The "Blue Angels" are the United States Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron. They also represent the US Marine Corps.
The "Blue Angels" currently fly a total of 10 jets: two single-seat F/A-18 A models, five single-seat F/A-18 C models, one 2-seat F/A-18 B and two 2-seat F/A-18 D models. Only six are used during demonstration flights (normally single-seat versions) and the rest are used as spares, if one of main aircraft is unserviceable and cannot be repaired before the show begins. The squadron also has a permanently appointed cargo aircraft in the form of a C-130 Hercules named "The Fat Albert" which is used for transportation of the ground staff, spare parts, etc.
The members of the US Navy aerobatic team include 126 personnel: 16 of which are officers and the rest are sergeants. The Commander and leader of the squadron are selected by the Chief of the Naval Center of Air Training. He / She must have at least 3000 flying hours on a jet fighter and must have been a naval squadron commander. The team leader flies aircraft #1.
Naval pilots fly the aircraft with numbers from 3 to 7. A pilot from US Marines usually flies aircraft #2. In order to become part of the squadron, the pilots must have at least 1350 previous flying hours on a jet fighter. The number 7 pilot is the deputy coordinator of the shows. After serving one year on that position, he becomes a demonstration pilot. Number 8 is also a naval pilot and officiates as the show coordinator and commentator. He also must have at least 1350 flying hours on a jet fighter. Every candidate for the "Blue Angels" must have a perfect record and excellent recommendations from the commander of his former unit and all must be volunteers.
The pilots of C-130 support aircraft are drawn from the US Marines and must have at least 1200 flying hours and to be crew commanders.
Every new squadron member is individually selected after an interview with the present members of the squadron from their specialty The selection is made on a basis of professional qualities, military behavior and their capabilities to work as a team. All rookies start to train by formation flying with the team from November until March at the El Centro Air Base (the Blue Angel's winter home). By the beginning of March, they are almost ready for the show season.
The demonstration pilots, the show coordinator, the support commander, the medic and the ground staff normally serve in the squadron for two years. The rest of the squadron serves for three years. After finishing their military service with the "Blue Angels" team all team members return to their former units.
The following teams in the "Blue Angels" support every single show:
- Support crew - each aircraft has a separate crew of technicians who ensure its good condition. Each crew also has its own commander who is responsible to the support commander.
- Administrative crew - are in charge of the official correspondence, the availability of work spaces, the documentation, the payment and the squadron's travels.
- Supply crew - are in charge of spare parts and other deliveries needed by the team.
- Public relations (PR) crew - are in charge of distributing public information, preparing printed materials, coordinating local, national and international media, fan correspondence and in supporting the squadron's webpage.
- Show coordinators - in addition to numbers 7 and 8 who fly the dual F/A-18B, two assistants arrive in advance of the team to assist in arranging everything needed before the whole squadron arrives.
- Security crew - this crew is the liaison between the Blue Angels and the US Navy Security Center, as well as with local police and fire departments.
The display performance of the "Blue Angels" Navy Flight Exhibition Team typically lasts about 40 minutes. To perform the standard show, there must be a visibility at least 5500 meters (6015 yards or 18 045 feet) from the show center. If the lower limit of clouds is less than 450 meters (492 yards or 1476 feet), then the "Blue Angels" will postpone the show. If the limit is between 450 meters (492 yards or 1476 feet) and 1050 meters (1148 yards or 3445 feet), they will perform a show with a limited number of maneuvers, mostly in a horizontal plane (i. e., without formation loops and rolls). This is known as a "flat" show. If the lower limit is between 1050 meters (1148 yards or 3445 feet) and 2450 meters (2679 yards or 8038 feet) they perform a "Low" show including barrel rolls but again without loops. If the lower limit is above 2450 meters (2679 yards or 8038 feet) the "Blue Angels" can perform their full show. The minimum distance between the display aircraft will always be between 1 meter (3.3 feet) and 1.5 meters (5 feet).
If one of the team pilots is sick for the time of the show, then the rest of pilots will fly without him. However, if the commander is not capable of flying, the show must be postponed. The "Blue Angels" (along with many other aerobatic teams) do no employ stand-by pilots because it would be challenging for any pilot to learn how to fly every single position in the formation.
During airshows the "Blue Angels" do not use G-suits which requires that the pilots are very well trained and know how and when to get in and out of specific maneuvers.
In one year, the "Blue Angels" consume approximately 14 000 000 liters (3 076 920 gallons or 3 698 410 US gallons) of fuel.
The "Blue Angels" display team have now been watched by more than 400 million people all around the world.
There are three main differences (not including the color scheme) between the F/A-18 Hornet aircraft used by the "Blue Angels" and the standard combat versions. First, the gun system is removed. Secondly, the airplanes used by the "Blue Angels" are equipped with smoke generators to better highlight the maneuvers as well as for better tracking of one aircraft to another. The smoke generators work on following basis: paraffin-based oil is injected through a special nozzle placed in the exhaust plume (on the left exhaust nozzle). This causes the immediate formation of white smoke. The third difference is in the presence of a device which causes a force of 16-kilograms required to move the control stick. This eliminates any possibility of an occasional or accidental movement of the stick causing an unwanted maneuver and perhaps a crash.