It’s just another day at work for these aerial stars.
You’ll know the Blue Angels are home by the thunderous, vibrating sound of supersonic F/A-18 Hornets as they tear across the sky in their traditional diamond formation above Pensacola Naval Air Station.
Spectators at the early morning practices have been caught reflexively ducking as the aerobatic team twists and loops overhead at speeds reaching 700 mph, leaving trails of smoke behind. The pilots fly the planes a mere 18 inches from each other; the high-speed precision impresses the gaping crowd.
Florida has long been home to the prestigious U.S. Navy flight-demonstration squadron; they performed their first show at Craig Field in Jacksonville in 1946 before relocating to Pensacola in 1954.
The name Blue Angels was borrowed from, of all things, a nightclub. When planning a show in New York City in 1946, one of the original pilots saw the city’s famous Blue Angel club in the New Yorker magazine, and the name clicked.
Although the Blue Angels travel the country performing at weekend air shows from March to November, they return to Pensacola for weekday practices. (Find the schedule at blueangels.navy.mil)
Hundreds of candidates apply for the privilege of squeezing into the tight-fitting cockpit and feeling the 5G adrenaline rush, but few are chosen. Although 200-plus aviators volunteer, as few as two are picked each year.
An active-duty, career-oriented Navy or Marine Corps tactical jet pilot must rack up at least 1,250 flight hours before even applying for this coveted job, which is a strictly volunteer position. The average age of the 16 officers who make up the Blue Angels team is 33.
After watching a riveting practice, spectators can visit the nearby National Naval Aviation Museum, where, on Wednesdays, the team signs autographs and answers questions. Three retired Blue Angels aircraft — an A-4 Skyhawk, an F-4 Phantom and an F-11 Tiger — are on display inside the cavernous museum.
For the ultimate landlubber thrill, climb in the cockpit and, for just a second, dream of being part of an iconic American team.
— PATRICIA LETAKIS