After a year off due to federal sequester budget cuts, the U.S. military flight demo teams—the U.S. Navy Blue Angels and Air Force Thunderbirds—are back in action, thrilling crowds at major airshows across the country. The Blue Angels kicked off their 2014 season on March 15 at Naval Air Facility El Centro in southern California, and are slated to fly 68 performances at 35 locations this year. At the inaugural Los Angeles County Airshow on March 21-22, Blue Angels lead solo pilot Lt. Cmdr. David Tickle told NBC News, “Seeing the excitement in not only the kids but adults as well, it really shows you the pride that the American public takes in the military.”
Over the years the Blue Angels have flown a variety of airplanes, but few remember they started out with a workhorse World War II carrier fighter, the Grumman F6F Hellcat. On June 15, 1946, flying blue F6F-5s trimmed in gold, the team made its first public demonstration, a 15-minute performance at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla. Their time in Hellcats didn’t last long, however, as little more than two months later they upgraded to F8F-1 Bearcats.
The Thunderbirds, meanwhile, also have a full schedule this year, with 66 demo flights scheduled at 34 locations. Among their stops this summer will be EAA AirVenture in Oskosh, Wisc., August 2-3—the first time a U.S. military jet demonstration team performs its full show in front of Oshkosh audiences. The Thunderbirds are a welcome addition to the AirVenture roster, especially after last year’s military airplane no-show and the recent news that EAA has agreed to again pay for the FAA controllers needed to staff Wittman Regional Airport’s control tower.
Of course airshows large and small will be held across the nation this spring, summer and fall without the benefit of a flight demo team appearance. After last year’s upheaval, when some shows were forced to cancel or saw ticket sales fall off due to lack of military participation, many are hoping this year will see a turnaround in airshow attendance.
Airshows and fly-ins present the perfect opportunity to introduce youngsters to the thrill and excitement of flight. We encourage you to take the kids or grandkids to a flying event this year and give them a taste of the action that only aviation can provide. After all, they’re the future makers of aviation history.
Go to blueangels.navy.mil for a complete schedule of Blue Angels appearances and to afthunderbirds.com for the Thunderbirds schedule. A comprehensive listing of airshows with links to individual sites is available at airshows.com.
Originally published in the July 2014 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.