A Flight of Noisy Angels

By John Wiley

Is it because of several notable USN pilots in the family, the endearing name of the team, or their exceptional skill that thrills us at a Blue Angels show? How do they compare with the stellar performances of the USAF Thunderbirds?

We didn’t have time to ponder that while watching them roar past near enough to catch some snaps with a fast camera. They were mostly a mile or more away, because all access roads were jammed with thousands trying to get onto the Point Mugu NAS for the full experience and static displays. We watched from near the closed overpass at Hwy.1 that was luckily directly beneath some of their passes. No pix of that, because they were going far too fast to do more than enjoy the thrill and roar. I did manage to get this shot of one in a steep climbing turn perhaps half a mile away.

By the time of their performance the sky was a bright solid overcast and the air had become very hazy. So this long zoom pic of them doing a beautiful tight inverted climb is way overcompensated.

Last up, a pic of one a few seconds after it passed overhead still close enough to see the tail hook extended, reminding the crowd that these pilots routinely land on carriers pounding through the open sea. If it weren’t for the heat waves and bright sky reflecting on the canopy, we’d be able to see the pilot. Do you think they’ll fly again today as scheduled?

By Max Rosenberg

Blue Angels at Point Mugu from above.

John Wiley

Written by John Wiley

John Wiley is a local pilot and longtime contributor to edhat.

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  1. Back in the 70s, they would clear all boat traffic offshore, and the Mugu-based Navy pilots would fire Sidewinders at parachuting flares, let off salvos of Zuni unguided rockets, and do a toss-bombing display. There was once even a low pass on afterburner by an Air Force SR-71. Impressive shock diamonds on that one.

    • The Sidewinder demo would start with a C-2 Greyhound turboprop making a mid-level pass, dropping a flare on a parachute. It would then bank sharply and turn to port to get out of the field of view of the missile, which was subsequently launched by a trailing F-4 Phantom making a low pass. The missile had an inert warhead, but you could often see a large splash when it finally hit the ocean, sometimes after actually hitting the flare physically, instead of just passing within the lethal radius.
      They also had A-4 Skyhawks that could carry Sidewinders, but they usually did the toss bombing display, with a live 500 pound bomb. They would toss it toward the marshes off to the west, and the announcer would count down the time to impact. You would see an orange fireball, followed by black smoke and an odd grayish cloud. Seconds later, you would hear the boom, followed by “quack, quack, quack”. Not very friendly to the wildlife, and now that area is a preserve of sorts.
      The Zunis were also fired by F-4s, and were also live ordnance. They would impact the ground adjacent to the runways, on the side away from the spectators 😉
      In those years the Blue Angels flew with Phantoms, and then Skyhawks.
      The SR-71 Blackbird itself was not supersonic, but the huge bluish and orange afterburner exhaust flames certainly were, and it shut off the burners after it climbed away.
      They were also still flying RF-8 Crusaders for reconnaissance, and would have one do a Photoflash Loop, where it would deploy flash charges as it flew a loop.

    • Full power “super” is obvious thanks to your patient clarification, MP. The action/reaction principle in physics means that for maximum thrust, a jet or rocket engine needs to be pushing air out much faster than the velocity of the vehicle. So full power probably often produces a mini sonic boom. Anyway, what a thrill to see the Blackbird pass up close like that!

    • At an airshowI watched in Seoul, Korea in the late 60s, the ROKAF was still flying F-86 Sabres as attack aircraft, and a shallow, wide V formation of 7 of them flew between blocks of multi-story apartments along the Han River, with each Sabre dropping two napalm tanks (all 7 jets simultaneously) on a sand bar in mid river. The resulting billow of flames and black smoke went up higher than the apartments. Good thing there wasn’t much wind, and the Han was wide.

  2. Trying to attend this show on Saturday was a waste of time for a lot of people – huge traffic jam on the PCH. I understand that they were checking IDs for everyone – which no doubt was most of the problem. I can remember rolling onto the base with no delay at all (and a line of sailors guiding the way) in the past. I gave up after an hour of creeping along, and pulled off on the frontage road to watch from there. Saw the Thunderbirds demo but decided not to wait another hour or so for the Blue Angels.

    • I feel your pain David! We headed to Mugu from Camarillo at 12:30 and sat in traffic that moved a few car lengths every 3-5 minutes, and saw some low/loud Thunderbird passes overhead. After Tbirds finished and more sitting in that traffic we tried a different route that online traffic showed moving. That got us 1/4 mile from the East Hwy.1 overpass to the base, which by then was blocked by police due to all on-base lots being full. They didn’t open it even after a bunch of cars started leaving. Luckily we had a much better view of the base show center, and quite a few close fast low passes including overhead. I guess there were fewer cars going to that entrance due to Hwy.1 storm closure. Would’ve been nice to see the static displays and stand on the ramp and watch both teams at show-central, but it was still well worth the traffic to see what we did. More comfy in a car with family, than standing on the hot ramp too. 🙂

  3. I was lucky enough to work at Pt. Mugu in the 80″ and 90’S at the Electronic Warfare Laboratories, Air Nat’l Guard and a slew of other projects at Mugu.
    My 2 favorite things working there were the days before the Blue Angels show and watch them practice.
    When you see them inverted 30 ft. over the tarmac just playing around you learn a real appreciation for jet pilots and the program.
    Other thing would be Reagan coming into town and that it self was it’s own cluster so…
    Actually, access to the surf there was the best perk.

    • Bio-sensor commands were in testing years ago, and there’s probably voice command capability by now. Maybe some reluctance to rely on any of that in a dogfight, especially when the pilot’s crushed in a max-G maneuver. Also wasn’t there something about the plane taking over if it detects temporary pilot incapacity? Could they use a hybrid system where drone controllers take over while the pilot is in max-G survival mode during a maneuver?

    • Bio-sensor commands were in testing years ago, and there’s probably voice command capability by now. Maybe some reluctance to rely on any of that in a dogfight, especially when the pilot’s crushed in a max-G maneuver. Also wasn’t there something about the plane taking over if it detects temporary pilot incapacity? Could they use a hybrid system where drone controllers take over while the pilot is in max-G survival mode during a maneuver?

    • There are systems to recover the aircraft to a safe flight regime if it is likely the pilot has succumbed to G-induced Loss of Consciousness (GLOC).
      Way back when, the Stuka had an analog system that would automatically pull it out of its steep dive after bomb release, pulling something like 5G.

    • Ton numbers are mentioned in some reports of pilot “weight” at fighter aircraft design G limits. A 180lb. pilot x 7G = .63 ton. Wiki says the F-22 is rated +9.0/−3.0G = .81 ton for that pilot. Given the physical demands on the pilot, most probably weigh more with the required muscle mass. Also add the helmet, pressure suit and other gear the pilot’s wearing. Would be interesting for a pilot to lift their arm and reach a control while pulling human max G.

    • Speaking of performance, I once watched a semi-sanitized classified video from the head-up display of an older F/A-18C Hornet, wherein a pair of them intercepted a Libyan MiG-25 Foxbat over the Gulf of Sidra. Some of the information on the HUD was redacted so you couldn’t see actual numbers or all the types of information displayed, but you could tell just by the timing that their performance was impressive.
      The Hornets started out in the weeds at low level flying head-on toward the Foxbat, which had poor lookdown radar performance. They pulled into a near-vertical climb, at >90 degrees, so that they would travel somewhat in the same direction as the Foxbat as they climbed, and look like near-stationary objects relative to the Foxbat’s pulse-doppler radar, which keys on fast movers.
      When they rolled out and pulled level at the top of their climb, they were right behind the Foxbat, which has really poor visibility to the sides and rear. One Hornet, the one filming, remained behind while the other one gradually pulled up alongside the Foxbat. You could tell when the Libyan pilot saw the Hornet beside him, because the Foxbat suddenly did a wobble like it had hit severe turbulence.

  4. Another demo they would do at Mugu in the F-14 Tomcat era was to show off its low-speed controllability. The F-14 would come in low and slow, flaps and gear down and wings forward, touch first the left wheel only to the runway, then the right wheel only, and then hit the afterburners, fold everything up, and climb steeply away.

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