May 22

The Diligence of the Blue Angels

Tuesday, May 22, 2018 12:01 AM

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It’s that time of year once again, dear reader: Graduation Week. Lots of speeches, potlucks with family, and celebrations are held around the country to commemorate the completion of years of hard work for students young and old. And with everyone wanting to make these celebrations special, it’s no surprise that the Naval Academy goes all out for this event. Which brings me to my topic for this blog post: The Blue Angels.

Tomorrow the windows of my building will rattle as the Blue Angels zip by on practice runs for their Wednesday performance. If I go out to the balcony of the U.S. Naval Institute, I might be able to catch a glimpse of their jets gliding in formation at speeds too terrifying to imagine. They’ll make it look easy. But while I’ve seen this squadron fly by games and events on television, I realized this week that I’ve never looked at the history of the Blue Angels, which is what I now want to share with you today.

The Blue Angels were first formed in 1946 as the Flight Exhibition Team at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida by Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Chester Nimitz. Admiral Nimitz believed the team would raise awareness about naval aviation and boost morale, as well as display the naval air power of the U.S. Navy. It is the second oldest formal flying aerobatic team, the first being the French Patrouille de France formed in 1931.

The original Blue Angels squadron proudly display one of their first awards won, a Grumman F8F Bearcat as a backdrop.

The original Blue Angels squadron proudly display one of their first awards won in 1946. A Grumman F8F Bearcat stands as the backdrop.

The official name of the flying squadron changed in 1974 to the United States Flight Demonstration Squadron, though it gained its iconic nickname much earlier. Right Wing Pilot Lieutenant Maurice “Wick” Wickendoll after reading about a nightclub called the Blue Angel Nightclub. The name stuck, and in 1949 the team insignia was designed by Flight Leader Lt. Cmdr. Raleigh “Dusty” in Rhodes. While the insignia hasn’t changed much, the navy blue was changed from black in the 1940’s, and the aircraft silhouettes change depending on the jets the team flies at the time.

As much as I enjoyed learning a bit about the origin of the Blue Angles, what I found most commendable and fascinating about them when researching was how much work the pilots put in to pull off the amazing aerial flights they perform every year. Each year the pilots undergo a winter training at NAF El Centro, California to hone their skills. During that time, the pilots fly two practice sessions per day, six days a week. This rigorous schedule is to ensure that the pilots reach the 120 training missions necessary to perform the demonstration safely. The pilots slowly bring their planes closer together until the memorable, tight formation of the Blue Angels is achieved and ready for showing. In March, the pilots return to their home base in Pensacola, Florida, and continue their training during the season even as they travel the world performing.

Blue Angel F11F-1 Tiger aircraft fly past the Golden Gate Bridge in formation.

Blue Angel F11F-1 Tiger aircraft fly past the Golden Gate Bridge in formation.

When someone is really exceptional at something, it’s easy to forget just how much work it took them to get there. Watching a gymnast fly on the high beam or a pianist play a flawless waltz doesn’t conjure images of countless hours of work and frustration when the movements just aren’t quite right. Learning how much work someone has put in to succeed grounds their actions in reality and makes us appreciate those actions that much more. What makes the Blue Angels work that much more impressive is how much risk is involved. They aren’t just putting their own lives on the line with their stunts, but the lives of their teammates. It is only through trust and very hard work that something like this is achievable. But for me, I’m glad they’ve put in the effort.

Enjoy the show, dear reader. It took a lot of hours to get there.

The Blue Angels fly over the graduation ceremonies at the Naval Academy.

 

 
 
 
  • Tom Saunders

    When visiting the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola a few years ago, we saw four of the Blue Angels’ earlier-generation aircraft mounted on the overhead. Our docent told the following story: When the Blue Angels were shown the exhibit for the first time, they asked why the aircraft, which appeared to our untrained eyes to be closely spaced, were hung so far apart, and that they flew with a distance between wingtips of only 18 inches.

    That drew gasps from us visitors.

    Incidentally, the answer to their question is that the museum-piece aircraft had to be placed as far apart as theynwere due to structural limitations of the building.