Blue Angels Weekend
It’s the biggest party of the year on Pensacola Beach. There are faces dotting every square inch of the sand, hands dangling off the pier, and bodies leaning out of hotel balconies and pools. Despite the energy, libations, and noise on the ground, everyone’s gaze is fixed on the sky. Anticipation drips visibly from the myriad of faces. A child’s voice yells, “There they are!” The crowd surges, cameras rise, and the unmistakable roar of F-18 Super Hornets shakes the world from sky to chest. The Blue Angels are thundering down the beach in tight formation, wings gleaming in the sunlight as they paint the horizon with perfectly symmetrical tails of white smoke. It’s the annual Pensacola Beach Air Show and for locals and visitors alike, it’s the most exciting weekend of the year on Pensacola Beach.
Origin of the Blues
The Blue Angels were formed on April 24, 1946, at the peak of the USA’s victory high following World War II. Founder U.S. Admiral Chester Nimitz, Chief of Naval Operations, knew that the team would ensure that American aviation continued to garner public support in a post-war society. The Blue Angels assisted the Navy in bolstering enlistment rates and generating public and political support for a larger allocation of the declining military budget. Known only as the Navy Flight Exhibition Team at their onset, the Blues were the second formal precision aviation team founded in global aviation history!
The tale of how the Blue Angels got their current name is one that begs telling. The first team named themselves after one of the largest and popular nightclubs in New York City at the time. It took a little bit of craftiness on their part. Why? Because their Chief of Staff and his son already had the Blue Lances in mind for the newly founded unit. To get around this small issue, the team dropped the catchy Blue Angels name to the press at one of their first shows. Once the papers were printed there was no going back; the Blue Angels were cemented in aviation history.
In the early years, the Blue’s performances consisted of recreating World War II battles. These reenactments were complete with an SNJ-5 Texan painted to look like a Japanese Mitsubishi A6M Zero. Nicknamed Beetle Bomb, this sharp yellow plane acted as the Blue Angel’s adversary from 1946 to 1950.
Since taking to the sky, the Blue Angels have flown 10 different aircraft models. Today, the crew flies Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornets, whose extra power and larger body look even more impressive in the sky.
So How Impressive Is This?
Every jet in Blue Angels history has been an aircraft carrier capable of flying into battle within 72 hours of notice. Though the jets are always waiting for orders, the Blues themselves don’t fly in combat. At least not under that name. During the Korean War the Blue Angels were broken up and reassembled as Fighter Squadron 191 (VF-19). They flew under the name “Satan’s Kittens” for one year.
Today’s Blues are only flying over cheering fans, but that doesn’t make their work a cushy vacation. The precision flying expected of them is so incredibly difficult that even the Navy’s most skilled aviators can’t afford to lose focus for a moment. Over the course of their history, the Blues have lost twenty-seven of their team members. The first was the pilot of Beetle Bomb, Lt. Ross “Robby” Robinson who passed in 1950.
Despite the risks, the Blue Angels aren’t willing to give up on the sky. It could be the sheer exhilaration of it, or maybe their need to prove to themselves – and us – that they’re the best.
So, what does it take to be a member of this elite group? That depends on the position. The commanding officer flying the No.1 jet, also known as “The Boss”, must have at least 3,000 tactical jet flight-hours and have commanded a tactical jet squadron. The rest of the team must have a minimum of 1,200 to 1,250 hours. Once selected as a member of the crew, each pilot is also required to complete 120 training flights every winter training season. The requirements are far from arbitrary; the Blues perform maneuvers that have their planes nearly brushing each other at only eighteen inches apart. They accomplish it all without an anti-gravitational suit in an aircraft with a 40-pound spring attached to the flight stick.
This combination of variables sets the Blue Angels apart from other precision flight teams. An anti-g suit is normally worn by jet pilots to prevent blood from pooling in their legs, causing them to pass out during high-g maneuvers. Unfortunately, the suit would impede their ability to handle the flight stick. To direct the jets into the tight formations they are known for, the Blue Angels must rely on well-timed leg and core contractions, as well as a maneuver known as the full hick. The average person can endure 2.5 to 3 Gs; the Blues come in contact with 7-8 G’s once an air show. Even more dangerously, they are known to perform maneuvers that take them from high Gs to negative Gs very quickly. This highly trained, precision flight team proudly calls Pensacola home during the air show season.
The Pensacola Schedule
As Homebase, Pensacola has the privilege of seeing the Angels regularly, not just during the two prescheduled shows. A peaceful day on the beach is often capped off by a surprise flyover. The Super Hornets, brighter than the already vivid sky, swoop low for a split second and are gone before most can pull out their phones. Locals often exchange advice on the best locations to view practice drills. The Blue Angels rehearse weekly at NAS Pensacola throughout the show season, which runs from March to November. Tuesday and Wednesday are dedicated to drills that are free to view by the public and often conclude with autographs and interviews. On Thursday, the squad travels to its weekend performance site, and by Sunday evening they return to Pensacola.
2022 Blue Angels Schedules
March 22, 23*, 29, 30*
April 5, 6*, 12, 13*, 20*, 26, 27*
May 3, 4*, 10, 11, 17, 18
June 1, 8*, 14, 15*, 21, 22*, 28, 29
July 6, 12, 13, 19, 20, 26, 27*
August 2, 23, 24*, 30, 31
September 7*, 13, 14, 20
October 12*, 18, 19*, 25, 26*
November 1, 2*, 8, 9
*Indicates Blue Angels Autograph Sessions
All events are subject to change at any time.
Note: The museum and these practices are open to DoD ID card holders and their guests who can access NAS Pensacola.
12 – NAF El Centro, CA NAF El Centro Annual Air Show
19 & 20 – NAS JRB New Orleans, LA New Orleans Air Show
26 & 27 – MacDill AFB, FL Tampa Bay AirFest
2 & 3 – NAS Kingsville, TX Wings Over South Texas
9 & 10 – JB Charleston, SC JB Charleston Air Show
23 & 24 – Vidalia, GA Vidalia Air Show
30 – Vero Beach, FL Vero Beach Air Show
1 – Vero Beach, FL Vero Beach Air Show
14 & 15 – Ellsworth AFB, SD Raider Country Open House
25 – USNA, Annapolis, MD U.S. Naval Academy Air Show
27 – USNA, Annapolis, MD U.S. Naval Academy Fly Over
28 & 29 – Jones Beach, NY Bethpage Air Show
4 & 5 – Eau Claire, WI Chippewa Valley Air Show
11 & 12 – Chesterfield, MO Spirit of St. Louis Air Show
18 & 19 – Millington, TN Midsouth Air Show
2 & 3 – Traverse City, MI National Cherry Festival Air Show
9 – Pensacola Beach, FL Pensacola Beach Air Show
16 & 17 – Ypsilanti, MI Thunder Over Michigan Air Show
23 & 24 – Milwaukee, WI Milwaukee Air and Water Show
30 & 31 – Dayton, OH Dayton Air Show
6 & 7 – Seattle, WA Boeing SeaFair Air Show
13 & 14 – MCAS Kaneohe Bay, HI Kaneohe Bay Air Show
20 & 21 – Chicago, IL Chicago Air and Water Show
3 & 5 – Cleveland, OH Cleveland National Air Show
10 & 11 – Knoxville, TN Smoky Mountain Air Show
17 & 18 – NAS Oceana, VA NAS Oceana Air Show
24 & 25 – MCAS Miramar, CA MCAS Miramar Air Show
1 & 2 – Minden, NV Aviation Roundup Air Show
8 & 9 – San Francisco, CA San Francisco Fleet Week
22 & 23 – NAS Jacksonville, FL NAS JAX Air Show
29 & 30 – Houston, TX Wings Over Houston Air Show
5 & 6 – Peachtree City, GA Atlanta Air Show
11 & 12 – NAS Pensacola, FL NAS Pensacola Homecoming Air Show
All events are subject to change at any time.
So, What Can You Expect From A Show?
The two big shows of the year are the Pensacola Beach Air Show in July and the NAS Pensacola Homecoming Air Show every November. The former takes place at the height of a beautiful Florida summer. You and the fam will want a spot right on the water or in a lazy river to keep cool; so, book a room on the beach or plan to arrive in the early hours of the morning! The abundance of specialty drinks served at this time also help beat the heat. The party starts the second you stake out your spot. Beach games such as football, spike ball, and corn hole are popular ways to pass the time until the Blues hit the scene.
There’s something special about watching the Blue Angels fly over the sparkling Gulf of Mexico. The massive stretch of blue sky makes a perfect backdrop for the smoke streamers that highlight their intense acrobatics. Crowd favorite moves include the Sneak Pass, intended to catch the crowd by surprise, the Diamond 360, which places the Angels 18 inches apart, the Diamond Dirty Loop, a move exclusive to the Blue Angels, and the Double Farvel, a difficult maneuver where two pilots flip upside-down and then re-position themselves within the diamond formation. The summer air show also includes a great line-up of civilian acrobatic flight teams and veteran acts. The fun isn’t over once the sound of the jet engines fades! Good food, live music, and the turquoise Gulf beat waiting in traffic. Missed out on the summer show, or just need more? There’s always the Homecoming Air Show at the Naval Air Station Pensacola! The Blue Angels close their season with a classic show over a devoted crowd; expect patriotic energy that soars as high as the Blues themselves.