Home » Aviation » After Years of Waiting, Blue Angels Set for ‘Super’ Upgrade

After Years of Waiting, Blue Angels Set for ‘Super’ Upgrade

The US Navy flight demonstration squadron, the Blue Angels, perform during the Vectren Dayton Air Show in Dayton, Ohio on June 23, 2018. US Navy Photo

The world-famous U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron — the Blue Angels — is set for a major change following a Monday $17 million contract award.

Boeing was awarded the contract to retrofit nine Block 1 F/A-18E Super Hornets and two Block 1 F/A-18F Super Hornets for the team from the current crop of F/A-18C/D fighters. Typically the squadron has a total of 11 fighters, according to information from the Navy.

The work will convert the operational Super Hornets with the equipment and tweaks required for aircraft to be used by the demonstration team.

Among the differences between the fighters flown by the Blue Angels and those deployed to the fleet are Blue Angels F/A-18s have their nose cannons removed and replaced with smoke-oil tanks. Old paint is stripped off and the fighters are painted in the distinct blue and gold livery. A civilian instrumentation landing system is put in each plane and each cockpit has a spring installed on the stick to maintain a constant seven pounds of forward pressure to enable improved formation and inverted flying.

“Otherwise, the aircraft that the squadron flies are the same as those in the fleet,” according to the Blue Angels fact sheet. “Each Blue Angel aircraft is capable of being returned to combat duty aboard an aircraft carrier within 72 hours.”

The upgrades needed to turn a ready-for-combat duty Super Hornet into an elite flight demonstration aircraft, though, are not so simple as plugging in some extra components, USNI News understands.

F/A-18 E/F versions do not have a lot of extra space, so finding a place for the smoke system has proved to be a daunting task. The legacy smoke system didn’t quite fit into a Super Hornet nose. In 2016, under a $12 million engineering and design contract, Navy and Boeing engineers started working on solving this issue and others related to reconfiguring the cockpit and installing inverted flight systems, according to Boeing.

The Blue Angels’ Super Hornets will be retrofitted at Boeing’s St. Louis facility and is expected to be completed by December 2021, according to the Department of Defense contract announcement.

This will be the 11th airframe change for the demonstration team since its founding in 1946. The team transitioned to the F/A-18A/B model on the Blue Angel’s 40th anniversary in 1986 from the Douglas A-4F Skyhawk II.

The following is the full Department of Defense contract announcement:

The Boeing Co., St. Louis, Missouri, is being awarded $17,002,107 for firm-fixed-price delivery order N0001918F2654 against a previously issued basic ordering agreement (N00019-16-G-0001). This order is for the retrofit documentation and kits to convert nine F/A-18E and two F/A-18F aircraft into a Blue Angel configuration in accordance with engineering change proposal 6480. Work will be performed in St. Louis, Missouri, and is expected to be completed in December 2021. Fiscal 2018 aircraft procurement (Navy) funds in the amount of $17,002,107 will be obligated at time of award, none of which will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Maryland, is the contracting activity.

  • Ed L

    I always liked the Blue Angels when they flew the A-4 Skyhawks

    • muzzleloader

      I first saw the Angels in 1972 at an air show in Columbus Ohio, and they were still in the F-4 Phantom.
      Talk about loud!

      • Kypros

        I remember seeing them when they had their F-4’s too, You could see them, hear them and….FEEL them as they flew by. Awesome!

        • Rocco

          Nothing like it. I have a picture of the Black bunny Phantom breaking the sound barrier under 100′ off the runway .

          • John Drake

            Point Mugu

          • muzzleloader


          • Rocco


      • Rocco

        Well my Carrier had Phantoms . Nothing louder than 2 of them taking off the bow staggered in AB!! Now that’s earth shattering loud Standing in the middle.

    • Rocco

      When we came back from deployment on my Carrier the Blue Angles gave us a personal airshow in A-4’s!! Best show I’ve seen yet. 100′ off the Flight deck. Took pictures with my 110 camera at the time & still have them!!

  • Bill S

    So it’s going to take until 2021 for them to retrofit the jets but according to the article they can undo it all and have them ready to go back on a carrier in 3 days. What the heck?

    • Will Caruthers

      No, it’s going to take until 2021 to finish refitting all eleven fighters from F/A-18C/D versions to ten E versions and one F. Lots of upgrades there. The 72 hour from flight show to combat ready conversion involves replacing the nose cannon, the instrument landing system, and removing the constant pressure spring on the stick. I’d imagine you’d lose the blue and gold paint job as well. The time span for refit and the timespan for combat conversion involve two very different processes.

      • RDF

        To carrierise any fleet aircraft takes a few hours maintenance for oleo and tire pressure changes. Dashpot pressures. I think the Navy means in all seriousness, they could land aboard in 72.

      • NsTiG8r

        It is confusing in the way the author wrote it, but I believe that the 11 F/A-18C/D aircraft currently flown by the Blue Angels will be replaced by 9 F/A-18E Block 1 and 2 F/A-18F Block 1 Super Hornets. The retrofit is converting the 11 ready for combat Super Hornets to elite flight e demonstration aircraft.

        • Rocco

          Correct!! & The Marines will get those C& D aircraft.

      • Kyle

        Impossible to upgrade a C/D to an E/F. Completely different airframe. They are retrofitting E/F lot 1’s.

  • DaSaint

    Ben, sometimes your writing style drives me crazy!

    Typically, the ‘Block’ designation, comes after the aircraft nomenclature: F/A-18E Block 1 Super Hornets as opposed to ‘Block 1 F/A-18E Super Hornets’.

    Also, this sentence makes no sense: Boeing was awarded the contract to retrofit nine Block 1 F/A-18E Super Hornets and two Block 1 F/A-18F Super Hornets for the team from the current crop of F/A-18C/D fighters. Did you mean: Boeing was awarded the contract to retrofit nine F/A-18E Block 1 Super Hornets and two F/A-18F Block 1 Super Hornets for the Blue Angels so they can transition from the current crop of F/A-18 C/D Hornets?

    • Rocco


  • Duane

    A question here for naval aviator historians: why did the Navy stop painting its fighters blue?

    Personally, I like the “Navy blue” paint scheme as used by the Blue Angels, but I’m guessing there are practical reasons for not using blue as the Navy used to use decades ago.

    • Brent Leatherman

      The gray paint scheme used now makes it harder to see the aircraft.

      • Duane

        That sounds plausible, certainly. But blue aircraft were just as easy to see in the 1930s through 1950s, so I am more interested in learning what specifically happened that changed the Navy’s mind on aircraft paint schemes. In the age of long range sensors and BVR air combat, visual ID is not very relevent any more.

        • Spectreoneone

          Except that visual ID is still extremely important and relevant. BVR engagements are still the exception to the rule. Yes, every single modern military air force in the world is capable of some sort of BVR engagement or another; it’s been that way for decades, however visual identification is still achieved prior to uncaging missiles under most circumstances. Any sort of paint scheme or mechanism (see Yehudi Lights, for example) that can decrease the chances of visual identification/detection also increases survivability. If you combine this with other methods of lowering an aircraft’s signature (on any spectrum), it starts to compound on itself. If this weren’t the case, militaries wouldn’t waste loads of time on painting their aircraft in elaborate counter-shaded and camouflaged patterns, especially theater-specific ones.

          • Rocco

            So with that analysis how do you explain the F-117? The Blk Bird A-12/SR-71??

          • Spectreoneone

            The paint for those aircraft were highly specialized paints designed for their specific flight regimes. Yes, they are VERY easy to spot, which is why the Nighthawk operated almost exclusively at night. The Air Force did in fact experiment with gray-painted F-117s towards the end of their service life, though. The Blackbird was painted black because the paint was specifically designed to withstand the friction heating of high supersonic flight, and its flight regime maintained very high altitudes (the latter being a reason that the U-2 is also painted black).

          • Duane

            Your argument does not hold water except in peacetime when nobody is shooting anyway. In 21st century aerial warfare, he who shoots first wins. If you wait to shoot until you can visually identify an enemy in wartime, then you just died for your country.

            That is why we are spending hundreds of billions developing, building, and flying 5th gen stealthy aircraft that shoot first, from BVR, and don’t bother asking questions at all. That is why we are also spending many billions more on installing upgraded long range AESA radars on legacy fourth gen aircraft, and longer ranged AAMs.

            In 21st century aerial warfare, not the anti insurgent stuff of the last 17 years, if a pilot finds himself in a short range air to air battle, he done effed up. You never want to engage in a fair fight … you always want to kill the bad guy before the bad guy even knows you are in the neighborhood.

            That is the whole point of the F-35 … and explains why the F-35 is effectively undefeatable by fourth gen fighters in air to air combat exercises.

        • Rocco

          Easy to spot

    • citizen

      Might have to do with nuclear blast/flash,but I may be wrong

    • Rocco

      That blue went out in the 50’s with the F-9’cougar & Panthers.

  • Curtis Conway

    Good move. It’s about time.

    • PolicyWonk

      Indeed. The Blue Angels are one of the most effective recruiting tools the USN has for attracting people into naval aviation careers.

    • Rocco

      Agreed this should of been done long time ago. I guess it’s the right thing to do with the age & hours on the jets we don’t need a mishap at an air show.

      • Curtis Conway

        Had too many already.

        • Rocco


  • tim

    Ok … in the grand scheme $17mio seems reasonable – good job!
    On the other hand, why not transition to stealth aircraft? We could just be told they are doing an inverted V formation, we just can’t see them. That would be impressive, would it not? 😂

    • Rocco



    My (overly?) simple solution … go back to the A-4 Super Fox. Cheap to operate and easy to maintain. IMO, those little “Scooters” that sprung from the genius of Ed Heinemann provided the best shows of the jet age. They could stay “in close” with the crowd, use the vertical during a show as well as any other aircraft, and in general looked great in a tight formation while going overhead. Q.E.D.

    *sigh* … just an ol’ man’s wishful thinking …

    • Rocco

      Copy that Sir!! If only it had AB!!

  • Donk

    72 hours to convert back to a combat aircraft, but 3 years to convert to a demonstration aircraft in 2021. Now that is what I call efficiency.

    • Dave_TX

      For $12M Boeing is assigning one technician to do the work.

  • Ruckweiler

    The Blue Angels use their aircraft HARD! Glad to hear that they are upgrading.