The Blue Angels are known for the iconic blue and yellow color scheme on their F-18 Super Hornets. But they’ve flown over a dozen other planes, too.

The team changes their flagship plane after every few years.

Presently, it’s speculated they might adopt the new F-35, but it remains to be announced.

Becoming a member of the Blue Angels is a long and rigorous process, with candidates having to provide personal statements and letters of recommendation and complete specific aviation achievements.

Those who are selected serve for 2 to 3 years if they’re enlisted personnel, and 3 to 4 years if they’re officers.

Ultimately, all Blue Angels members return to their branch of the military after completing their service. 

The Blue Angels Fly F/A-18 Super Hornets

Presently, the Blue Angels primarily fly F/A-18 Super Hornets.

But before that, they flew the following planes:

Grumman F6F Hellcat

The Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat was the first plane flown by the Blue Angels.

They chose this plane because it was considered the most successful fighter of its time.

The Hellcat was used by the US Air Force and Navy, along with the French and Royal Navies.

The F6F-5 Hellcat had a massive engine with stubby wings and easily flew off aircraft carriers, which made it an excellent navy display aircraft. 

Grumman F8F-1 Bearcat

The Grumman F8F-1 Bearcat was the first aircraft to bear the Blue Angel’s name.

It would also be their last propeller-based aircraft.

This plane was introduced in 1945, near the end of WWII.

It was mostly used by the US Navy and Marine Corp, along with the French and Royal Thai navies.

The Blue Angels also adopted their iconic blue and yellow color scheme after adopting the Bearcat in 1946. 

Grumman F9F-2/5 Panther

The Grumman F9F – 2/5 Panther was the Blue Angel’s first jet aircraft.

The Panther has been used by the US Navy and Marine Corp, along with the Argentine Navy.

They adopted it in 1949, but it was disbanded only a year later because of the Korean War, only to be reactivated in 1951.

The Blue Angels would go on to fly the Panther until 1955. 

Grumman F9F-8 Cougar

The Grumman F9F-8 Cougar was based on the previous Panther, but it had a more swept-wing design and a better engine.

This plane was used by the US Navy and Marine Corp, along with the Argentine Navy.

Most importantly, the Cougar had a lower stall speed and better controls, which were better suited for the Blue Angels stunts.

The team adopted the Cougar in 1954 and continued using it until 1957. 

Grumman F11F-1 Tiger

The Blue Angels introduced the Grumman F11F-1 mid-season in 1957.

It was their first supersonic aircraft.

The team could fly the Tiger higher and in closer formations than before.

This plane also let them perform new maneuvers like the famous Dirty Loop. The Blue Angels continued flying with the Tiger until 1968. 

McDonnell Douglas F-4J Phantom II

The Blue Angels adopted the McDonnell Douglas F-4J Phantom II in 1969.

The Phantom is almost exclusively used by the US Navy.

It was the Blue Angels’ first two-seater aircraft, and it remains the only plane flown by both the Blue Angels and the Air Force Thunderbirds.

Adopting the Phantom gave the team the ability to experiment with additional maneuvers, and they used this plane until 1974. 

Douglas A-4F Skyhawk

The Blue Angels adopted the Douglas Skyhawk in 1954 during their winter training season.

This plane is a single-seat subsonic carrier that was mostly used by the US Navy and the Argentine and Israeli Air Forces.

This plane was finally retired in 1986, making it the Blue Angel’s longest-flown aircraft. 

McDonnell Douglass/Boeing F/A-18A/B Hornet

The Blue Angels use the McDonnell Douglas/Boeing F/1-18A/B Hornet today.

They first adopted this aircraft in 1986.

This plane has historically been used by the US Navy, the US Marine Corp, the Royal Australian Air Force, and the Spanish Air Force.

The Blue Angels adopted this plane because it’s the world’s first purpose-built dual-role fighter aircraft, and it’s even used by the US Navy and Marine Corp. 

Blue Angels Planes Are Pretty Fast

The Blue Angels planes fly between 120 mph/193 km/h and 700 mph.

The exact speed depends on the airplane.

They usually fly their Super Hornets at just under 700 mph/1,126 km/h.

Blue Angels Planes Are Expensive to Operate

Since the Blue Angels normally fly six planes at a time, their operational costs are between $60,000 and $80,000 per hour.

The Planes Can Fly Pretty Far

The Blue Angels can fly 700 miles with a single fuel tank.

But, most of their planes also carry an external centerline fuel pod that adds another 300 miles.

So, the farthest distance the Blue Angels can fly is 1,000 miles. 

Blue Angels Pilots Make Good Money

A Blue Angels pilot earns the same salary as any other service member.

So, a Blue Angels pilot with between 12 and 14 years of flying experience receives $96,800 annually or $8,066.70 monthly. 

Becoming a Blue Angels Pilot is Hard

Blue Angels pilots are chosen via a formal application process.

A candidate applies for the position through their chain of command, which involves submitting a personal statement, letters of recommendation, and flight records. 

A candidate from the US Navy or Marine Corp needs at least 1,250 tactical jet hours, in addition to being carrier-qualified, to qualify.

The application and evaluation processes start in March and go through early July. 

Current members secretly vote for the next year’s officers.

A candidate must secure unanimous votes to succeed. 

Being a Blue Angels Pilot is Temporary

A Blue Angels officer normally serves between 2 and 3 years.

Enlisted personnel serve longer for 3 to 4 years.

Both return to regular duty after finishing their time with the Blue Angels. 

What Planes Do the Thunderbirds Fly?

The US Air Force Thunderbirds fly single-engine F-16 Fighting Falcons with their iconic red, white, and blue color. 

In conclusion:

  • The Blue Angels have flown a variety of aircraft since their inception.
  • Currently, the Blue Angels fly the F-18 Super Hornet, which remains their flagship aircraft.
  • It is speculated that the Blue Angels will switch to the newer F-35 in the near future. 
  • The Blue Angels have a rigorous application process that requires officers to win the unanimous approval of current members.
  • Enlisted personnel with the Blue Angels normally serve for 2 to 3 years, while officers serve for 3 to 4 years. 

Helen Krasner holds a PPL(A), with 15 years experience flying fixed-wing aircraft; a PPL(H), with 13 years experience flying helicopters; and a CPL(H), Helicopter Instructor Rating, with 12 years working as a helicopter instructor.

Helen is an accomplished aviation writer with 12 years of experience, having authored several books and published numerous articles while also serving as the Editor of the BWPA (British Women Pilots Association) newsletter, with her excellent work having been recognized with her nomination of the “Aviation Journalist of the Year” award.

Helen has won the “Dawn to Dusk” International Flying Competition, along with the best all-female competitors, three times with her copilot.