Aerial Demonstration Squads

Showcasing the Blue Angels, Thunderbirds and Golden Knights


For decades now, the Blue Angels, Thunderbirds and Golden Knights have been entertaining audiences and inspiring awe all over the world, making appearances at airshows, sporting events and everything in between. They are the only three aerial demonstration teams officially sanctioned by the DoD.

Last year in April, the budget constraints caused by sequestration forced all three of the special squadrons to cancel their remaining appearances. But in 2014 they'll take to the air once again, each with a full schedule already in place.

In celebration of their return – and to get you ready for the 2014 season – this post will provide a bit of history and the upcoming schedule for each group.

Blue Angels


Officially called the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels team was first assembled in 1946 when Admiral Chester Nimitz, the Chief of Naval Operations, issued a directive to create a flight exhibition team. The initial intention was to boost Navy morale, demonstrate the prowess of naval air power and to help with public interest in both the Navy and aviation in general.

These days, the group performs more than 70 shows per year in more than 35 locations all around the world for an estimated 11 million spectators. Since 1946, they've performed for more than 260 million spectators worldwide. The Blue Angels are also well-known for their charitable appearances, making special visits to schools and hospitals and talking to an additional 50,000 people every year.

These days they fly McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C/D Hornets, which are nearly combat-ready. They've come a long way since the days of the Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat in the 1940s and, to this day, they remain an iconic part of the Navy's impact on civilians. I went to my first airshow when I was 10 years old and I'll remember the stunts I saw the Blue Angels pull off for the rest of my life – coming within what seemed like inches on their knife-edge pass, flying upside-down and side-by-side in perfect formation.

Their shows are truly awe-inspiring, so I'm glad they're back in action, ready to inspire a whole new generation. 

Click here to check out their schedule for 2014.



The Thunderbirds, officially known as the U.S. Air Force Demonstration Squadron, make up one of the oldest specialized squads in the Air Force, with its origins dating all the way back to 1917 when they started out as a fully operational unit. They were officially activated as the Air Force's demonstration squadron in 1953 and have been a section of the 57th Wing at Nellis Air Force Base since 1974.

They now fly F-16 Fighting Falcons, which are well known for breaking the sound barrier, roaring past thrilled spectators at 700 miles per hour. Typical demonstrations are meant to show the maximum capabilities of the aircraft and airmen often use the phrase "loud and proud" to describe the routine.

Just like the Blue Angels, I've had the privilege of seeing them in person and feeling the power of each aircraft as they passed by. Their signature bomb burst maneuver sticks in my memory, as does their calypso pass, where one pilot flies inverted directly above the other with the tips of their tails just inches from each other.

Their shows are meant to demonstrate the skill and dedication of not only the pilots, but of all airmen serving in the armed forces. Since official recognition as a squadron in 1953, they've flown in front of more than 300 million spectators over the course of more than 4,000 demonstrations.

Click here to check out their schedule for 2014.

Golden Knights


The U.S. Army Parachute Team first formed in 1959 and was designated the Army's official aerial demonstration unit on June 1, 1961. The original goal was to help keep the military up to date on modern parachuting techniques and equipment and also supplement the Army's efforts with public relations and recruiting.

The Golden Knights operate out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina, although they're on the road about 240 days each calendar year. There are about 90 soldiers on the squad including support personnel, though the actual demonstration squadron consists of two teams of twelve: the Black Team and the Gold Team.

The nickname Golden Knights was given to the team in 1962 for two reasons: "Golden" because the team had won so many gold medals in competition and "Knights" to represent the idea of conquering the skies.

Historically speaking, they have been the most dominant group in both national and international skydiving competitions for decades. Here are some of the staggering numbers achieved in the Golden Knights' decorated history:

  • 16,000 shows in all 50 states and 48 other countries
  • 30 million spectators per year
  • 2,148 gold medals in competition
  • 1,117 silver medals
  • 693 bronze medals
  • 348 world records

We all love to see them ripping up the competition, performing aerial stunts and making TV appearances on Monday Night Football, NASCAR events and so much more, but the Golden Knights are soldiers first and foremost. They provide direct support on special missions and operations and play a huge role in free fall and parachute training for many different units within the military. 33 Golden Knights have made the ultimate sacrifice on the battlefield, and for that we celebrate the heroes that make up this world-renowned squadron.

Click here to check out their schedule for 2014.

Jake Butler

About the author: Jake Butler

Jake Butler is a staff writer at Pioneer Services who understands the challenges facing modern military families. He writes informative and entertaining pieces about military life, financial education and everything in between. Follow Jake on Google+.

Contact: Jake Butler


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