- The Blue Angel’s yellow plane, a Grumman F8F Bearcat named Beetle Bomb. (Bill Larkins)

B​eetle Bomb: The Yellow Blue Angel

The US Navy's blue planes with gold writing have become instantly recognizable, but not all of the Blue Angels were blue.

42w ago
16.8K

Following WWII, the US Navy had a surfeit of pilots and aircraft, and the American public was still reveling in the victory over Japan. To take advantage of both, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Chester Nimitz formed what was then called the Flight Exhibition Team. The first show was flown at NAS Jacksonville in 1946 with pilots at the controls of the battle-tested Grumman F6F Hellcat.

Lt. Cmdr. Roy “Butch” Voris who organized the first Navy demonstration team, in the cockpit of a Blue Angels Bearcat (US Navy)

Lt. Cmdr. Roy “Butch” Voris who organized the first Navy demonstration team, in the cockpit of a Blue Angels Bearcat (US Navy)

In those early days, the Blues started their show by flying three Hellcats to demonstrate the formations Navy pilots employed in battle. Without warning, the group was bounced by a single North American SNJ, the Navy’s version of the T-6 Texan. This adversary aircraft was nicknamed Beetle Bomb after the Spike Jones radio character, and was painted bright yellow with a Japanese rising sun roundel, or “meatball,” painted on the side. The number zero painted on the tail referred to the Japanese Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter.

The original Beetle Bomb, a yellow North American SNJ with a “meatball” on the side and a zero on the tail. (Author unknown)

The original Beetle Bomb, a yellow North American SNJ with a “meatball” on the side and a zero on the tail. (Author unknown)

A fourth Hellcat then joined the fray, and the fighters paired up to demonstrate the Thach Weave combat maneuver and dispatch the “Japanese” interloper, trailing smoke as it went. To complete the illusion, a crew member riding in the back of the SNJ tossed out a dummy pilot in a parachute. The four Hellcats then formed up for the diamond portion of the show, a Blue Angels trademark still represented on the squadron crest.

Beetle Bomb parked with the other Blue Angel Bearcats. (US Navy)

Beetle Bomb parked with the other Blue Angel Bearcats. (US Navy)

When the Blues transitioned to the Grumman F8F Bearcat later in 1946, Beetle Bomb transitioned with them. Gone was the rising sun roundel, but the act was still the same, with Beetle Bomb attacking the dashing Navy pilots, only to be fought off by superior firepower and piloting skills. With no back seat in the Bearcat, the parachuting dummy was now dropped from a centerline pod under the fuselage, and handheld smoke bombs were replaced with a smoke generator in the tail. When the Blues transitioned to their first jets, the Grumman F9F Panther, the slower Beetle Bomb stayed on as a solo aerobatic performer. But the bright yellow Bearcat would be the last propeller-powered Blue Angel, and it was also the tragic last hurrah of Beetle Bomb.

Beetle Bomb parked among the Panthers. (Author unknown)

Beetle Bomb parked among the Panthers. (Author unknown)

During a practice show at NAS Whiting Field on April 24, 1950, Beetle Bomb was piloted by Lt. Robert Longworth, and his routine called for him to execute a roll after takeoff. For unknown reasons, Longworth didn’t complete the roll and crashed. His death marked the end of Beetle Bomb, and the end of the adversary role in the Blue Angels show. It was also the last time anything other than a blue Blue Angel would take to the skies.

© T​im Shaffer

Join In

Comments (18)

  • The things they were able to get away with in the 'good old days' of airshows. Still, that sounds like an awesome show, and though it's understandable why it was discontinued, it's also kinda surprising no one else had picked it up.

    ....I now have a compulsion to buy either a Legacy or Super Hornet to paint as "Beetle Bomb".

      9 months ago
  • Nice one. Would be great if they painted #4 in that scheme...and then tried to keep it clean.

      9 months ago
  • Back in the day we'd go to The Reno Air Races and one of the "fun demonstrations" on Saturday, mid-show, was having one of the restored B-29s (FiFi, IIRC, was the only one flying back then) fly over and do a fake "recreation" drop of a bomb over a "Japanese city" out in the infield. They'd light some gasoline in some fake rubble in the infield and the crowd would roar.

    i suspect that would never "fly" these days. Off course, Tibbets was still alive back then, so they'd bring him out and he'd be all smiles. Fun times....

      9 months ago
    • The CAF still does their Tora Tora Tora show at every show they attend. Fake Kates, Vals, and Zeros, chased by the odd P-40, F4U, or whatever they have on hand, and giant bags of gas making huge fireballs. And the Americans always win.

      I went...

      Read more
        9 months ago
    • sweet. Sounds like I need to go back to Reno sometime... maybe it's not all PC and floral-foliation?

      i went to a CAF annual show at Midland-Odessa years ago too. That was a blast. And, it might still have been "Confederate" then? Night take...

      Read more
        9 months ago
  • Did these come flat pack because they look like they came from IKEA

      9 months ago
18