By Hill Goodspeed, Historian and Collections Manager, National Naval Aviation Museum
Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, while serving as Chief of Naval Operations, formed the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Team as a means to expose the American public to naval aviation, which had come of age during World War II. This was deemed very important in an era in which the roles and missions of the armed forces were the subject of vigorous debate.
The Blue Angels performed their first air show at Naval Air Station (NAS) Jacksonville, Florida, in June 1946, and their initial show season consisted of 31 demonstrations.
The first flight leader was Lieutenant Commander Roy M. “Butch” Voris.
First use of the name “Blue Angels” occurred at a show in Omaha, Nebraska, in July 1946. The name came from an advertisement in the New Yorker magazine for a nightclub called the “Blue Angel.” Previous to that, the name suggested for the team had been the Blue Lancers.
The first airplane flown by the Blue Angels was the F6F Hellcat, though for a time they also operated an SNJ Texan painted to look like a Japanese Zero. This was used in a dogfighting sequence which was appropriate given the recent memory of World War II.
The F8F Bearcat followed the F6F Hellcat and was the last propeller-driven aircraft operated by the Blue Angels.
The first jet flown by the Blue Angels was the F9F Panther, to which they transitioned in 1949.
Following the outbreak of the Korean War, the Blue Angels disbanded, their aircraft, pilots, and some support personnel becoming the nucleus of Fighter Squadron (VF) 191, nicknamed “Satan’s Kittens.” They flew combat missions from the carrier Princeton (CV 37) and during their combat deployment lost squadron skipper, Lieutenant Commander John Magda, who had been the Blue Angels’ flight leader. He was shot down and killed, later receiving the Navy Cross posthumously.
The first Marine Corps aviator was assigned to the Blue Angels in 1954.
The Blue Angels performed their first air show outside the United States in 1956 when they appeared in Canada. Subsequently, they have performed at sites around the world, including demonstrations in Europe and Asia. Notably, they flew in Russia and former Eastern Bloc nations in 1992.
The only time that the Blue Angels and U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds have flown the same type aircraft was when they operated the F-4 Phantom II.
The Blue Angels have flown the F/A-18 Hornet since 1987, the longest serving demonstration aircraft in the flight demonstration team’s history. The longest-serving aircraft in general is the C-130 Hercules, popularly known as “Fat Albert,” which provided logistics support to the squadron.
Then and Now
The original Blues flew a three-plane air show compared to the six planes that fly today’s demonstrations, the original 17-minute show now lasting over 40 minutes. The original team had five pilots, one support officer, and eleven enlisted support personnel, while today, the squadron’s ranks consist of sixteen officers, including six demonstration pilots, and over 100 enlisted support personnel. The Hellcat weighed in at over 15,000 pounds fully loaded as compared to the 66,000-pound gross weight of the F/-A-18. The Hellcat, at top speed, reached 380 miles per hour at 23,400 feet, while the Hornet easily exceeds the speed of sound, over three times the F6F’s speed. Each Hellcat cost about $50,000 during World War II; the fleet Hornet comes in at over $25 million.
The National Naval Aviation Museum is located at 1750 Radford Blvd., Pensacola, Fla. For more information, please visit their website.