History of the Blue Angels


Summertime is a particularly active season for the Blue Angels, the U.S. Navy’s flight demonstration squadron. The warm weather and long days that boaters relish also provide ideal conditions for outdoor aviation events, making it an opportune time for the Blue Angels to engage with communities and inspire audiences. Spectators gather at airfields, beaches and other vantage points to watch them perform their breathtaking aerial acts against the backdrop of clear skies.

Founded as a Naval Recruiting Tool

Military Service Member Rider and some Fat Albert crew | Credit Joe A. Kunzler Photo, AvgeekJoe Productions on Flickr

The Blue Angels, formally known as the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, emerged in the wake of World War II. In 1946, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, then Chief of Naval Operations, envisioned a team of aviators who would showcase the Navy’s aviation capabilities while inspiring the public and bolstering naval recruiting efforts. (Recall that the U.S. Air Force wasn’t founded until 1947). Thus, the Blue Angels were born, with Lieutenant Commander Roy Marlin “Butch” Voris handpicking the original team of pilots, many of whom were World War II veterans with extensive combat experience.

The name Blue Angels was not the initial choice for the squadron. In fact, it was among several options considered. Other proposed names included The Blue Lancers and The Flying Midshipmen. Ultimately, Blue Angels was chosen as the official name, capturing the spirit of naval aviation and the elite status of the squadron. While that’s the official line, I’ve also read the pilots selected the name after seeing an advertisement for the Blue Angel Supper Club in the New Yorker Magazine.

The Blue Angels’ first public demonstration took place on June 15, 1946, at Craig Airfield in Jacksonville, FL, the team’s original home base. The team performed a series of aerobatic maneuvers and formation flying routines, captivating the audience with their precision and skill. This inaugural performance marked the beginning of a storied legacy of aerial excellence.

From their modest beginnings, the Blue Angels have evolved into a premier demonstration squadron, dazzling audiences worldwide with their aerial prowess. Over the decades, the squadron transitioned from propeller-driven fighters to jet-powered aircraft, reflecting advancements in aviation technology and the changing needs of naval aviation.

First Female to Get her Wings

A total of 17 officers serve with the Blue Angels. Each year, the team typically selects three tactical (fighter or fighter/attack) jet pilots, two support officers and one Marine Corps C-130 pilot to relieve departing members.

While hundreds of women have served with the Blue Angels in various capacities over its history, it wasn’t until 2014 that the team welcomed women into their ranks. That year, Lieutenant Katie Higgins became the first female pilot to fly with the Blue Angels. She piloted the C-130 transport plane known as “Fat Albert,” which is part of the support aircraft.

In 2023, Minnesota native Lieutenant Amanda Lee was named the first-ever female F-18 fighter pilot to become a Blue Angels team member. Amanda joined in September 2022. She has accumulated more than 1,800 flight hours and over 225 carrier-arrested landings. Her decorations include four Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals and various personal and unit awards.

Blue Angels Chicago | Credit Scott M. Liebenson on Wikimedia Commons

Favorite Flight Formations

The Blue Angels have several formations that they frequently showcase during their shows that are not only visually striking but also showcase the pilots’ skill and teamwork.

Perhaps the most iconic of all, the Diamond Formation features four aircraft flying in close proximity, forming a tight diamond shape. This was introduced in 1947. It highlights the precision and discipline of the pilots as they maneuver their aircraft in perfect alignment, with each member of the team maintaining a specific position relative to the others. During the Diamond Formation today, planes fly just 18 inches apart from each other.

The Delta Formation involves three aircraft flying in a triangular pattern, with one aircraft positioned higher than the others at the center of the formation. This displays the pilots’ agility and versatility as they execute synchronized maneuvers such as rolls and loops while maintaining the triangular shape.

In the Line-Abreast Formation, all aircraft fly side by side in a straight line, with each maintaining an equal distance from the others. This formation demonstrates the sheer power and speed of the aircraft as they roar past spectators in perfect unison.

During the Opposing Solos Pass, two solo pilots fly directly toward each other at high speed, passing closely but safely in the center of the flight path. This maneuver creates a dramatic moment of suspense as the planes approach each other head-on before banking away at the last moment.

In the Echelon Formation, aircraft fly in a diagonal line, with each subsequent plane positioned slightly behind and to the right or left of the leader. This maneuver creates a visually dynamic display as they maneuver together in a staggered pattern.

Blue Angel pilot | Credit U.S. Navy photo Ian Cotter

Where to Watch the Blue Angels

The Blue Angels’ impact extends far beyond their aerial acrobatics. A major component of their mission is to forge connections with communities and inspire generations of aviators at airshows, schools and public events, thereby allowing people to interact with the pilots and learn more about naval aviation.

The squadron relocated permanently to its current home at Sherman Field in Pensacola, FL, in 1955, providing locals and visitors with the pleasure of seeing the Blue Angels practice on a weekly basis from March through November. Residents say one of the best ways to watch a practice is from a boat offshore. In addition, two formal airshows in Pensacola take place every year. The Pensacola Beach Airshow is held in July and the Blue Angels Homecoming Airshow closes out the formal season in November.

The Blue Angels wow audiences around the world. From their humble beginnings to their current status as aerial ambassadors, they exemplify the highest ideals of naval aviation, inspiring awe and admiration wherever they soar. Since 1946, the pilots have performed for nearly 500 million fans.

The Blue Angels’ nationwide travel schedule in 2024 includes destinations on the West Coast, Great Lakes, Gulf Coast and Florida’s Atlantic Coast. If you’re on the water and interested in seeing them perform, check out the squadron’s full seasonal dates at blueangels.navy.mil


Several other military aerobatic teams captivate audiences with precision flying and dazzling maneuvers. Some of the Blue Angels’ notable counterparts include:

THUNDERBIRDS are the aerial demonstration squadron of the U.S. Air Force. Like the Blue Angels, they perform breathtaking aerial displays showcasing the capabilities of Air Force aircraft and skill of their pilots.

SNOWBIRDS are the aerobatic team of the Royal Canadian Air Force. Flying CT-114 Tutor aircraft, they perform intricate formations and maneuvers that highlight the pilots’ agility and precision.

RED ARROWS are the aerobatic team of the Royal Air Force (RAF) in the United Kingdom. Flying Hawk T1 aircraft, they are famous for their dynamic displays and colorful smoke trails.

PATROUILLE DE FRANCE (PAF) is the aerobatic team of the French Air & Space Force. Flying Alpha Jet aircraft, they perform precise formations and maneuvers that showcase the skill of French military aviators. Established in 1931, PAF is the world’s oldest military aerobatic team.

BLACK EAGLES are the aerobatic team of the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF). Established in 1994, they fly the T-50B Golden Eagle supersonic trainer aircraft. The Black Eagles perform precision formations and dynamic maneuvers, representing South Korea at airshows and events around the world.

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