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.
2023 Blue Angels Schedules
March 28, 29
April 4, 5*, 11, 12*, 18, 19*, 25, 26*
May 2, 3*, 9,10*,16, 17*, 31*
June 6, 7*, 13, 14*, 20, 21, 27, 28*
July 11, 12, 25, 26*
August 1, 16*, 22, 23*, 29
September 6*, 12, 19
October 18*, 24, 25*
*Indicates Blue Angels Autograph Sessions in the museum
All events are subject to change at any time.
Note: The public must enter through the back gate entrance of NAS Pensacola
11 – NAF El Centro, CA NAF El Centro Annual Air Show
18-19 – NAS Point Mugu, CA Point Mugu Air Show
25-26 – Barksdale AFB, LA Defenders of Liberty Air Show
1-2 – Lakeland, FL Sun’n Fun Aerospace Expo
15-16 – NAS Key West, FL Southernmost Air Spectacular
22-23 – MCAS Beaufort, SC MCAS Beaufort Air Show
29-30 – Fort Lauderdale, FL Fort Lauderdale Air Show
6-7 – Corpus Christi, TX Wings Over South Texas Airshow
13-14 – Scott AFB, IL Scott AFB Air Show
20-21 – Seymour Johnson, AFB, NC Wings Over Wayne Air Show
24 – USNA, Annapolis, MD U.S. Naval Academy Air Show
26 – USNA, Annapolis, MD U.S. Naval Academy Fly Over
27-28 – Long Pond, PA The Great Pocono Raceway Air Show
10-11 – Smyrna, TN The Great Tennessee Air Show
17-18 – Columbus, OH Columbus Air Show
24-25 – Montgomery, NY New York Air Show
1-2 – Oklahoma City, OK Tinker AFB Star Spangled Salute
8 – Pensacola Beach, FL Pensacola Beach Air Show
15-16 – Duluth, MN Duluth Air and Aviation Expo
22-23 – Milwaukee, WI Milwaukee Air and Water Show
5-6 – Seattle, WA Boeing SeaFair Air Show
12-13 – Billings, MT Yellowstone International Airshow
19-20 – New Century, KS KC Air Show
26-27 – Lincoln, NE. Guardians of Freedom Air Show
2-4 – Toronto, ON, Canada Canadian International Air Show
16-17 – NAS Oceana, VA NAS Oceana Air Show
23-24 – MCAS Miramar, CA MCAS Miramar Air Show
30 -McMinniville, OR Oregon International Air Show
1 – McMinniville, OR Oregon International Air Show
7-8 – San Francisco, CA San Francisco Fleet Week
14-15 – Grand Junction, CO Grand Junction Air Show
21-22 – Jacksonville Beach, FL Sea and Sky Air Show
28-29 – Greenfield, IN Crossroads Air Show
3-4 – 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.
Frequently Asked Questions
What time is the Blue Angels show in Pensacola?
The Pensacola Beach Air Show starts at 11 AM on July 8th, 2023. The NSA Pensacola Homecoming Air Show starts at 9:30 AM on November 3rd and 4th, 2023.
How often do the Blue Angels fly over Pensacola Beach?
Pensacola and Pensacola Beach both host a Blue Angels air show annually. The Blue Angels take flight for the Pensacola Beach Air Show in July and the NAS Pensacola Homecoming Air Show in November.
Where can I watch the Blue Angels in Pensacola Beach?
The Pensacola Beach Air Show can be viewed from almost anywhere on the island. Fort Pickens in Pensacola Beach is the best spot for viewing the NAS Pensacola Homecoming Air Show and Blue Angels practices.
Can you watch Blue Angels practice from Pensacola Beach?
Fort Pickens in Pensacola Beach provides excellent views of Blue Angels practices. Fort Pickens is located just across Pensacola Bay from Naval Air Station Pensacola and is just a short drive from the heart of Pensacola Beach.
Do the Blue Angels fly out of Pensacola?
The Blue Angels are based out of Naval Air Station Pensacola. Practices are held throughout the year and can be viewed from Fort Pickens in Pensacola Beach.
Can you see the Blue Angels show from Fort Pickens?
Almost anywhere around Fort Pickens in Pensacola Beach offers excellent views of Blue Angels practices and the air shows in Pensacola Beach and Pensacola.