The U.S. Navy's iconic blue and gold flight demonstration squadron flew its last flight using their F/A-18 A/B/C/D Hornets on Wednesday.
But to those hearing this news and thinking - "WHAT!? NO MORE BLUE ANGELS!?" - let me just say, don't worry.
This isn't the end of our talented Naval demonstration team; it's just the retirement of the aircraft they have flown for 34 years. The aircraft will be replaced with F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets beginning with the team’s 2021 show season.
For their last flight, the Hornets departed Florida's Naval Air Station Pensacola around 4 p.m. Eastern time for a 30 minute flyover ranging from Pensacola to Alabama's Fort Morgan.
“We are incredibly honored to have the opportunity to salute those teams who have flown, maintained and supported this platform for over three decades of service,” said U.S. Navy Blue Angels commanding officer and flight leader Cmdr. Brian Kesselring. “We deeply appreciate the expertise and operational knowledge Blue Angels past and present have brought to the team and we look forward to enhancing our operations as we fully transition to flying the Super Hornet.”
The Navy awarded Boeing a $17 million contract to configure nine F/A-18E and two F/A-18F Super Hornets for the Blue Angels in August 2018.
This isn't the first aircraft to be phased out in favor of an upgraded fighter, but the Hornets have had the longest run, flying since 1986. Since the team’s first performance in 1946, the Blue Angels have used eight aircraft models, including the F11F-1 Tiger, F-4J Phantom II and A-4F Skyhawk II.
The eleven Super Hornets will showcase a new generation of Naval aviation technology to the public. Overall, the Super Hornet is bigger by about four feet in both length and wingspan than the Hornet and heavier by roughly 10,000 pounds. At a maximum speed of Mach 1.6, the Super Hornet is slightly slower than the Hornet’s max of Mach 1.8.
Converting the Super Hornets for use by the team requires the planes are demonstration-capable. It require modifications such as an oil tank for a smoke-generation system, fuel systems that enable the aircraft to fly inverted for an extended period of time and civilian-compatible navigation equipment so the aircraft can perform in airshows at public airports with civilian ATC.
The first of the new Blue Angels Super Hornets was delivered to Maryland's Naval Air Station Patuxent Rivet for flight testing and evaluation last June. Blue Angel 1 was delivered to the unit's home base at Naval Air Station Pensacola in July.