New Wings for the Blue Angels

 - August 16, 2018, 8:55 AM
The Blue Angels have been flying the F/A-18 for 32 years and are to upgrade to the larger Super Hornet. (photo: U.S. Navy)

Beginning around 2021/22 the U.S.'s Naval Flight Demonstration Squadron—better known as the Blue Angels—expects to be flying the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet as its display mount. The OEM received a $17 million order from the Naval Air Systems Command to purchase the equipment necessary to modify nine single-seat F/A-18Es and two F/A-18F two-seaters to the team’s specifications.

A second contract is expected soon for Boeing to perform the actual work, which will be undertaken at the St. Louis, Missouri, factory where the aircraft were built. There has been no time frame announced for the team’s conversion from its current F/A-18C/D, but the contract stipulates that work is to be completed by December 2021.

Details of what modifications are to be performed have not been revealed, but if previous "Blue Angel" aircraft are anything to go by, the Super Hornets will have some operational equipment removed, such as the 20 mm Vulcan cannon, and will have modifications to the fuel system for prolonged inverted flight. The flight controls of the current Hornet aircraft are adjusted so that they require slight back pressure on the stick to maintain level flight, a feature adopted for the very tight formation flying that is the team’s trademark. The Super Hornets are likely to gain an oil tank and plumbing for the smoke system, a new canopy, and rear-facing “look-back” cameras. Finally, the aircraft will be painted in the team’s high-gloss "Blue Angels blue" and "Insignia yellow" scheme.

Formed in 1946 with Grumman F6F Hellcats, and subsequently flying F8F Bearcats, F9F Panthers and Cougars, F11F Tigers, F-4J Phantoms, and A-4 Skyhawks, the Blue Angels started flying the F/A-18A/B Hornet in 1986, upgrading to the F/A-18C/D in 2010. Already, the Hornet has been flown by the team for longer than any other type. The team is based at Forrest Sherman Field, Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, with their pre-season work-up being conducted at El Centro, California. Its display routine employs six aircraft, which are accompanied by a two-seater that is flown by the show narrator. It provides a back-up aircraft and is used to give demonstration flights.

The team might also be getting a new support aircraft. The team’s aging KC-130T Hercules—nicknamed "Fat Albert"—was out of use for some time following a fleetwide grounding but returned to the air this summer. However, it was announced in March that the Navy was seeking to rapidly acquire a C-130J from the United Kingdom, although that deal has not yet materialized.