The Blue Angels Are Switching to “New” Jets in 2021

The world-famous acrobatic team is transitioning from older Hornets to newer, but not exactly new, Super Hornets.

Blue Angels Air Show Live
Ed PerlsteinGetty Images

The Blue Angels are getting new jets for their 75th anniversary—kind of.

The Navy's flight demonstration team will move from the older F/A-18C Hornet to the newer F/A-18E/F Super Hornet for the 2021 flight show season. Pilots and engineers are already at work exploring what modifications are necessary for the Super Hornet to take over the job of entertaining millions of spectators at air and naval shows.

The Blue Angels got started and have flown a variety of planes, from the Grumman F-6F Hellcat to the current F/A-18 Hornet. The Blues typically fly whatever aircraft is the mainstay of the American aircraft carrier fleet at the time. Super Hornets are the most recent upgrade of the F/A-18, which has been flying with the Navy in some form for 35 years. The Super Hornets joined the fleet in the late 1990s and will continue to fly from aircraft carrier flight decks into the 2030s, so it makes sense they'd become the plane of the Angels.

The Super Hornets that join the demonstration group will be older aircraft that have already served with the U.S. Navy. The Blues will receive , early production aircraft that have spent their lives as test aircraft or are in storage after a lengthy career. The team will receive 9 single-seat F/A-18E jets and two two-seaters. The team uses the two-seat planes to take VIPs, including local government officials and members of the press.

U.S. Navy Conducts Flight Operations in Mediterranean
F/A-18E Super Hornet from Strike Fighter Squadron 31, "Tomcatters", taking off from the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan.
U.S. NavyGetty Images

It will cost the U.S. Navy nearly $90 million to design and implement necessary modifications to the aircraft, including smoke generators and adjustments to the aircraft’s flight control software. Super Hornets destined for the Blue Angels also will feature changes to allow pilots “more situational awareness and faster access to critical flight information.” However, the warplanes will lose none of their lethal punch. The Blue Angels are required to make sure their jets can be ready for combat within 72 hours.

Blue Angel pilots will continue to fly without the G-suits that other military pilots wear into battle. Designed to counteract the pooling of blood in the body that could cause pilots to black out during extreme, high-G maneuvers, the suits interfere with the unique flight control setup on team aircraft. Each team fighter jet is fitted with a 40-pound tensioned spring to the flight controls, requiring constant pressure by the pilot throughout the flight. This removes any possibility of play in the controls, allowing pilots to fly within inches of one another.

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