The Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Squadron was ordered to be formed by the Chief of Naval Operations at the end of the Second World War by Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. The idea behind forming this flight demonstration squadron was to keep the general public enthused about aviation through flying in formation which would help attract prospective Navy pilots to enlist. Admiral Nimitz choose Lt. Commander Roy "Butch" Voris (WWII Ace with 8 victories) to lead and form the squadron at Naval Air Station, Jacksonville, FL. The squadron was given Grumman F6F "Hellcat" aircraft to fly and performed their first air show flying in formation in June of 1946 at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, much to the delight of the personnel there.
The Early YearsInitially the pilots trained twice a day and in less than a month they were ready to put on their very first air show at the naval air station, followed up by a public air show about a month later. Now you may think that these early air shows resemble the ones we see today, but you would be wrong. The airshow consisted of an aerial battle involving 4 Navy "Hellcats" fighting off a Japanese Fighter (really just an SNJ painted yellow with the red Japanese meatball painted on the sides. After the enemy fighter was hit the pilot in the rear of the SNJ would throw out a small parachute to simulate a Japanese pilot bailing out. These flights lasted about 15 minutes. Shortly thereafter in August 1946 the squadron was refitted with Grumman F8f "Bearcat" aircraft and introduced their famous diamond formation flight to the public. While ferrying the aircraft from the Grumman factory in Bethpage, NY the formation landed in Norfolk, VA for refueling and most of them crash landed. It was discovered that when the armament was removed from the aircraft no one bothered to recalculate the weight and balance and with little fuel the aircraft became unstable. In 1947 the Blue Angels were led by Lt. Commander Clarke who introduced the now well known diamond formation. This maneuver was not only performed in level flight, but the team performed a loop and barrel roll in the diamond formation as well.
Things In Aviation Change Quickly, And The Blue Angels Soon Transition Into Jet Aircraft.When the United States found itself embroiled in the Korean Conflict in 1950 the Blue Angels team were transitioning into the Grumman F9F-2 "Panther" aircraft which were fitted with smoke generators to emit both blue and red smoke, highlighting many of their maneuvers. By November of 1950 the Blue Angel crews were sent to serve on the aircraft carrier the "USS Princeton" as part of the "Satan's Kitten" fighter squadron. In October of 1951 the team was reorganized and sent to Corpus Christi, TX were they made the transition into the newer and faster Grumman F9F-5 aircraft. By now the Blue Angels were settling into their role as the Navy's flight demonstration team. But on July 7th, 1952 the #1 aircraft collided with the #4 aircraft during a low altitude demonstration at Corpus Christi. Lt. Commander Voris, flying the #1 aircraft, managed to safely land his badly damaged aircraft; however, Lt. Wood ejected from the #4 aircraft but did not have enough altitude to separate from the ejection seat and died of his injuries.
Here Come The Marines!By the winter of 1954 they had returned to Pensacola and transitioned into the swept-wing Grumman F9F-8 "Cougar" aircraft. That same year Marine pilots were invited to join the Blue Angels, and it was during this time that they received their special colored flying suits. At the start of 1955 the team once again transitions into a new airplane, this time the Grumman F9F-8 "Cougar", their first swept wing aircraft. In 1957 the team once again transitioned into a new aircraft - the Grumman F11F-1 "Tiger". During 1961 through 1963 the Blue Angels perfected landing their formation of 6 aircraft in a delta configuration simultaneously.
The Blue Angels Fly To EuropeDuring the summer of 1965 the Blue Angels toured Europe with their air shows, performing in France, Great Britain, Finland, Denmark, Holland and Iceland. The team became an instant international hit. But accidents continued to plague the team. On September 2nd, 1966 during an air show in Toronto, Canada the #5 aircraft was lost after two solo aircraft performed the "knife edge" pass over Lake Ontario when the aircraft's wingtip touched the water as the pilot exited the following low level roll causing Lt. Commander Oliver to lose control of the aircraft and crashed into a breakwater. Three more accidents followed in the Grumman F11F-1 aircraft which ended the use of that aircraft by the Blue Angels. In 1969 the team transitioned into the McDonnell Douglas F-4J "Phantom II" aircraft.
Bad Luck DonileMarine Captain Donile must have thought his flying was jinxed as he survived a number of incidents flying the F-4J "Phantom II" aircraft. On August 6th 1969 during a practice he exceeded the speed of sound over downtown Kelowna British Columbia, Canada, shattering a lot of glass and injuring several people from the flying glass. On September 19th of the same year he had to eject from his aircraft over San Francisco Bay during an airshow, followed by another ejection on November 6th during an airshow at El Paso, Texas. Fortunately for Captain Donile he survived all of these incidents without injury.
Off To AisaAdding to their worldwide reputation, the Blue Angels toured Asia performing air shows in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Guam and the Phillipines. But problems continued to plague the use of the Grumman F-4J "Phantom II" aircraft leading to a re-evaluation of the Blue Angels and resulting in some major changes. The Blue Angels became a full-fledged squadron, and transitioned into the A-4F "Skyhawk" aircraft after some modifications for air show work. Among the modifications were:
- Wing slats were locked to prevent accidental asymetrical deployment;
- Smoke oil tanks were added;
- The internal fuel plumbing was modified to extend inverted flight time by 30 seconds;
- The horizontal stabilizer was altered to allow 3 degrees more down trim;
- Stick forces were modified in the pitch axis to allow one position for air shows and another for cross country flight;
- A stowable crew ladder was placed in the former left hand gun bay;
- Removal of avionics pod and some weapons delivery avionics;
- A drag chute was installed to allow operations at smaller airports.