This weekend, as F/A-18 Hornet jets roar along the St. Johns River and crowds thrill to the unbelievable precision and heart-stopping aerial maneuvers of the Blue Angels team, it’s worth remembering that this world-famous flight squadron was born right here in Jacksonville.
At the end of World War II, Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, the Chief of Naval Operations, ordered the formation of a flight demonstration team to keep the public interested in Naval Aviation and boost Navy morale. Lt. Cmdr. Roy “Butch” Voris, a veteran flying ace with eight air victories to his credit, was chosen as the new flight team’s commander, and given the task of selecting the rest of the pilots and ground staff. Flying the Grumman F6F Hellcat, the main Navy fighter during WWII, the group’s first aerial demonstration took place less than a year later on June 15, 1946 at Jacksonville’s Craig Field.
For the first month of its existance, the flight demonstration team flew without a name. Officers at Navy Headquarters had proposed “Navy Blue Lancers,” a moniker the pilots rejected. As the group prepared for a show in New York that July, Lt. Maurice “Wick” Wickendoll came across an advertisement in the New Yorker for that city’s famous Blue Angel nightclub. The first demonstration under the Blue Angels name was a show in Omaha, July 19, 1946.
By the end of the 1940s, the Blue Angels were flying their first jet aircraft, the Grumman F9F-2 Panther. In response to the demands placed on Naval Aviation in the Korean Conflict, the team reported to the aircraft carrier USS Princeton as the nucleus of Fighter Squadron 191 (VF-191), “Satan’s Kitten,” in 1950.
They were reorganized the next year and reported to NAS Corpus Christi, Texas, where they began flying the newer and faster version of the Panther, the F9F-5. The Blue Angels remained in Corpus Christi until the winter of 1954 when they relocated to their present home at NAS Pensacola, Florida.
On November 8, 1986, the Blue Angels completed their 40th anniversary year during ceremonies unveiling their present aircraft, the sleek McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet, the first dual-role fighter/attack aircraft now serving on the nation’s front lines of defense.
Now celebrating their 65th year, the amazing Blue Angels have flown before more than 427 million spectators. This weekend, you’ll have a great opportunity to join the crowds and see these incredibly accomplished pilots in action at the 2011 Naval Air Station Jacksonville Air Show. The show is part of a year-long celebration of 100 years of Naval Aviation honoring a century of mission-ready men and women.
Gates open Saturday and Sunday at 9 a.m., and the show begins at 10 a.m. (download the full schedule of events here). The Blue Angels fly at 3 p.m. on Saturday, and 2:30 p.m. on Sunday. You don’t need to be at NAS JAX to see them; just find a spot along the river downtown, and let your eyes follow the sonic roar.