The Blue Angels is the United States Navy’s flight demonstration squadron, with aviators from the Navy and Marines. The Blue Angels team was formed in 1946, making it the second oldest formal flying aerobatic team (under the same name) in the world, after the French Patrouille de France formed in 1931. The Blue Angels’ six demonstration pilots currently fly the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet, typically in more than 70 shows at 34 locations throughout the United States each year, where they still employ many of the same practices and techniques used in their aerial displays in their inaugural 1946 season. An estimated 11 million spectators view the squadron during air shows each full year. The Blue Angels also visit more than 50,000 people in a standard show season (March through November) in schools and hospitals. Since 1946, the Blue Angels have flown for more than 260 million spectators.

On 1 March 2013 the U.S. Navy announced that due to sequestration actions aerial demonstration team performances including that of the Blue Angels would cease from 1 April 2013. In October 2013, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, stating that “community and public outreach is a crucial Departmental activity”, announced that the Blue Angels (along with the U.S. Air Force’s Thunderbirds) would resume appearing at air shows starting in 2014, although the number of flyovers will continue to be severely reduced.


The mission of the United States Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron 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.”

Air show

The Blue Angels’ show season runs each year from March until November. They perform at both military and civilian airfields, and often perform directly over major cities such as San Francisco’s “Fleet Week” maritime festival, Cleveland‘s annual Labor Day Air Show, the Chicago Air and Water Show, Jacksonville‘s Sea and Sky Spectacular, Milwaukee Air and Water Show, and Seattle‘s annual Seafair festival.

The Blue Angels flying in a Delta Formation at Miramar, San Diego in 2011

The Blue Angels flying in a Delta Formation at Miramar, San Diego in 2011

During their aerobatic demonstration, the Blues fly six F/A-18 Hornet aircraft, split into the Diamond Formation (Blue Angels 1 through 4) and the Lead and Opposing Solos (Blue Angels 5 and 6). Most of the show alternates between maneuvers performed by the Diamond Formation and those performed by the Solos. The Diamond, in tight formation and usually at lower speeds (400 mph), performs maneuvers such as formation loops, barrel rolls, and transitions from one formation to another. The Solos showcase the high performance capabilities of their individual aircraft through the execution of high-speed passes, slow passes, fast rolls, slow rolls, and very tight turns. The highest speed flown during an air show is 700 mph (just under Mach 1) and the lowest speed is 120 mph. Some of the maneuvers include both solo aircraft performing at once, such as opposing passes (toward each other in what appears to be a collision course) and mirror formations (back-to-back. belly-to-belly, or wingtip-to-wingtip, with one jet flying inverted). The Solos join the Diamond Formation near the end of the show for a number of maneuvers in the Delta Formation.

The parameters of each show must be tailored in accordance with local weather conditions at showtime: in clear weather the high show is performed; in overcast conditions a low show is performed, and in limited visibility (weather permitting) the flat show is presented. The high show requires at least an 8,000-foot (2,400 m) ceiling and visibility of at least 3 nautical miles (6 km) from the show’s centerpoint. The minimum ceilings allowed for low and flat shows are 3,500 feet (~1 km) and 1,500 feet (460 m), respectively.

Origin of squadron name, insignia and paint scheme

When initially formed, the unit was called the Navy Flight Exhibition Team. The squadron was officially redesignated as the United States Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron in December 1974. The original team was christened the Blue Angels in 1946, when one of the pilots came across the name of New York City’s Blue Angel Nightclub in The New Yorker magazine; the team introduced themselves as the “Blue Angels” to the public for the first time on 21 July 1946, in Omaha, Nebraska.

The official Blue Angels insignia was designed by then team leader Lt. Cmdr. R. E. “Dusty” Rhodes and Virginia Porter (Illustrator for Naval Air Advanced Training Command), then approved by Chief of Naval Operations in 1949. It is nearly identical to the current design. In the cloud in the upper right quadrant, the aircraft were originally shown heading down and to the right. Over the years, the plane silhouettes have changed along with the squadron’s aircraft. Additionally, the lower left quadrant, which contains the Chief of Naval Air Training insignia, has occasionally contained only Naval Aviator wings.

Originally, demonstration aircraft were navy blue (nearly black) with gold lettering. The current shades of blue and yellow were adopted when the team transitioned to the Bearcat in 1946. For a single year in 1949, the team performed in an all-yellow scheme with blue markings.

Current aircraft

The Blues’ McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornets are former fleet aircraft that are nearly combat-ready. Modifications

Water condensation in the strake vortices of a Hornet during a tight maneuver.

Water condensation in the strake vortices of a Hornet during a tight maneuver.

to each aircraft include removal of the aircraft gun and replacement with the tank that contains smoke-oil used in demonstrations, and outfitting with the control stick spring system for more precise aircraft control input. The standard demonstration configuration has a spring tensioned with 40 pounds (18 kg) of force installed on the control stick as to allow the pilot minimal room for uncommanded movement. The Blues do not wear G-suits, because the air bladders inside them would repeatedly deflate and inflate, interfering with the control stick between the pilot’s legs. Instead, Blue Angel pilots tense their muscles to prevent blood from rushing from their heads and rendering them unconscious.

Lockheed C-130 Hercules "Fat Albert" conducting a Rocket Assisted Take Off.

Lockheed C-130 Hercules “Fat Albert” conducting a Rocket Assisted Take Off.

In July 2016, Boeing was awarded a $12 million contract to begin converting the Boeing F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet for Blue Angels use, to be completed by September 2017.

The show’s narrator flies Blue Angel 7, a two-seat F/A-18D Hornet, to show sites. The Blues use this jet for backup, and to give demonstration rides to VIP civilians. Three backseats at each show are available; one of them goes to members of the press, the other two to “Key Influencers”.

The No. 4 slot pilot often flies the No. 7 aircraft in Friday’s “practice” shows.

The Blue Angels use a United States Marine Corps Lockheed C-130T Hercules, nicknamed “Fat Albert”, for their logistics, carrying spare parts, equipment, and to carry support personnel between shows. Beginning in 1975, “Bert” was used for Jet Assisted Take Off (JATO) and short aerial demonstrations just prior to the main event at selected venues, but the JATO demonstration ended in 2009 due to dwindling supplies of rockets. “Fat Albert Airlines” flies with an all-Marine crew of three officers and five enlisted personnel.

Team members

All team members, both officer and enlisted, pilots and staff officers, come from the ranks of regular Navy and United States Marine Corps units. The demonstration pilots and narrator are made up of Navy and USMC Naval Aviators. Pilots serve two to three years, and position assignments are made according to team needs, pilot experience levels, and career considerations for members.

The officer selection process requires pilots and support officers (flight surgeon, events coordinator, maintenance officer, supply officer, and public affairs officer) wishing to become Blue Angels to apply formally via their chain-of-command, with a personal statement, letters of recommendation, and flight records. Navy and Marine Corps F/A-18 demonstration pilots and naval flight officers are required to have a minimum of 1,250 tactical jet hours and be carrier-qualified. Marine Corps C-130 demonstration pilots are required to have 1,200 flight hours and be an aircraft commander.

The first Blue Angel Flight Demonstration Squadron (1946–1947), assembled in front of one of their Grumman F6F Hellcats (l to r): Lt. Al Taddeo, Solo; Lt. (J.G.) Gale Stouse, Spare; Lt. Cdr. R.M. "Butch" Voris, Flight Leader; Lt. Maurice "Wick" Wickendoll, Right Wing; Lt. Mel Cassidy, Left Wing.

The first Blue Angel Flight Demonstration Squadron (1946–1947), assembled in front of one of their Grumman F6F Hellcats (l to r): Lt. Al Taddeo, Solo; Lt. (J.G.) Gale Stouse, Spare; Lt. Cdr. R.M. “Butch” Voris, Flight Leader; Lt. Maurice “Wick” Wickendoll, Right Wing; Lt. Mel Cassidy, Left Wing.

Applicants “rush” the team at one or more airshows, paid out of their own finances, and sit in on team briefs, post-show activities, and social events. Rushes are asked to tell a joke prior to the brief and are graded by the team as part of the rigorous selection process. Team members vote in secret on the next year’s members, with no accountability to the higher Navy authority why an applicant was or was not selected. Selections must be unanimous. There have been female and racial minority staff officers as official Blue Angel members. The most recent minority Blue Angel pilot was LCDR Keith Hoskins on the 2000 team. Flight surgeons serve a two-year term. They act as the team recorder during air shows and help oversee emergency response planning with the various air show planners. The first female Blue Angel flight surgeon was LT Tamara Schnurr, who was a member of the 2001 team.

The team leader (#1) is the Commanding Officer and is always a Navy Commander, who may be promoted to Captain mid-tour if approved

The "Blues" support crew watches the team perform in the Grumman F9F-2 Panther jet fighter.

The “Blues” support crew watches the team perform in the Grumman F9F-2 Panther jet fighter.

for Captain by the selection board. Pilots of numbers 2–7 are Navy Lieutenants or Lieutenant Commanders, or Marine Corps Captains or Majors. The number 7 pilot narrates for a year, and then typically flies Opposing and then Lead Solo the following two years, respectively. The number 3 pilot moves to the number 4 (slot) position for his second year. Blue Angel No. 4 serves as the demonstration safety officer, due largely to the perspective he is afforded from the slot position within the formation, as well as his status as a second-year demonstration pilot. There are a number of other officers in the squadron, including a Naval Flight Officer, the USMC C-130 pilots, a Maintenance Officer, an Administrative Officer, and a Flight Surgeon. Enlisted members range from E-4 to E-9 and perform all maintenance, administrative, and support functions. They serve three

A Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Squadron pilot sits in the cockpit of a McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet aircraft

A Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Squadron pilot sits in the cockpit of a McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet aircraft

to four years in the squadron. After serving with the Blues, members return to fleet assignments.

Members of the 2017 U.S. Navy Blue Angels are:

  • Flying Blue Angel No. 1, Commander Ryan Bernacchi, USN (Commanding Officer/Flight Leader)
  • Flying Blue Angel No. 2, Lieutenant Damon Kroes, USN (Right Wing)
  • Flying Blue Angel No. 3, Lieutenant Nate Scott, USN (Left Wing)
  • Flying Blue Angel No. 4, Lieutenant Lance Benson, USN (Slot)
  • Flying Blue Angel No. 5, Commander Frank Weisser, USN (Lead Solo)
  • Flying Blue Angel No. 6 Lieutenant Tyler Davies, USN (Opposing Solo)
  • Flying Blue Angel No. 7, Lieutenant Brandon Hempler, USN (Advance Pilot/Narrator)
  • Events Coordinator, Blue Angel No. 8, Lieutenant Dave Steppe, USN
  • Flying Fat Albert, Major Mark Hamilton, USMC
  • Flying Fat Albert, Major Mark Montgomery, USMC
  • Flying Fat Albert, Major Kyle Maschner, USMC
  • Executive Officer, Commander Matt Kaslik, USN
  • Maintenance Officer, Lieutenant Samuel Rose, USN
  • Flight Surgeon, Lieutenant Juan Guerra, USN
  • Administrative Officer, Lieutenant Junior Grade Timothy Hawkins, USN
  • Supply Officer, Lieutenant Bryan Pace, USN
  • Public Affairs Officer, Lieutenant Joe Hontz, USN

Commanding officer

Commander Ryan Bernacchi

Commander Ryan Bernacchi

Commander Ryan Bernacchi joined the Blue Angels in September 2015. He has accumulated more than 3,000 flight hours and 600 carrier-arrested landings, and is a graduate of the U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN), NAS Fallon, Nevada. After graduating, he joined the TOPGUN staff as an instructor pilot and served as the Navy and Marine Corps subject matter expert in GPS guided weapons. Ryan served as a Federal Executive Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts. His decorations include the Meritorious Service Medal, one Individual Air Medal with Combat “V” (three Strike Flight), four Navy Commendation Medals, one with Combat “V,” and numerous unit, campaign, and service awards.

Training and weekly routine

Annual winter training takes place at NAF El Centro, California, where new and returning pilots hone skills learned in the fleet. During winter training, the pilots fly two practice sessions per day, six days a week, in order to fly the 120 training missions needed to perform the demonstration safely. Separation between the formation of aircraft and their maneuver altitude is gradually reduced over the course of about two months in January and February. The team then returns to their home base in Pensacola, Florida, in March, and continues to practice throughout the show season. A typical week during the season has practices at NAS Pensacola on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. The team then flies to its show venue for the upcoming weekend on Thursday, conducting “circle and arrival” orientation maneuvers upon arrival. The team flies a “practice” airshow at the show site on Friday. This show is attended by invited guests but is often open to the general public. The main airshows are conducted on Saturdays and Sundays, with the team returning home to NAS Pensacola on Sunday evenings after the show. Monday is the Blues’ day off.

All from –