Tag Archives: Blue Angels

Blue Angels Winter Training 2022

The United States Navy Blue Angels deploy to NAF El Centro annually to transition the new members of the team and train for the upcoming airshow season. 

While at El Centro, the team performs twice daily, six days a week. This rigorous flight schedule allows the team members to learn and eventually perfect the flight demonstration. The team’s training is not limited to just the flight activity. The team’s narrator is memorizing his performance, and the ground crew is practicing the pre-flight checks and movements. Each flight is taped and debriefed. Maintenance is performed. Basically, each function of the team is honed while deployed.

NAF El Centro is in the heart of California’s Imperial Valley. Locally, the base is surrounded by farm land and nearby is a vast desert. The team performs over the base two days a week, with the remainder of the practice flights taking place over the desert range. It may seem odd to some since most airshows are performed at bases or airports. The desert flights allow the team to sharpen their skills with little danger to civilians as well as practice routines remotely for beach type airshows. The days at base are adored by the Blue Angel fans that flock to the watch the practice demos.

On March 3, 2022 I had the opportunity to attend one of the practice days at El Centro. This has been an aviation “bucket list” item for many years. Let me tell you that the experience was everything I had hoped it would be! A close friend of mine (also an aviation photographer) met me in Arizona to share the adventure.

We arrived early at El Centro, hoping to get a good spot to experience the take-off “blast.” Numerous other people had the same idea. However, people were kind and let us set up around them. The basic rules of aviation photography were expected – do not get in my way and we are good! After a brief wait, we noticed the team taxiing out for the first practice hop.

The excitement was building in my body. I did what seemed to be the thousandth check of my gear. I looked around to make sure I was not in my neighbor’s way and no one was in mine. The hand-held scanner I brought was tuned to the team. Meanwhile the four-ship diamond was at one end of the runway while jets Five and Six were now less than 100 yards away from us. And just like that we heard Boss announce “let’s go, brakes off…burners NOW!”

The diamond formation was headed straight at us on centerline of the runway” As the team lifted off, the slot pilot immediately moves into position. Just as he gets into position, they clear the fence and fly right over you in FULL MAXIMUM POWER! The coolest thing a jet nut can experience. However, it was the loudest thing I have ever experienced in my life. I was not prepared and did not have hearing protection, so I had to immediately cover my ears. The rush of the jets is exhilarating and amazing. You felt the air pressure change and the wind of the jets passing. Jet exhaust smells were also afoot. They flew over us at about 30 yards above our heads! 

As the diamond pulled up and into their show opening loop, the two solo jets moved into take-off position. As the diamond roared back over the runway, the solos went to full burner and took off. A second deafening blast of jet noise!

Squirrel Cage Loop on Take-Off

After the solos departed, the team went through the show demo. The end of field perspective is a completely different visual experience than being at show center or even on the show line. The benefit is that you get to see the team at different angles and how they position themselves to make the maneuvers happen at show center. 

Coming at us head on on the downside of the “Dirty Loop”

After the entire show is performed, the team sets up to land. It was really amazing how quickly the flight demo was over. The team performed the traditional pitch break to land and came down. After all six jets were down, the team taxied back in Blue Angel formation style.

Pitch Break to Land

The bonus for our trip was the USAF Thunderbirds were also at El Centro. Recently, the two teams have been doing combined training for a week each year. This year, the Thunderbirds were visiting the Blue Angels. We had just missed out on a dual training day. The Thunderbirds were only set to depart. Eventually the Thunderbirds fired up the jets and taxied to the long runway and took off individually. We were very disappointed, as we were hoping for another jet blast off. The team did form up and did a delta pass and a delta break. While not exactly what I was hoping for, it was fantastic to see both teams.

After the Thunderbirds departed, it was some downtime before the second flight demo. It was not quiet the entire time. Two C-2 Greyhounds from VRC-30 worked the pattern for almost an hour. They made several landings and take-offs or did simulated touch-n-go landings. a UH-1N also came in. Meanwhile, Thunderbird 14 came in, a C-17 Globemaster III arrived to pick up the team’s communications trailers and tools.

As the C-17 was loaded, the C-2s continued their pattern work. Suddenly, we noticed a fire truck racing up the runway. The lead C-2 abruptly lined up for landing and we noticed engine two was off with props feathered. It executed and emergency landing and was met by the fire trucks. Eventually, it taxied back to the hangar on one engine. Meanwhile, the second C-2 needed a place to land and the long runway was fouled by the emergency landing earlier. The C-2 lined up on the other runway and came in on approach from behind us! What a great experience being buzzed by the COD at a little over 30 yards above our heads. Also, during this time, a T-34C Turbo Mentor also came in, flying approach from behind us.

After the pattern excitement wore down, the Blues were back in the jets and ready to do the day’s second practice. I had checked my bag and found a pair of ear plugs to use for the second jet blast take-off. Identical to earlier, the jets moved into position. Boss made the call to go into burners and the jets came roaring at us. The diamond formation roared overhead. This time, I was able to photograph the entire process. The noise was still at extreme levels but the ear plugs made it bearable for the seconds the jets were above us. Max adrenaline was again flowing!

The afternoon practice was modified in several ways. The cloud cover changed from the morning to afternoon, so Boss made several changes to work in some low-show maneuvers. Additionally, the delta break was performed three times, with a different variation each time. During this portion, the flight surgeon was radioing the team to announce visual imperfections to help improve the formation. This is not uncommon and she also serves as one of the team’s safety observers. I thought it was neat to hear the improvements required since visually the maneuver looked flawless. 

As the six jets landed and went back in for the day, we moved back to the car. Although the jets were down the excitement and adrenaline were still freshly pumping. We had a long drive ahead of us to get back to Arizona for the next chapter of our aviation adventure. 

Reflecting back on the experience, I can say it was one of the most exhilarating and unique experiences of my aviation life. There is no way to really explain the feeing or the sheer noise of the take-off. Winter training was an experience that I do not regret and highly recommend as an aviation enthusiast (just make sure to bring hearing protection)!! 

Your 2022 United States Navy BLUE ANGELS!!!

2018 NAS Oceana Airshow

The 2018 NAS Oceana Airshow was held on September 21-23. Friday was open to military family members, and was also an open house for local 5th graders as a STEM laboratory. The event was the largest in several years, and included headline performances by both the US Navy Blue Angels and the RCAF Snowbird jet demonstration teams.

The weather varied all three days, which can be evidenced by the photos. However, flying was able to be completed all three days and provided some wonderful vapor opportunities as well as some nice cloud backdrops. The variety of acts was a good blend of civilian and military performers.

The Aircraft of the Fleet

The Fleet Demo is perhaps the highlight of the airshow each year. This years squadron participants included VFA-105 Gunslingers, VFC-12 Fighting Omars, VFA-131 Wildcats and VFA-106 Gladiators.

Bandits! The art of dogfighting with VFC-12 Fighting Omars

NAS Oceana is home to own adversary training squadron VFC-12 Fighting Omars, callsign “Ambush”. The squadron flies F/A-18 Hornets painted to resemble aircraft the fleet pilots may encounter while on deployment. Here, the Hornets are in a “splinter” paint scheme to resemble the Russian SU-35.

The squadron is made up of a combination of active duty and reservists and is tasked with training the fleet pilots in the art of dogfighting. Unlike the fleet ready rooms, this squadron is made up of high time and veteran pilots who have mastered the skills required to best aerial adversaries. Much like the Blue Angels flight demonstration team, the members are hand picked and must be approved by the other members of the squadron. The pilots are selected for their flight skills and personality due to the small size of the squadron and teamwork required to accurately train the fleet pilots.

The pilots are training using tactics of potential adversaries such as Russia and China using some of the oldest aircraft in the Navy.

VFC-12 and VFA-105 Gunfighters demonstrated a vertical 1×1 engagement, as well as a 2×1 horizontal dogfight.

Air-to-Ground Demo

VFA-105, VFA-131 and VFA-106 demonstrated various air-to-ground bombing and strafing tactics used by fleet Aviators while on deployment.

Passing Gas…Flattop style

F/A-18 Super Hornets from VFA-105 Gunslingers demonstrated the buddy air refueling system during the fleet performance at NAS Oceana.

The Fleet Flyby

US Army Black Daggers Parachute Team

USAF F-22 Raptor Demo

Major Paul “Loco” Lopez provided a stunning demonstration of the USAF’s F-22 Raptor. The jet is considered by many to be the world’s best air superiority fighter. Abilities include “super cruise” (ability to exceed the speed of sound without afterburner), thrust vectoring and stealth. Stealth is achieved by carrying all ordinance internally in three bays. Thrust vectoring provides the aircraft unparalleled maneuverability, even compared to the F-16 and F-15. The jets two Pratt & Whitney F-119 engines provide 35,000 of thrust each, and in afterburner provide ample “freedom thunder!!”

US Navy F/A-18C Hornet – The Final “Legacy” Hornet Demo

The Gladiators from VFA-106 flew the last F/A-18C Hornet demo while at their homebase of NAS Oceana. The squadron serves as the fleets F/A-18 training squadron and also provides the aircraft and crew for the Legacy Hornet Demo Team. The Hornet has been the backbone of the fleet attack duties since the early 1980s.

US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet Demo

VFA-106 also serves as the fleet’s F/A-18 Super Hornet training squadron and provides aircraft and crew for the USN Tac Demo Team. The F/A-18 Super Hornet is the fleet’s primary fighter aircraft and also serves as a multi-role air-to-ground platform. The TAC Demo focuses on the fighter configuration while demonstrating the performance and maneuverability of the Super Hornet.

Greg Shelton FM-2 Wildcat Aerobatics

Greg Shelton provided some naval history by flying an aerobatic routine in his FM-2 Wildcat. The Grumman F4F (and its General Motors license built FM-2 version) was the backbone of the US Navy fighter force at the start of World War II. Although outmatched by the lighter Japanese Zero, it held the line until America’s manufacturing might could provide better designs such as the F6F Hellcat and F4U Corsair.

Bill Leff T-6 Texan Aerobatics & Final Show

Veteran warbird aerobatic pilot, Bill Leff, flew his final acro routine at NAS Oceana. He has flown many times at Oceana and his performances will be missed. Although not as glamorous as the fighters from the WWII era, it has been said that if you can master aerobatics in the T-6 Texan, you can fly anything. The T-6 airframe was the advanced trainer for the United States and many of its allies and continued to serve until the late 1950s. The type is widely known as “the pilot maker.”

Michael Goulian Extra 330sc Aerobatics

Flashfire Jet Truck

Canadian Forces 431 Air Demonstration Squadron, the Snowbirds

NAS Oceana was blessed to have two headlining jet teams for the 2018 event. The Canadian Forces Snowbirds made a rare appearance over the skies of Virginia Beach. The team is equally as skilled as the pilots from the American teams such as the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds, but their demonstration is much different. Their jets are trainers and not as powerful as the American Team’s jets. Therefore, the demonstration is more graceful and includes nine aircraft. This allows for larger formations and different variety of formations than the American Teams.

Of note, the team “crop dusted” the Blue Angels over the weekend, as seen in the first picture below. “Crop dusting” is a term of art and is basically the team blowing smoke over the other team. This is a gag between all of the North American teams and is done for humor and inter-team bonding. It is not uncommon for the teams to do so when one team flies over the other while transitioning to a show location or headed to a remote flyover.

Kent Pietsch Jelly Belly Aerobatics and the World’s Smallest Aircraft Carrier

Kent Pietsch is an amazing performer. His aircraft, an Interstate Cadet, weighs just 800 pounds and has 90 horsepower. The Cadet is not your typical aerobatic airplane, yet Kent makes it look routine. In fact, the routine is filled with maneuvers that require a high degree of skill and control. The climax may be the landing of the aircraft on top of the RV, which is billed as the world’s smallest aircraft carrier. It usually takes a couple of passes, but Kent is usually very successful in landing the Cadet and subsequently taking off again from the RV. Note below on the right photo that the main gear are not locked into position and the tailwheel is not on the RV on this instance.

The Wounded Warrior Flight Team

The Wounded Warrior Flight team flies two L-39 Albatross jets. The aircraft are former advance trainers from the Soviet Union and are now used to bring awareness to the needs of various veterans across the United States. The jets are flown by two veteran US Navy pilots and perform a “grudge match” aerial dogfight.

US Navy Legacy Flight

This year’s Legacy Flight included the F/A-18F Super Hornet from VFA-106 Gladiators and the F4U Corsair owned by Jim Tobul. An iconic formation considering both aircraft were used by the fleet similarly – both as a fighter and as a multi-role support aircraft. A good comparison of the size of the two aircraft can be seen below. The finale was enjoyable as both aircraft folded their wings simultaneously in front of the crowd.

Jim Tobul F4U Corsair “Korean War Hero” Aerobatics

US Navy Blue Angels

The Navy’s flight demonstration team looked amazing as ever for the 2018 shows over Oceana. The skies were challenging at times with clouds and high winds, but the team looked sharp as ever. At least with clouds and moisture the vapes come out!

334th Fighter Squadron F-15E Strike Eagle

The 334th brought their commemorative F-15E Strike Eagle for static display. The jet celebrates the 75th Anniversary of the 4th Fighter Wing. The paint scheme was starting to show some wear, but it still looked great, and would have been amazing to see in the air.

The Final Legacy Hornet Squadron VFA-34 Blue Blasters

The “Blue Blasters” of VFA-34 recently returned from their final cruise in the older “Legacy” model of the F/A-18 Hornet. In April, the squadron recently deployed aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) for a three-month WESTPAC deployment which included a port stop in Vietnam, the first by a US carrier since the war ended. The Blue Blasters returned to sea on August to participate in the multi-national war exercises called “RIMPAC”. VFA-34 is the final Legacy Hornet Strike Fighter Squadron and is scheduled to transition from the Legacy Hornet to the Super Hornet in early 2019.

“That’s it, you’re not going to see a Hornet on an aircraft carrier – at least with U.S. Navy paint on it – ever again.”

Lt. Kevin Frattin – USNI News, February 4, 2019

Around the field…

The USAF brought a specially painted T-6 Texan II, and the VFA-213 Blacklions squadron car made an appearance. Check out a special article related to squadron cars I recently wrote here.

I had a great time at the 2018 NAS Oceana airshow. It is always amazing to see the fleet aircraft at the East Coast’s Master Jet Base and meet the aircrews. As long as the base continues to have shows, I will do my best to return to see them for years to come. Fly Navy!

2019 MCAS Miramar Airshow

The Original Home of “Top Gun”

I have always wanted to go to Miramar, and in September of 2019, I finally made it happen. The Miramar show has historically been impressive and highly attended. This year the lineup was stacked since the Royal Air Force’s Red Arrows Flight Demonstration Team included Miramar as one of the final stops on their 2019 North American Tour along with the other performers that included the US Navy Blue Angels, the USAF F-16 Viper demo, and the Heritage Flight. Not to be outdone, the Marine MAGTF demo is impressive on its own.

Sadly, the weather did not want to cooperate and provided gray skies and rain on and off for the first two days of the event. However, that did not prevent the Marines from Miramar or the other performers from putting on an incredible show. Sunday’s show was the beautiful blue skies I had hoped for and the Marines brought out all the stops for the final day!

MCAS Miramar is a huge facility, and is located just outside of downtown San Diego, California. The static display was well stocked and the Marine Squadrons stationed at Miramar had tables and tents set up near their aircraft to sell their squadron geedunk. The display was so large that I did not even get to see the entire static ramp. Hard to believe, but the flying starts early and there was simply so much to see and do that you cannot hit it all.

I really enjoyed this show and will plan on coming back regularly now. San Diego is a fun city and I plan to post some of the tourist stops I made on this trip in another post.

The US Marines MAGTF Demo

The MAGTF (Marine Air-Ground Task Force) is a demonstration of the Marine’s air and ground forces across the missions assigned to the Marines. This includes fixed wing assets such as the KC-130 Hercules, F-35B Lightning II, and F/A-18C Hornets, tilt rotor V-22 Ospreys, and rotor assets such as the AH-1W Cobra, UH-1W Huey and massive CH-53 Sea Stallion. Armor and riflemen were also flown in to simulate ground forces.

The demo was impressive and one could not feel anything but patriotic after watching. The crowd cheered and the Marines that participated enjoyed every clap and cheer. Truly the highlight of the event.

F-35B Lightning II

At the conclusion of the MAGTF Demo, the Marines did a brief solo demonstration of the F-35B Lightning II, the STVOL version of the airframe. The F-35 is a loud aircraft, likely the loudest in service today. The “B” is no exception, but does not have the high shrill sound of the AV-8B Harrier it is replacing the in Marine fleet. The aircraft is just incredible and I enjoyed seeing the STOVL capabilities. The squadron performing was the VMFA-211 Wake Island Avengers (stationed at MCAS Yuma) and part of MAG-13 stationed at Miramar.

USAF F-16 Viper Demo and Heritage Flight

The Viper demo performed a solo demonstration of the F-16 Viper as well participated in the Heritage Flight with Planes of Fame’s F-86 Sabre.

Warbirds from Planes of Fame and CAF SoCal

Although the show is billed as a “burner” show (slang for shows that feature modern military aircraft), it also featured some of the aircraft from the Planes of Fame Museum in nearby Chino and a freshly repainted Wildcat from the CAF SoCal Wing.

Southern California Fire Fighting

Another incredible demonstration (and a first for me) was the local aerial firefighting equipment, which included the massive Erickson S-64 Skycrane. and 2 converted UH-1 Hueys. Southern California is very dry and susceptible to large wildfires. Having aerial fire fighting equipment is essential to fighting these large fires.

Royal Air Force Red Arrows

It is always a treat to see one of the European jet teams since North American tours are usually once every 10-15 years. When they announced the tour, I immediately started looking to find a location to see them. I last saw them in 2008, and they performance made a lasting impression on me. Their show is impressive and action packed. Our jet teams are fantastic due to the pure muscle and brawn of their jets. The Red Arrows are graceful and elegant, yet still have some maneuvers that impress. However, one thing that this team has over the North American jet teams is the colored smoke. It is so beautiful to see the red, white and blue trailing behind the aircraft.

One last thing about the Red Arrows. In 2008, I had the opportunity to meet several of the pilots and crew. Once again in 2019 I had the same opportunity. These men and women were nothing but friendly and happy to answer all of the questions being sent their way. They had free things to hand out to the kids and adults to better understand the team and their goodwill mission to North America. The team was under major stress and away from home for a long stretch. You would never know it given the level of professionalism presented by these fine people. I have nothing but the utmost respect for the Red Arrows and will follow them again when the opportunity arises!

US Navy Blue Angels

The Navy’s flight demonstration team, the Blue Angels were the headline act and were equally impressive as their RAF colleagues. The team was sharp and performed in some difficult skies. Not too much to say about arguably the world’s most widely recognized and respected jet team other than SIMPLY THE BEST!

US Army Golden Knights

The US Army’s parachute demonstration team performed the parachute demonstrations for the event. Some of their jumps were scrubbed due to low ceilings. However, Sunday was flawless and allowed for jumps. Two notable additions to the 2019 team was the 60th Anniversary canopies and a new jump platform, the DHC-8-300.

Around the Airfield

Sometimes you have to miss the aerial action to catch some of the fun things that happen on the ground. In this instance, I was able to catch several of the squadron vehicles delivering the next rotation of staff to the squadron tents or merchandise tucked away for sale.

More California Tail

A capture of some of the various squadron tails.