The Blue Angels is the United States Navy's flight demonstration squadron. The Blue Angels team was formed in 1946, making it the second oldest formal flying aerobatic team (under the same name) in the world, after the French Patrouille de France formed in 1931. The Blue Angels' six demonstration pilots fly the F/A-18 Hornet, typically in more than 70 shows at 34 locations throughout the United States each year, where they still employ many of the same practices and techniques used in their aerial displays in 1946. An estimated 11 million spectators view the squadron during air shows each full year. The Blue Angels also visit more than 50,000 people in a standard show season (March through November) in schools and hospitals. Since 1946, the Blue Angels have flown for more than 260 million spectators.
On 1 March 2013 the U.S. Navy announced that due to sequestration actions aerial demonstration team performances including that of the Blue Angels would cease from 1 April 2013. In October 2013, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, stating that "community and public outreach is a crucial Departmental activity", announced that the Blue Angels (along with the U.S. Air Force's Thunderbirds) would resume appearing at air shows starting in 2014, although the number of flyovers will continue to be severely reduced.
The Blue Angels' show season runs each year from March until November. They perform at both military and civilian airfields, and often perform directly over major cities such as San Francisco's "Fleet Week" maritime festival, Cleveland's annual Labor Day Air Show, the Chicago Air and Water Show, and Seattle's annual Seafair festival.
The Blue Angels flying in a Delta Formation at Miramar, San Diego in 2011
During their aerobatic demonstration, the Blues fly six F/A-18 Hornet aircraft, split into the Diamond Formation (Blue Angels 1 through 4) and the Lead and Opposing Solos (Blue Angels 5 and 6). Most of the show alternates between maneuvers performed by the Diamond Formation and those performed by the Solos. The Diamond, in tight formation and usually at lower speeds (400 mph), performs maneuvers such as formation loops, barrel rolls, and transitions from one formation to another. The Solos showcase the high performance capabilities of their individual aircraft through the execution of high-speed passes, slow passes, fast rolls, slow rolls, and very tight turns. The highest speed flown during an air show is 700 mph (just under Mach 1) and the lowest speed is 120 mph. Some of the maneuvers include both solo aircraft performing at once, such as opposing passes (toward each other in what appears to be a collision course) and mirror formations (back-to-back. belly-to-belly, or wingtip-to-wingtip, with one jet flying inverted). The Solos join the Diamond Formation near the end of the show for a number of maneuvers in the Delta Formation.
The parameters of each show must be tailored in accordance with local weather conditions at showtime: in clear weather the high show is performed; in overcast conditions a low show is performed, and in limited visibility (weather permitting) the flat show is presented.The high show requires at least an 8,000-foot (2,400 m) ceiling and visibility of at least 3 nautical miles (6 km) from the show's centerpoint. The maximum ceilings allowed for low and flat shows are 3,500 feet (~1 km) and 1,500 feet (460 m), respectively.
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