Blues" leader LCDR Ray Hawkins became the first naval aviator to survive an ejection at supersonic speeds when his F9F-6 became uncontrollable on a cross-country flight.
The Blue Angels have flown 10 different flight demonstration aircraft since they began.
The Blue Angels are not all US Navy pilots. The 1st non-Navy pilot was Marine Capt Chuck Hiett, who joined them in 1954. Subsequently, at least one position has been reserved for a Marine.
The Blue Angels have a connection with television micro-series “Star Wars:The Clone Wars”. Anakin Skywalker's custom-built Jedi starfighter is named Azure Angel, after The Blue Angels team.
For an up-close and personal view from the cockpit check out my VLOG at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZy3G-e7q0s