Navy “Blue Angels” Vs Air Force “Thunderbirds”

Table of Content

Blue Angels: History and Background

The formation and establishment of flight exhibition squad was demanded and ordered by Chester W. Nimitz at the end of World War II. At that time, Nimitz was the head or chief of naval operations. The reason of the formation of the flight demonstration team was to maintain public in naval aviation interests. The squad established the name “Blue Angels”. The first flight demonstration of the Blue Angels was presented at Naval Air Station located at Jacksonville Florida. It happened on the month of June 1946 and was led by Lt. Cmdr. Roy Voris in a Grumman F6F Hellcat. The legendary diamond formation was introduced in 1947 after the evolution of F6F Hellcat to F8F Bearcat. It was led by Lt. Cmdr. Robert Clarke.

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There had been many changes with the aircraft being used by the Blue Angels. From The F8F Bearcat, on the late 1940 it was changed to F9F-2 Panther. It was changed as response to requirements on Navy in the Korean clash. They also used the F9F-5 Panther, the F9F-8 Cougar and F11F-1 Tiger under Grumman. In the nest few years, they adopted the McDonnell Douglas F-4J Phantom II and A-4F Skyhawk II. Until F/A- 18 Hornet, a dual role fighter/attack aircraft, currently providing the first lines of defense(Angels, 2007).

Thunderbirds: History and Background
“Thunderbirds” development and establishment were prior to the call for a demonstration team in the air force. The establishment was made in May of 1953.  It was on the Luke air force base that was located in Arizona provides shelter for the established squad in the name of “Thunderbirds” which name was adapted from “3600th air demonstration unit”. The name “Thunderbirds” was influenced by Indian legend pertaining to a bird, a hawk or an eagle. The troop was interrelating with the bird of fear and respect thus possessing the name “Thunderbirds”.

On its first flight, the squad was composed of seven officers and twenty two men from the Luke air force base. Dick Catledge led the first demonstration squad of the “Thunderbirds”. The “Thunderbirds” also passed through improvement and transition of aircraft being used.  F-84F Thunderstreak, F-100 Super Sabre, F-105B, F-4 T-38 were only some of its preferences. And in the present days, it was using the F-16 Falcons. The F16 achieved its longest period of use in the hand of the Thunderbirds having been in used 20 years(Thunderbirds, 2007).

Blue Angels and Thunderbirds: Compare and Contrast

            Flying an aircraft may lead to danger and accident. Even though troops have systematic and strategic trainings, danger and accident cannot be control. The accident was not only cause by human error or pilot error. There are lots of factors that would cause unexpected crashes in any flight.

            Thunderbirds and Blue Angels were known to have superb and amazing demonstrations. But we don’t even know how much they will meet their dangers. Even though as we all know they probably have the greatest practice modes and strategies among any demonstration and exhibition teams, still there are accounts and experiences on accidents. With regards with the accidents and dangers, I would try to compare the two outstanding aviation squads in terms of safety and low accident acquired.

            Let me start with the Blue Angels. Since the first establishment of teams of Blue Angels, 262 pilots were recorded to maneuver with the group. In the past service years of Blue Angels, it as recorded that 26 pilots from the squad were killed in air combats or air demonstrations. As regarded on the numbers of killed members, the fatality rate of the squad was reported as ten percent.

Here are some of the accounts of Blue Angels incidents in air demonstrations. The first accident happened on September in the year of 1946 while the troop was performing. Lt. Robinson was killed due the broken wingtip of the Bearcat. In 1952, the collision of two aircraft in a show killed one pilot. In an international show in Toronto on 1966, another pilot in the name of Dick Oliver died of a crash. It was followed on 1985 where also a pilot was killed due to aircraft collision. The latest was the South Carolina crash killing Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Davis. It was on April 21, 2007(Wikimedia Foundation, 2007a). These accidents were only some of the accounts of killings in Blue Angels Activities. It was not even stated here the numbers of injured pilots even those innocents.

            After knowing the accounts of accidents in the Blue Angels squads, we will also review the about Thunderbirds. Over the past few years of service on the Air Force Thunderbirds, the squad had totaled over 4000 numbers of worldwide demonstrations. In air shows and demonstrations, the team had accumulated two fatal crashes.

            The first fatal crash was on June 4, 1972 at Dulles airport. It was during the air exhibition Transpo 72. The loss of power of the aircraft was the main cause of the crash that killed Major Joe Howard. The second fatal crash occurred at Utah last May 9, 1981. The incident happened before the landing of the aircraft where the engine starts to malfunction and was put on a fire. This event brings death to Captain David Hauck but does not involve other casualties. There were also other accidents on the troops of Thunderbirds; 18 pilots were recorded to die of jets accidents. But these jet accidents do not merely happened during air shows hence it was during missions and other Thunderbirds activities. The worst recorded training crash was the Diamond crash.  4 pilots were killed in the name of Maj. Lowry, Capt. Mays, Capt. Peterson and Capt. Melancon while they were practicing the legendary diamond formation(Wikimedia Foundation, 2007b).

            As compared the accidents and crashes on each squad, we could possibly made an argument based from it. Comparing the numbers of killed pilots, the Blue Angels had figuratively much close to danger. The number of killed pilots would rather depict how pilots from each troop were being trained or how maintenance personnel take care of the aircrafts.

            To also have comparison between Thunderbirds and Blue Angels, we should also review how aircrafts were being manage and how the would maintenance personnel. Both squads have the same maintenance procedures for their aircraft. Both have the same numbers of personnel to maintain and manage the aircraft.

            Hiring for maintenance personnel almost has the same qualifications for both the thunderbirds and blue angels. Much knowledge is an initial requirement; knowledge which are prior to the overall aircraft systems. He must also know the concepts and applications of directives. He must conduct the proper guidelines in disposal of hazardous waste and materials. For the Thunderbirds, a maintenance personnel must be an experienced F-16 maintenance while for Blue Angels, experienced in F/A-18 maintenance is required(, 2007).

            Thunderbirds and Blue Angels having known their differences and similarities still they were both capable of serving United States. Whatever their weaknesses and strengths, they were still needed by the country. For them to impress the public, they should not only do amazing maneuvers with their aircraft hence they should make ways to enhance they team or squad not to keep on loosing their members.


Angels, B. (2007). History [Electronic Version]. Retrieved September 20, 2007 from

Thunderbirds, U. S. A. F. (2007). History [Electronic Version]. Retrieved September 20, 2007 from

Wikimedia Foundation, I. (2007a). Blue Angels [Electronic Version]. Retrieved September 21, 2007 from

Wikimedia Foundation, I. (2007b). U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds [Electronic Version]. Retrieved September 21, 2007 from (2007). AGR VACANCY ANNOUNCEMENT [Electronic Version]. Retrieved Septemebr 21, 2007 from

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Navy “Blue Angels” Vs Air Force “Thunderbirds”. (2017, Apr 14). Retrieved from

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