With Sequestration Grounding Blue Angels and Thunderbirds, Civilian Jet Teams Steal the (Air) Show

After years of performing at SeaFair in Seattle, the airbox was conspicuously absent of the thundering presence of the Navy’s Blue Angels. Instead, spectators were treated to a red, white and blue spectacle by a civilian jet team, the Patriots. This has become a common sight since the Navy’s Blue Angels and the USAF’s Thunderbirds stopped performing at air shows due to sequestration budget cuts. With the military teams grounded, civilian jet teams, like the Patriots and Black Diamonds, have had the opportunity to wow crowds with their unusual planes and comparable maneuvers.

Although the Patriot’s Aero-Vodochody L-39C’s can’t match the supersonic speed of the Blue Angel’s F-18’s or the Thunderbirds F-16’s, the planes unique characteristics make for a great show. The Patriot’s website details an unusual maneuver known as the Tail Slide, where the L-39 stalls and fall back toward the earth. You won’t see that at a Blue Angels or Thunderbirds show. Additionally, the slower speed of the L-39’s makes it possible for the pilots to turn around using less space, so the planes return to the show area more quickly. The L-39’s may lack the bone-rattling power of the supersonic American fighter jets, but they still have entertaining maneuvers to offer expectant crowds.

In fact, the Patriots and other civilian jet teams can duplicate many of the maneuvers expected by Blue Angels and Thunderbirds followers. Of the seven maneuvers listed on the Thunderbirds site, the Patriots show replicates six of them with accuracy. The L-39 formation completes the diamond opener and loop in their show sequence. Both shows feature an opposing knife edge maneuver and calypso, difficult two-plane formations where the planes fly close together and inverted. There are a few moves that the civilian teams can’t copy, due to their planes’ capabilities, but the non-military teams have invented some of their own formations as well. You would never see the Blue Angels draw a heart with an arrow through it, but the Patriots do it at most shows.

Another different aspect of civilian jet teams is that they have a wide variety of aircraft available for purchase, allowing them to maintain multiple types of aircraft. Although the Blue Angels showcase F-18’s and the “Fat Albert” C-130 Hercules, the Black Diamond civilian team has three different aircraft – L-39’s, Mig-17’s and a CT-33 listed on their page. An abundance of aircraft types allows the Black Diamond team to create unique maneuvers, such as their “Make a Wish Roll,” where a Mig 17 barrel rolls around the diamond formation. Many air show buffs often attend in order to see different planes, and the Black Diamond civilian team delivers more planes per show than either military jet team.

While your eardrums may not tremble when the -L39’s enter the airspace, civilian jet teams are thrilling spectators at venues across the country. As one of few alternatives while the military jet teams are grounded, the civilian teams like the Patriots have been running a full schedule of shows this year. If the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds get off the ground anytime soon, they may find new competition for airshow performances.

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