JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As many locals know, the Navy’s Blue Angels formed right here in the River City in 1946. The team has wowed crowds for generations, and united people in the spectacle of their world-famous air show.
Ron Williamson is the historian at Naval Air Station Jacksonville. He played a major role in bringing the Blue Angels aircraft to the front of the base. Every day, it greets people driving on US-17, and sailors heading into work.
“A lot of people will tell you they joined the military because they saw the Blue Angels,” Williamson said.
But to really understand this piece of our local history, we must turn our attention to Capt. Roy “Butch” Voris.
“He grabbed six or seven of his great flying buddies that he knew and said, ‘Let’s put a team together,’” Williamson said. “They tried out three or four various aircraft and decided on the Hellcat.
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And with that, the world-famous Blue Angels was born. The team practiced hard, and on June 15, 1946, performed the first public air show at Craig Field. As Williamson explains, people realized something special was happening almost immediately.
“They gave him a big trophy there at Craig Field, and it’s still at the Blue Angels headquarters over there in Pensacola today,” Williamson said. “Butch and the team came back and said, ‘I think we’re onto something here.’”
And how about that name the Blue Angels? Well, believe or not, the group almost became known as “the Navy Lancers.” Williamson said choosing the name became a contest on base, but said the group wasn’t feeling the feeling. So, they looked elsewhere.
“And they’re sitting around looking to the New Yorker Magazine, getting ready for an upcoming show,” Williamson said. “And they found an ad in there for the ‘Blue Angel Bistro’ in New York City. And the guy says, ‘That’s it! I’ve got the name.’”
So, what does it take to become a Blue Angel? Williamson said it starts with becoming a fighter pilot, and tons of flight time on FA-18s.
“So, you actually have to apply and say, ‘I’d like to be a Blue Angel,’” Williamson said. “So, there’s quite a competition therefore, and they go through your flight record, everything that you’ve done and make a selection. They are the finest of the finest air flying.”
Williamson stressed that as great as the team is in the sky, they’re some of the greatest people you’ll ever meet on land.
“Just great individuals,” Williamson said. “These are just super nice, sharp individuals. And that’s what they pick, and they’ve got the All-American Navy traditions.”
While the team has changed its moves quite a bit over the years, the one thing that hasn’t changed is the pride people feel when they look up in the sky.