On April 26, 1946, Admiral Chester Nimitz issued a directive ordering the formation of a flight demonstration team. The purpose of this team was to boost Navy morale, demonstrate naval air power and maintain the public’s interest in Naval aviation. Admiral Nimitz also hoped to use the team to generate public and political support for the Navy to receive a larger portion of a shrinking defense budget after the conclusion of World War II.
Admiral Ralph Davison’s choice to form this team was veteran World War II ace Lieutenant Commander Roy Martin “Butch” Voris. He was given free rein to recruit the team, develop the demonstration and train the pilots. He chose three fellow flight instructors, Lt. Maurice “Wick” Wickendoll, Lt. Mel Cassidy and Lt. Cmdr Loyd Barnard, to join him and they spent many hours developing the show, perfecting the routine over the Florida Everglades so, as Voris later said, “if anything happened, just the alligators would know.”
On June 15, 1946, the team flew its first demonstration at its home base of Naval Air Station Jacksonville. The fifteen minute demonstration included an SNJ Texan painted to simulate a Japanese Zero to simulate aerial combat. In future demonstrations this aircraft was painted yellow and named the “Beetle Bomb”.
The team was initially to be called “The Blue Lancers” but the name never was accepted. Shortly after their first demonstration, one of the pilots noticed an advertisement for a New York City nightclub and suggested that the team adopt the name and, on July 21, 1946, the team officially introduced themselves as “The Blue Angels” at a demonstration in Omaha, Nebraska.
Thus begins the story of the second-oldest formally designated demonstration team in the world (second to the French Patrouille De France). In upcoming days, I’ll continue to recount the team’s history, starting with their humble beginnings and culminating with the world-famous squadron that performs nearly 70 demonstrations before 11 million people each year.