2017-07-01 / Features

The Birth of the ‘Blues’

By Glenda Caudle

I t happened at the close of World War II – the birth of Pensacola’s pride, the magnificent Blue Angels.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Chester W. Nimitz was looking for a way to keep the public interested in naval aviation, once the war-time roles of the planes, their pilots, crews and support personnel were at an end -- at least for that moment in history.

He hit on the idea of creating a flight demonstration team to showcase the skill and daring of teams like those who had ruled the skies in the battle the United States had so recently won.

Three months after he gave the order, on June 15, 1946, the Navy Flight Exhibition Team performed for the first time at its home base, Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla. Piloting an F6F-5 Hellcat, Lt. Cmdr. Roy “Butch” Voris took the lead.

The team was only the second such formal flying demonstration team in the world, with the Patrouille de France claiming pride of place as first, after its formation in 1931. In July 1946, the team was first officially introduced as the “Blue Angels” at a show in Omaha, Neb. Right Wing Pilot Lt. Maurice “Wick” Wickendoll had come across the name while reading a column in the New Yorker Magazine. His commanding officer latched on to it: “That sounds great! The Blue Angels, Navy, Blue, and Flying!”

Just a few weeks later, on Sept. 29, slot pilot Lt. j.g. Ross “Robby” Robinson became the Blue Angels’ first tragedy. He was killed when he failed to recover from a dive while performing a Cuban Eight maneuver at NAS Jacksonville.

In 1947, the beloved Blue Angels Diamond Formation was introduced by flight leader Lt. Cmdr. Robert “Bob” Clarke. Two new formations, the Diamond Loop and the Diamond Barrel Roll – both of which are still performed today -- quickly appeared in the program after that.

In 1948, the team moved to NAS Corpus Christi, Texas, but a year later, Florida reclaimed the Angels at NAS Whiting Field.

Through the years, the following flight demonstration aircraft have seen service before millions of fans:

1946 – F6F Hellcat
1946-49 – F8F Bearcat
1949-50 – F9F-2 Panther
1951-55 – F9F-5 Panther
1955-57 – F9F-8 Cougar

1957-68 – F11F-1 Tiger
1969-74 – F-4J Phantom II
1974-86 – A-4F Skyhawk II
1986-2010 – F/A-18 Hornet A/B
In transition – F/A-18 Hornet C/D

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