The United States Navy's Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, popularly known as the Blue Angels, first performed in 1946 and is currently the oldest flying aerobatic team. The squadron's six demonstration pilots fly the Boeing F/A-18 Hornet 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 1946. Since their inception, the "Blues" have flown a variety of different aircraft types for more than 427 million spectators worldwide.
During the aerobatic demonstration, the Blue Angels operate six FA-18 Hornet aircraft, split into the Diamond (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 and those performed by the Solos. The Diamond, in tight formation and usually at lower speeds, performs maneuvers such as formation loops, barrel rolls, and transitions from one formation to another. The Solos fly many of their maneuvers just under the speed of sound, showcasing the high performance capabilities of their individual Hornets through the execution of high-speed passes, slow passes, fast rolls, slow rolls, and very tight turns. Some of the maneuvers include both solo F/A-18s 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 near the end of the show for a number of maneuvers in the Delta formation.
An all-Marine Corps crew of three officers and five enlisted personnel operate the Lockheed-Martin C-130T Hercules, affectionately known as Fat Albert Airlines. Fat Albert joined the team in 1970 and flies more than 140,000 miles each season. It carries more than 40 maintenance and support personnel, their gear and enough spare parts and communication equipment to complete a successful air show.
Fat Albert cruises at a speed of approximately 360 miles per hour at 27,000 feet. Four engines, which produce more than 16,000 shaft-horsepower, provide Fat Albert Airlines with the power to land and depart on runways as short as 2,500 feet.
At select show sites, Fat Albert demonstrates its jet-assisted takeoff (JATO) capability. Eight solid-fuel rocket bottles, four on each side, attached near the rear paratrooper doors thrust the Hercules skyward. Fired simultaneously, the JATO bottles allow the mammoth transport aircraft to takeoff within 1,500 feet, climb at a 45-degree angle, and propel it to an altitude of 1,000 feet in approximately 15 seconds. Getting Fat Albert airborne in minimal time and distance simulates conditions in hostile environments or on short, unprepared runways.
Hope you enjoy the Blue Angels' show as much as I did. Have a great weekend!