Grumman and the Blue Angels

By William C. Barto, GMP Historian

Acknowledgement

This series of articles wouldn’t be possible without the assistance of the Grumman History Center, the Blue Angels Alumni Association and Mr. Tom Kaminski.

HELLCATS and BEARCATS

In 1946 Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation began a relationship with the US Navy’s Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels that lasted until late 1968. During those 22 years, the team flew the best fighters in US Navy inventory; coincidentally they were all Grumman Cats.

2001 marks the fifty-fifth anniversary of the Blue Angels, and today marks the beginning of a four-part installment on Grumman’s relationship with the Navy’s "Ambassadors in Blue".

Officially known as the US Naval Flight Demonstration Squadron, the team was created shortly after World War Two when CNO Admiral Chester W. Nimitz ordered the formation of a flight exhibition team that would showcase naval aviation. The unnamed team was formed on April 24, 1946 and performed its first flight demonstration at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida’s Craig Field, on June 15 of the same year. Led by Lt. Cmdr. Roy M. "Butch" Voris, the team was equipped with three Grumman F6F-5 Hellcats.

F6F over Bethpage, 1946

Photo courtesy of the Grumman History Center

Although the name Blue Lancers had been assigned in early July 1946, it was never accepted. On July 19, Lt. Cmdr. Voris announced the team would be known as the Blue Angels. Just two months after the first demonstration, the team transitioned to the Grumman F8F-1 Bearcat and flew their initial demonstration on August 24. In 1947 the second Flight Leader, Lt. Cmdr. Robert Clarke, added a fourth Bearcat to the formation and produced the diamond formation, which became the Blue Angel trademark. By 1949 "Blue Angels" was added to both sides of the cowl.

The Blue Angels taking delivery of their new aircraft in Bethpage, 1946. (Plant 4 in background.)

Photo courtesy of the Grumman History Center

PANTHERS

The Blue Angels began their transition to jets during the 1949 air show season and accepted brand new Grumman F9F-2 Panthers in Bethpage during July. Although they continued to perform with the F8F-1 Bearcats the team became acquainted with the F9F-2 Panther between demonstrations at NAS Corpus Christi, Texas. The Blues performed their last demonstration with the Bearcat at Madison, Wisconsin on 14 August and just six days later flew their first public display with Panther at Beaumont, Texas.

Panthers in Formation

Photo courtesy of the Grumman History Center

Although 1950 was the first full season with the Panther the outbreak of hostilities in Korea in June caused the team to be ordered back to the operational fleet on 20 July. By that December the Blue Angels had formed the nucleus of the newly established ‘Satan Kittens’ of VF-191. The squadron’s F9F-2Bs flew combat missions over the Korean peninsula from the deck of the USS Princeton (CV 37) and while deployed suffered the loss of its skipper (and former Blue Angel leader) LCDR Johnny Magda who was killed in a mission over Korea.

During October 1951 the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) directed that the Blue Angels should be reformed as a flight demonstration team. CDR Butch Voris was once again called upon to organize the team, which was officially reactivated on 25 October 1951. Once again based at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Texas, the team was equipped with the Grumman F9F-5 and flew its first display with that Panther variant in June 1952. The Panther remained assigned until December 1954, when another Grumman jet arrived.

New F9F Panthers for the Blue Angels, Bethpage, 1952

Photo courtesy of the Grumman History Center

COUGARS

The second jet the Blue Angels transitioned to was the swept-wing F9F-6 Cougar and these arrived in August of 1953. Problems developed with the –6, however, and the Blues reverted back to the F9F–5 Panther until December 1954.

Cougars in Formation

Photo courtesy of the Grumman History Center

When they acquired the newer F9F-8 model. Specifically 1955 marked not only the first year the Blues Angels flew the newer Cougar, but the team’s home base moved from Corpus Christi, Texas to Pensacola, Florida where they have been ever since. The tenth anniversary of the Blue Angels was observed in 1956 in addition to performing two demonstrations at the Grumman Calverton facility. That year also marked the first foreign demonstration in Toronto, Canada on Sept. 5. The Blue Angels continued using the F9F-8 until 12 July 1957 when they flew their last demonstration in the F9F-8 Cougar.

F8F-8T Cougar

Photo courtesy of the Grumman History Center

The F9F-8T Cougar

Ironically, though not utilized while the Blue Angels were flying single-seat Cougars, the F9F-8T replaced the team’s Lockheed TO-2 during 1957 in the utility and demonstrator role to become the final Grumman aircraft assigned to the team in 1969 when the F11F Tigers were finally retired. The jet served several purposes including providing orientation rides for members of the media and dignitaries. This Cougar served with the Blues well after their transition to the F11F-1 Tiger series.

TIGERS

The fifth and final Grumman fighter utilized by the Blue Angels was the F11F-1 Tiger series. First introduced as a "short-nose" model, this variant included an in-flight refueling probe built into the point of the nose. The second, and final, variant of the Tiger was referred to as the "long-nose". On this version, the refueling probe was displaced by additional avionics installed in the nose. Relocated to the starboard side of the nose, the redesigned probe was retractable.

"Short Nose" Tigers on the flight-line

Photo courtesy of the Blue Angeles Alumni Association

Transition to the Tiger began in mid 1957 with the "short nose" model. Differing from the earlier scheme the markings carried by the early Tigers in 1958 featured a light blue color and revised trim and lettering.

When the Blues acquired the "long-nose" version in 1959, however, the markings reverted back to the familiar paint scheme of "Blue Angel Blue and Yellow". Other modifications to this version included wing-root leading edge gloves and an upgraded engine.

The Tiger went on to serve the team for the next eleven years, longer than any other previous aircraft.

The "Boss" in flight in his "Long Nose" Tiger

Photo courtesy of the Grumman History Center

The Blue Angels flew their last performance in a Grumman fighter at NAS El Centro, California on November 17, 1968 thus ending their twenty-two year relationship with Grumman.

Restored F11F-1 at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City

photo courtesy of William C. Barto

Many restored examples of the F11F-1 Tiger displayed in Blue Angels livery exist all over the country, but the finest example can be found in the soon to reopened "Cradle of Aviation Museum" in Garden City, New York. Faithfully restored in every detail, this aircraft represents BuNo. 141832, aircraft number 5, one of the solo performers. From 1966-67 it’s pilot was Lt. Norm Gandia, USN. Mr. Gandia later became Director of Public Relations for the Grumman Aerospace Corporation in the early 1970s.


Page updated: 24 November, 2009
Thanks goes to Grumman Aircraft Corp. for this information


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