Why Do We Have the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds Jet Teams?

By Tom Demerly for TACAIRNET.com


Thursday, June 2 2016 was a devastating day in the U.S. military.

A total of six deaths have been reported between the Army and Navy and an additional four U.S. Army soldiers are missing from the 3rd Battalion, 16th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas.

The U.S. Army fatalities occurred in a training accident when a vehicle attempted a water crossing at the training center at Fort Hood.

The sixth service fatality on Thursday, June 2 is reported to be a member of the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Team, The Blue Angels. News media reports Capt. Jeff Kuss, U.S. Marine Corps, Blue Angel #6, Opposing Solo died when his Boeing FA-18 Hornet crashed in Smyrna, Rutherford County, Tennessee.

The losses emphasize the inherent risk of many military jobs, from the sensational roles of Air Force and Navy jet demonstration pilots to the routine job of an Army artilleryman.

These deaths raise the question, why do we have military flight demonstration teams like the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds and the U.S. Navy Blue Angels?

Flight demonstration teams inspire.

Nearly every person in the armed forces, almost without exception, can relate a personal experience about seeing the Blue Angels or the Thunderbirds when they were young. They say it was a formative experience. Many say it influenced their life decisions, educational choices and ultimately their careers.

Very few members of the military will ever serve on one of the demonstration teams, and there are many teams: the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds are the most widely recognized, but there are also F-16, FA-18, F-22, A-10 and F-35 flight demonstration teams along with the U.S. Army Golden Nights Parachute Team and the U.S. Navy Leap Frogs Parachute Teams.

These military aviation demonstration teams perform at airshows and events around the United States and the world. They inspire, entertain, educate and amaze millions of people. They also show taxpayers critical capabilities of our military and honor the legacy of our military history.


Military flight demonstration teams are expensive. And while the demonstration team members tell us repeatedly that their operations are not “stunts” but rather precision maneuvers perfected in training and employed in actual combat during conflicts around the world, there is always inherent risk in high performance aviation.

The risks inherent in precision military aviation are weighed against the vast exposure provided by these demonstration teams. History shows us that while every life lost in any military operation is tragic, that these demonstration teams have changed many peoples’ lives for the better and helped build the foundation for a better military and even a better society.

U.S. Flight Demonstration Teams usually have a motto, a mission statement. One of them reads, “…To inspire excellence in everything you do…” This extends beyond the military mission and into every aspect of the lives of people who are exposed to these demonstration teams. In this role our flight demonstration teams reach beyond just a recruiting tool. They are messengers of a better America, a direction for young people and an acknowledgement of the sacrifices that so many Americans have made in building our country and maintaining its security.



About tomdemerly (15 Articles)
Tom Demerly has written for "Outside", "Velo-News", "Bicycle Guide", "Bicycling", "Inside Triathlon", "Triathlete", "Triathlon Today!", "USA Triathlon Magazine" and many other publications. He has raced endurance events on all seven continents and climbed the highest mountain on three. Demerly is four-time Michigan USA Cycling Champion and has completed over 250 triathlons around the world, Including the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. In 1990 Demerly raced for the Nike/Velo-News/Gatorade Cycling Team in Belgium. His military experience includes being Honor Graduate from the U.S. Army Infantry School at Ft. Benning, Georgia and as a Scout Observer for Company "F", 425th INF (RANGER/AIRBORNE), Long Range Surveillance Unit.

2 Comments on Why Do We Have the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds Jet Teams?

  1. David Daughdrill // June 4, 2016 at 08:40 // Reply

    I am saddened by these deaths. Flight demonstration teams are the cream of the crop, but they too are exposed to mechanical breaks or pilot error. As close to the ground as some of the precision flying are the time to react to problems, human or mechanical.
    The remainder of deaths in rescue missions highlight the risks that are part of daily military life. Many times deaths are not in the national news. My last assignment was at Luke AFB in Arizona. There were many crashes involved in training air crews. In my basic days at Fort Lenord Wood. There were at least two deaths that I was aware of. Demonstration teams are “feel good” for the public and recruiting. They also give the local public the opportunity to see first hand what goes on at the loud neighbor.


  2. Barb Austin // June 4, 2016 at 11:21 // Reply

    So very trueTom, I have heard my husband recount many times how his dad took him to see the Thunderbirds at MacDill AFB when he was about 5 or 6 and he said “I want to do that” and his dad told him”you CAN do that” . From then on it was his only goal! He achieved it! He flew 22 years for the AF and now for Southwest. These teams have the ability to inspire generations! But what they do is dangerous ! We owe them so much! RIP brave ones!


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