Breathtaking Aerobatics of the Blue Angels
Formed in 1946, following World War II, the Blue Angels is the demonstration squadron of the United States Navy – and the highlight on many an air show or special event program throughout the United States. Consisting of six F/A-18 Hornet aircraft, with highly trained pilots behind the controls, the Blue Angels feature in more than seventy shows at thirty-four venues around the country each year. It is estimated that around eleven million spectators view the intricate and breathtaking aerial displays annually, and more than 260 million people have seen the Blue Angels in action since 1946.
With the show season running each year from March through to November, the mission of the Blue Angels is to represent Navy and Marine corps aviation to the public and to play an active part in recruiting. As mentioned, the Blue Arrows are often the highlight of air shows around the country, and also perform at special events, sometimes flying over the host city of the event, for example during Cleveland’s Labor Day Air Show, Seattle’s Seafair festival and San Francisco’s Fleet Week.
Using a number of formations that the original Blue Angel team had perfected, along with new additions, four of the six F/A-18 Hornet aircraft are split into the classic Diamond Formation, with the remaining two taking lead and opposing solo spots. The show consists of a series of interactions between the Diamond Formation and solos as they perform high-speed passes, fast and slow rolls, slow passes and incredibly tight turns. Aircraft will carry out opposing passes as they head toward one another at high speed, seemingly on a collision course, and passing with a breathtakingly small space between them. Other aerial maneuvers which always thrill spectators are a range of mirror formations, where aircraft fly belly-to-belly, back-to-back, or with wingtips appearing to touch, with one of the Hornets inverted. The show finale is generally a series of amazing aerobatics of all the aircraft in the Delta Formation.
The highly trained and clearly skilled pilots make the whole show seem effortless, thanks to countless hours of disciplined practice and intense concentration. However, there are a number of mostly weather related variables the pilots must adjust to on show day. In clear weather the Blue Angels will perform a show at higher altitudes than they would on an overcast day, and while the show may go on in limited visibility weather conditions, the pilots would then present what they call a ‘flat’ show for which maximum ceiling (height) could be 1,500 feet, as opposed to the 8,000 feet ceiling of clear conditions.
Certainly, watching a performance by the Blue Angels would be an incentive for any adventure-seeking aviation-enthusiast to consider signing up to train as a military pilot.