Blue Angels History

After the end of the World War II the importance, the publicity and predominantly - the rating of US Navy became lower in the eyes of ordinary people who were used to read about the numerous victories of the Navy pilots. Because of that the US Navy Secretary James Forestal and the chief of US Navy Operations Admiral Chester Nimitz make a decision to form the official US Navy aerobatic display team which will carry on the traditions of before-WWII aerobatic teams.

In the morning of April 24, 1946, admiral Chester Nimitz sended directive to Vice-Admiral Frank Wagner, director of Naval Air Advanced Training Command (NAATC) in Pensacola, Florida, concerning the creation of an aerobatic team attached to the command.

Blue Angels Hellcat Pilots

The team was formed in the airbase in Jacksonville, Florida where are situated the NAATC's headquarters. For the team's commander was selected the World War II instructor and ace (with eight air victories) Lieutenant Commander Roy "Butch" Voris. To him has been given the task to select the rest of pilots and ground staff - everyone experienced since the WWII. The airplane of the team becomes Grumman F6F Hellcat - the main NAVY fighter during the World War II.

The pilots trained twice a day and after less than a month they were ready for their first flight show - on May 10, while the first public demonstration was on June 15, 1946, at Graig Field, Jacksonville. This first demonstration lasts just 12 minutes, but makes a great impression to the public. At that time only three of the planes participated at the demonstration, while the fourth held in reserve. The pilots were: Lt. Cmdr. Roy "Butch" Voris as leader, Lt. Mel Cassidy as left wing, Lt. Maurice "Wick" Wickendoll as right wing and Lt. Ross Robinson as spare. Later to the team joined Lt. Alfred "Al" Taddeo as solo and Lt. Gale Stouse flying SNJ and spare.

By that time the team consists of four airplanes Hellcat, one North American SNJ T-6 Texan (plane that at this time has been used for training and learning purposes) and one convoying cargo plane Beechcraft JRB (SNB). The four Hellcats were painted in blue and yellow colors. At the bottom side of each wing with golden letters was written US NAVY, on the fuselage sides - NAVY and on the both sides of the tail - numbers from 1 to 4. The SNJ plane which impersonates the role of an enemy aircraft was painted in yellow with a large red circle from both sides (which shows its "Japanese" belonging) and a zero on its tail. The convoying aircraft Beechcraft JRB was painted in standard US Navy colors. It was used very short time and was replaced with R4D-5 Skytrain which had more carrying capacity.

The first shows of the US NAVY aerobatic team were not as those at the present time. Except for the standard for this kind of show figures of aerobatics in formation they performed something very interesting - assault of the Japanese air fighter on the American one, but this becomes a part of the show only since the end of July 1946. The role of the Japanese fighter was performed by SNJ plane, assaulting the main formation. In some of the first shows was used the PB-4Y airplane (B-24's modification with one vertical stabilizer) guarded by the main formation. The "Japanese" fighter attacked the main formation and after the series of figures reconstituting the real fight atmosphere it was "hit" and begins to release smoke for much more authenticity. After that the pilot who flies on the back seat in the SNJ releases the small parachute which imitates the pilot leaved the falling plane. The show lasted about 17 minutes. The first team had 12 people ground staff, one commentator and one man who organized the show itself, as well as three representatives of Grumman.

Since the team still had not received the official name, the officer from the headquarters of the Navy proposed the name "Navy Blue Lancers" but it has not been accepted by the team members. Lieutenant Maurice "Wick" Wickendoll (team's right wing) suggested the name "Blue Angels" after he has seen in the New York magazine an advertisement for night club "Blue Angel". The rest of the team accepted the name and it becomes official. The first demonstration under the Blue Angels name was Omaha show, July 19 - 21.

The Blue Angels performed their last show with the Hellcats in the presence of Grumman representatives in Bathpage, New York.

Blue Angels Bearcat

On Aug 25, 1946, the team moved on the Grumman F8F Bearcat airplanes. The main planes were already five - the plane number 5 was a solo pilot. During the moving of the new planes from company airport of Grumman in Bathpage which has been performed by the team pilots, while landing for refueling in Norfolk almost all of the planes crashed. Fortunately no one from the pilots has been injured. This happened due to oversight of the Grumman. The Blue Angels airplanes were specially modified for their needs, i. e., and their armaments has been removed. Grumman has forgot to restore the balance of the modified planes and, when the fuel was came lower, the planes becomes lighter and the lack of balance brings up the planes' instability. This leaded to the crash of most of the planes.

Then the role of the "enemy" plane was performed by Bearcat which has been painted in the same colors as the SNJ plane and received the nickname "Beetle Bomb".

The first tragedy for the Blue Angels comes on September 29, 1946. While performed the individual aerobatic figures with the Bearcat plane, Lieutenant Ross Robinson died. Doing the Cuban Eight maneuver, he dangerously approaches ground, accelerated too hard, which caused the tearing of the wing tips. The plane becomes unstable and hits the ground.

  • "On September 29th, 1946, I was standing on top of a hanger at Jacksonville NAS to see the performance of the Blue Angels. I was 13 at the time. Lt Robinson's Bearcat was exiting from a Cuban Eight when I first saw white contrails from the wing tips. Then a dark flash from a wing tip. The aircraft was unable to recover and hit the air strip in front of me and all the assembled onlookers. I felt the heat from the fireball as parts of the aircraft skittered down the runway". - (Jackson Harper, Lt Col USAF Ret).

In 1947 the commander of the team was Lieutenant Commander Robert Clarke which introduces for the first time the well-known diamond formation, the looping and barrel roll in the same formation.

Blue Angels Panther

In 1949 the Blue Angels performed their first air demonstration with jet aircrafts Grumman F9F-2 Panther. The second solo pilot - number 6 - has been added to the team. On those planes the Blue Angels for the first time used blue and red smoke as a method to highlight the figures. The smoke was formed by the fuel released by the devices for forced fuel pumping situated on the ends of half-wings. The colorization was achieved by using the special colorize injected in flowing fuel.

On July 20, 1950, the Panther airplanes fly for the last time on the east coast in Jacksonville, because of the order to bring the aircrafts on a war footing for the beginning of the Korean War. The last airshow was on July 30, 1950, in Dallas.

On August 7th-12th the Blue Angels used their planes to train at the airbase Moffett Field, California. After finished that first stage, they transfered their Panthers in the Alameda airbase where the rearranging of the aircrafts for battles has been finished.

On November 7th the Blue Angels had been transferred to the aircraft-carrier Princeton for combat training. On December 1st they officially turn on war establishment as a core of the fight squadron "Satan's Kittens" commanded by Lcdr. Johnny Magda who was a former commander of Blue Angels, too. The airplanes were painted in a standard US Navy colors. Lcdr. Johnny Magda was the only member of the Blue Angels who died during the Korean War. His plane was hit by the ground-air missile while doing the patrol flight.

On October 25, 1951, the Blue Angels has been formed again. Their commander becomes the first of the Blue Angels - Roy "Butch" Voris, who remains on command in 1952 when the team was moved to the new team's home base at Corpus Cristy, Texas. The aircrafts were F9F-5 - a faster Panther modification.

In 1952 the Blue Angels used two airplanes Vought F7U Cutlass painted in the team's colors, but only for a very short time because they were too complicated for piloting and one of them loosed the cover of its undercarriage during the flight. After that the Cutlass does not flew again as a part of the team anymore. The Cutlass aircrafts were used as a solos for a six air displays.

On July 7, 1952, #1 and #4 of the Blue Angels F9F-5 Panther aircrafts collided at low level during the demonstration at Corpus Christi, Texas. Lt. Cmdr. Roy "Butch" Voris who flew the leader's plane #1 managed to land his badly damaged plane, while the other pilot Lt. Bud Wood who flew slot plane #4 ejected but did not leave the seat and died of injuries.

In the same year Lockheed TV-2 Shooting Star, also painted in the team's colors, was given to the Blue Angels. It was used by the PR officer who by that time flew F8F Bearcat. At the tail of this plane was placed number 0. In the Corpus Cristy airbase the planes remains till the winter of 1954.

In the beginning of 1954 the pilot of US Marine begins to fly with the Blue Angels. The same year the team received special colored flying suites. By that time the Blue Angels started to use Curtis R5C Commando as a cargo plane but find that it cannot cope with their needs. Soon Curtis R5C Commando was replaced with Douglas R4D-8 Super Skytrooper.

Blue Angels Cougar

In the beginning of 1955 the Blue Angels were transferred to their present home - Sherman Field airbase, Pensacola, Florida - and begin to fly on Grumman F9F-8 Cougar, their first airplane with swept wing. The aircraft on which flew the PR officer was Cougar, but from its two-seat modification F9F-8T. The aircraft carried number 0 which was replaced later with number 7.

In 1956 the Blue Angels for the first time visited foreign country Canada.

Blue Angels Tiger

In 1957 the team jumped to Grumman F11F-1 Tiger airplanes. The first demonstration with Tiger plane was on Barin Field, Pensacola on March 23, 1957. Interesting was that the Blue Angels flew on two modifications of the Tiger. On the first one, which has a "short" nose, they flew the first three years and after a certain period of time they begin to use smoke generators on the end of exhaust pipe which released white smoke.

After that they jump to the Tiger with a "long" nose. The reason for the difference between the two modifications was the different kind of radar used on the two machines. In the second modification the releases of fuel was used again to make a smoke trail. After that the team returned to the usage of smoke generators which was the present way to make a smoke trails in the Blue Angels demonstrations.

In 1959 a decision was accepted according to which the cargo plane received number 8. It was Douglas R5D Skymaster - the first cargo plane painted in the Blue Angels colors.

In 1961-1963 the Blue Angels performed for the first time formation landing of six planes in a Delta formation.

In July 1963 the team performs its 1000 demonstration in California.

On March 15, 1964, Lt. George L. Neale the slot pilot #4, was killed while his F11F Tiger plane crashed during attempts to land at Apalachicola Municipal Airport. Lt. Neale together with all Blue Angels F11Fs were escorted the team's cargo airplane Douglas R5D Skymaster returning from West Palm Beach, Florida to the Blue Angels home base at NAS Pensacola, Florida. He declared to Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, for emergency landing permission when his Grumman F-11FA Tiger suffered engine problems over Apalachicola. Lt. George L. Neale spotted the local airport and attempted to land there, ejecting on final approach at 1115 hrs. as the fighter came down in about 250 yards short of the runway. Although he cleared the airframe at about 150–200 feet altitude, his chute did not have sufficient time to deploy and he was killed. The cause of the crash was broken turbine blade which went out through the engine and through a fuel cell, then the engine stops and he lose a lot of fuel. Thus was the reason of little fire at the crash site. Also there was a strong headwind at the airport.

In the summer of 1965 the Blue Angels performed their first European tour, included France, Great Britain, Finland, Denmark, Holland and Iceland.

On Sept 2, 1966 during demonstration at International Air Exhibition, Toronto, Canada, Blue Angel #5 Lt. Cmdr. Richard "Dick" Oliver flying F11F Tiger, crashed and died. The crash occurred while the two solos performed "knife edge" pass over Lake Ontario, when two planes flew directly at each other, passed, and then performed a complete roll. Oliver performed the roll too low and when he exited the maneuver, the wingtip touched the water, he went out of control and smashed into a breakwater on the edge of Toronto Island, just south of Toronto. Then a big column of black smoke rose from the wreckage raised to the sky. Lieutenant Commander Dick Oliver, 31 years old, of Fort Mills, South Carolina, was at the end of his tour with Blue Angels. A year earlier Lt. Cmdr. Richard "Dick" Oliver crashed during practice flight executing dirty roll on take-off, but then he stayed alive with minor injures. He was awarded with golden medal from the American Legion, when he, just 14 years old, rescued a river drowning girl.

February 1, 1967, Lt Frank Gallagher who flew #6 solo at NAS El Centro, was killed when his F11FA Tiger stalled during a practice Half Cuban 8 maneuver and spun into the ground.

Two week later on Feb 18, another fatal crash killed Right Wing #2 Capt. Ronald "Ron" Folk Thompson. The crash occurred after mid-air collision with other Blue Angels airplane during practicing formation loop at El Centro.

The fatal accidents in 1966 in Toronto, and the two crashes during the training flights in 1967 put an end of usage of the Tigers in the Blue Angels.

In the middle of 1960s the Blue Angels begin to use Lockheed C121 Constellation for a cargo plane.

On January 14, 1968 the opposing solo #6 Lt. Bill Worley was killed when his fighter F11F Tiger crashed during a practice double immelman at NAF El Centro.

Blue Angels Phantom

In the end of 1968 the team started the exploration of its first two-engine aircraft McDonnell Douglas F-4J Phantom II, and begins to use it in the aerobatic shows in 1969. This puts an end of using the Grumman airplanes. An F-4H was added to the team as a plane for the PR officer. In the season 1969 for the first time a woman served at the team as an administrative officer.

On Aug 6, 1969, during the Blue Angels practice, Marine Capt. Vince D. Donile flying Right Wing #3 F-4J Phantom, exceeded the speed of sound, while he try to compensate the lag during the four-plane cross following “Bomb Burst” maneuver, causing a sonic boom that shattered most of the glass in downtown Kelowna B.C., Canada. Several people were struck by flying glass and needed hospital treatment. This accident is well remembered till the present days at Kelowna city. But Capt. Vincent Donile mishaps doesn't ends with this. On Sept 19, 1969, he again strikes bad luck while ejected from his plane over San Francisco Bay during airshow. Less then two months on Nov 6, Capt. Donile ejected again, but this time during airshow at El Paso, Texas. Capt. Vince Donile survived both ejections without any injures.

In 1970 at the team arrived the new cargo plane KC-130F Hercules, who soon after that received the nickname "The Fat Albert" - the popular character from Bill Cossby's TV-show at that time.

In October-November, 1971, the Blue Angels performed their first tour in Asia. They visited Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Philippines and Guam.

On January 8, 1972 - Lt. Larry Watters was killed when his F-4J Phantom struck the ground while practicing at NAF El Centro.

During the Vietnam War the Blue Angels demonstration team was not disbanded, but two team ex-members died in the war. One of them was the former team commander - Commodore Harley Hall, who was brought down on January 27, 1973, during the flight with F-4J from aircraft-carrier Enterprise above the North Vietnam. Harley Hall and the other member of the plane's crew ejected successfully but their fate still remains unknown. Interesting was the fact that according to Commodore Hall's wife he had been captured by the Vietnamese authorities and shown as a spoil, i. e. as a Big Blue Angel, during the war parade in Hanoi. Vietnamese authorities knew him very well because he led the team during its Asian tour two years ago. Captain Hall was now officially knows as KIA (Killed In Action).

Another ex-member of the Blue Angels who died in the war was Lieutenant Clarence Tolbert, who was brought down on November 6, 1972, above the Vietnamese coast. He flew on the A-7B Corsair from the Midway aircraft-carrier. Tolbert ejected successfully but his parachute did not open and he died.

On March 8, 1973 Capt. John Fogg #3, Lt. Marlin Wiita #2 and LCDR Don Bentley #1 collided in mid-air during practice over the Superstition Mountains in California. All three pilots landed successfully. The cause of the incident was the wrong maneuver from Flight Leader LCDR Don Bentley. After this he was replaced by the ex-Lead Solo #5 LT Skip Umstead from 1972 airshow season. In April 1973, Commander Umstead was called back to the Blues to perform the duties of the Officer-in-Charge and Flight Leader. For his misfortune this returning takes his life four months later.

On 8 July, 1973 Lt. Steve D. Lambert #5, ejected uninjured at very low altitude at Lake Charles, LA. Ejection sequence happened after the plane bounced off the runway.

On July 26, 1973 two pilots and a crew chief were killed in a mid-air collision between 2 Phantoms over Lakehurst, NJ during a pre-arrival air show. Team Leader #1 LCDR Skip Umstead, Slot #4 Capt. Mike Murphy and ground crew member ADJ1 Ron Thomas, who was riding in the back seat of a jet, were killed. A second ground crew member ADJ.1C Gerald Harvey ejected safely from the Leader's plane. The incident occurred in about 16'30 local time. The rest of the season was canceled after this fatal crash.

These fatal accidents in 1972 and 1973 and the petrol crisis, push the US NAVY precision flying team to abandon their present airplane. After these crashes some people insist that the team must be disbanded. After this series of accidents and maintenance problems with their McDonnell Douglas F-4J Phantoms in the 1973 air show season, the Blue Angels canceled the rest of the season and stood down for an overview of the program by the Secretary of the Navy, John Warner (who would later serve six terms in the US Senate representing the state of Virginia). Warner appointed a panel of six senior flag officers to reviewed the Blue Angels program and they unanimously recommended its continuation as "prime recruiting asset" and the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, wanted a reorganization of the Blue Angels and instituted a review for an aircraft type to replace the F-4s. The former Blue Angels team leader Captain Ken Wallace, who at the time was in charge of tactical air planning in the CNO's office, was appointed to make recommendations on a new aircraft type for the US NAVY jet demonstration team. He preferred the Grumman F-14 Tomcat, which was the Navy's prime fighter aircraft, but the cost of the keeping the aircraft ready for flight demonstrations and maintaining the costly AWG-9 radar and Phoenix missile weapons system flight ready were daunting. At that time the flight control system was also undergoing refinement as well as the fighter was being introduced into service. The next choice in Wallace's evaluation was the Vought A-7 Corsair II, then the Navy's newest front-line attack aircraft, but they couldn't be spared as they were needed in Southeast Asia even as US involvement in Vietnam was winding down as units replaced older Corsairs and combat losses. This finally led to the selection of the McDonnell Douglas A-4 Skyhawk, specifically the A-4F variant.

Approximately 150 A-4Fs were built to stand-in for the A-7 Corsair II in some of the Navy's attack squadrons as there were operational problems in getting the A-7 ready several years earlier. Now that the A-7 was a mature system, the A-4F was in plentiful supply and particularly appealing to the Blue Angels were the 100 F-models that were re-engined with a more powerful version of the J52 engine that boasted 11,200 lbs of thrust compared to 9,300 lbs of the older version of the J52 that most Skyhawks used - this gave the "Super Fox" as the re-engined A-4Fs were called, a near 1:1 thrust to weight ratio, something the Blues never had in a display aircraft.

The Blue Angels new A-4F mounts had several modifications for air show display:

  • Wing slats were locked into place to prevent asymmetrical slat deployment which would have been disastrous in close formation.
  • Smoke oil tanks added.
  • Modification of internal fuel plumbing to allow an additional 30 seconds of inverted flight time.
  • Horizontal stabilizer altered to allow 3 degrees more of down trim.
  • Modulated stick forces in the pitch axis- one setting for displays and the other for cross-country flying.
  • Stowable crew ladder in what was the left hand gun bay.
  • Removal of the dorsal avionics pod and some of the weapons delivery avionics.
  • A drag chute for use at smaller airports.

The final change was the raise the status of the Blue Angels to that of a full Navy squadron, giving the team leader the same powers and position as a squadron commander. This now meant that the flight surgeon, supply and administrative officers and the public affairs and maintenance teams were no longer loaned to the team.

Blue Angels Skyhawk

In 1974 the Blue Angels received the status of official flight demonstration squadron of US NAVY and started to fly on McDonnell Douglas A-4F Skyhawk II. The plane #7 was TA-4 Skyhawk.

On Feb 22, 1977, Lt. Nile Kraft died in low level practice flight at NAF El Centro, CA.

On October 8, 1977, the Blue Angels performed their flight show number 2000 in Atlanta, Georgia.

On November 7, 1978, The Opposing Solo, Blue Angel #6 Lt. Michael R. "Mike" Curtin died, when his Skyhawks struck the ground after high speed low level roll during arrival maneuvers at NAS Miramar. Blue Angels arrived at Miramar for refueling on the road to San Diego Airshow.

On May 31, 1980, Lead Solo #5 Lt. Jim Ross ejected safely from his Skyhawk after it suffered a fuel line fire during a show at NS Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico. The plane landed in a swamp near the air base.

On Feb 22, 1982, Lead Solo #5 Lt. Cmdr Stu Powrie died, when his Skyhawk slammed into the desert during practice flight at El Centro. The crash occurred at the end of “dirty loop” maneuver.

On July 13, 1985, both solos collided in mid-air at Niagara Falls Air Show, killing Opposing Solo Lt. Cmdr. Mike Gershon. The Lead Solo Lt. Andy Caputi ejected safely. The crash occurred, when both planes just completed a low opposing pass and rolled inverted and then pulled up for a “Half Cuban Eight” maneuver. The wing and the fuselage of Lt. Gershon's A-4 Skyhawk struck the tail of the Caputi's airplane at the top of the maneuver. (Watch the video about Mike Gershon and the crash.)

Blue Angels Hornet

On November 8, 1986, the Blue Angels celebrate their 40th anniversary. During the ceremony goes the presentation of the new squadron's airplane - McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet. To the team are added two more two-seated F/A-18B with numbers 7 and 8. In this year for a first time afro-American pilot Donnie Cochran serves at the squadron, Later he became the leader of the Blue Angels.

On September 7, 1990, the Blue Angels perform their flight show number 3000.

In 1992 the Blue Angels visited the ex-enemy number one - Russia, when they met Russian aerobatic teams – Russian Knights, Swifts and Celestial Hussars.

On Sept 6, 1999, #3 Lt. Cmdr. David Silkey involved in bird strike during take-off from Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland. Silkey dumped fuel over Lake Erie and returning safely to the airport.

On Thursday, October 28, 1999, an accident takes the lives of two members of the Blue Angels. During the training flight while approached the ground for landing F/A-18B number 7 crashed in the yard of a farm near Moody airbase, California, when the team will do the show during the weekend. One of the pilots was #3 LCDR Kieron O'Connor, a member of the team since one year and the other one - since one month. Show was postponed because of the deaths of the pilots.

In the same year the left wing pilot #3 from US Marine quits the squadron because of his relationship with the team's female - PR-officer. He was replaced by the last year's number 4, who was called up from the combat unit where he served until the end of present show season. Thereby the Blue Angels finished the season without a pilot from US Marine.

On Apr 21 2007, #6 solo pilot Lt. Cmdr. Kevin J. Davis died during an airshow at Beaufort. The crash happened as the team was performing its final maneuver of the show. The team's six pilots were joining from behind the crowd of thousands to form a delta formation, but Davis jet did not join. Moments later, his jet crashed just outside Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, hitting homes in a neighborhood about 35 miles northwest of Hilton Head Island. The cause of the crash is pilot mistake. Davis push the stick too hard and goes to high G. Blue Angels don't carry G-suits and he lose vision. On the videos is visible that he gives more angle of roll, and when he push the pitch, plane goes right to the ground. (This is our opinion, but looks like official report gives the same result). Eight people on the ground were injured, and some homes were damaged. His parents were in the crowd. Davis, a decorated pilot who joined the Blue Angels in 2005, had previously served as an announcer for the airshows. He also handled celebrity flights, and flew with stars such as Kelly Clarkson, actor James Franco and University of Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops.

At the end of 2009 the Blue Angels was pushed to abandon their C-130T “Fat Albert” short take-off range performance using solid rocket busters named JATO (Jet Assisted Take Off). The Fat Albert used eight solid rocket busters from Vietnam War era and are very expensive for use, so the NAVY Head Quarter decides to stops Fat Albert's JATO displays.