Scary/Amazing Cockpit Photograph Shows You What It’s Like to Fly with the Blue Angels


Ever wonder what it’s like to fly with the Blue Angels? Well, this photograph, taken from inside one of the planes during the Blue Angles’ practice last Thursday in Chicago, should give you some idea.

Tweeted by the Blue Angels on Saturday, the photograph was, we assume, taken by a passenger in one of the planes and not the pilot himself. We don’t know about you, but just looking at the photo scares us a bit… that is a LOT of metal moving VERY fast with almost no room for error. Incredible.

And if that’s not enough fighter jet photography madness for you, check out this behind the scenes video on the USAF Thunderbirds’ official photographer.

Image credits: Photograph by the US Navy and Marine Corps

  • Jeremy Madore

    Over a densely populated area… no privately held organization could ever get away with something like this…

  • Charlie

    of course the red arrows would go out and take the picture from the wingtip …

  • e_stone

    They are the most skilled pilots in the world, we have more realistic things to worry about killing us here like crazy taxi drivers or you know… bullets.

    Besides privately held organizations fly dangerously low over Chicago every day. Blimps, chopper tours, news choppers, small open cockpit planes pulling banners, hobby pilots, etc.

  • Norm

    Maverick was the pilot and Goose was the one taking the picture.

  • SwedishKiwi

    And people are upset about drones flying over their heads… ;)

  • Jeremy Madore

    That’s more my point of view than what e_stone used as an angle. An NYC chopper chases after a couple drones because of how “dangerous” they are (I could care less, either way) but put 5 jets over a populated city (skilled pilots are only a sliver of the equation) and people cheer.

  • Jeremy Madore

    Skilled or not, the planes are made from the same materials used in every day aircraft. Pilot skill goes out the window when physics take over due to a busted part.

    If one of these planes went down, you’d be looking at 50-200 casualties (maybe more) depending on where it happened. It’d take a lot of crazy taxi drivers to account for that.

  • p.rock

    Er….if you’re arguing the danger based on the chances of a random part malfunction…do you know how many commercial airliners fly over Chicago every day?

  • e_stone

    Still, of all the threats flying over our head every day THIS is the one you have issues with? Every weekend in Chicago there is at least one cheap POS crop duster quality plane flying over the city by a citizen pulling a “Direct TV” banner or something (plus all the other aircraft I mentioned despite your claim that no privately held organization could ever get away with something like this).

    Of the tens of thousands of cheap private aircrafts flying over us (plus the millions of larger commercial flights), you pick out the safest, most advanced, best cared for and inspected planes piloted by the best pilots in the world that only go over Chicago one time a year to have an issue with.

    Plus, should something go wrong with these insainly advanced planes that pass extensive inspections before and after each flight, planes don’t instantly drop straight down if the engine dies (or both at the same time in this case), and it would take about 10 seconds for the plane to go from the far west side of the city to open water.

    You seem like the type of person who needs to find a reason to complain about anything. Don’t be that person.

    No one likes that person.

  • e_stone

    not to mention blimps, chopper/plane tours, news choppers, small open cockpit planes pulling “Direct TV” banners, hobby pilots with 30 year old retired crop dusters, etc.

  • Vin Weathermon

    I think the lens focal length and photography angle changes the whole perspective of “how close, how near densely populated area” these guys actually were to each other and to the “background”. Not to say they weren’t close…just that the mechanics of the photograph does matter in how we perceive distance.

  • OtterMatt

    Dammit, now I’m depressed… :

  • OtterMatt

    Those small fighters are twitchy as hell, too. I never understood how they could manage them so smoothly in such complicated rolls and formations. My brain always hurts watching them.

  • Markos

    For your information, highly trained
    aerobatic pilots crash at airshows each and every year, it really is a very
    dangerous profession. But at least the shows take place at secured airfields,
    with spectators on the sidelines. To do something like this over a city
    is irresponsible.

  • e_stone

    Oh I’m well aware of that, but a large majority of the Chicago air and water show takes place over… well… water. The blue angles (and the thunderbirds the years we were able to get them) are the only ones that go over the city, and they reserve the high risk stuff like extremely low flybys to the actual show (over the lake).

    The blue angles flying in formation over the city isn’t the dangerous part of airshows. low/close flybys, dog fighting, piloting vintage planes while killing the engine, and a lot of the other moves your see at shows ARE dangerous, and people have died from that type of stuff, but that’s not what was going on over the city.

  • 1000nunsandorphans

    Just because there are other threats you can point your finger at, does not remove this threat. Bravado over a densely populated city just does not make sense. Why present a threat when it is avoidable? Have these exhibitions performed over spacious unpopulated zone at least. It is common sense, no matter how many other threats you can drum up.

  • e_stone

    As I already explain, the risky stuff (aka the real exhibition) already takes place over the lake.

    The point is, trying to ruin a long running, once a year Chicago tradition (as well as a huge tourist attraction for a cash strapped city that needs the budget boost) over an extremely minimal risk while completely turning a blind eye the MUCH more dangerous aviation activities that take place every single day over the same areas without bringing anything positive back to the city is entirely backwards.

    Very low risk + huge benefit to the city = an issue
    Much larger risk + no benefit to the city = ok

    …That doesn’t seem wrong to you?

  • Kevin Purcell

    They load up the stick with springs to reduce it’s response and smooth out the flying.

  • Kevin Purcell

    I watched them over Seattle a couple of weeks back and Blue Angle #4 (the one at the back of the diamond) is a twin seat FA-18.

    On practice flights you can see there are people in both seats (two white helmets with binoculars) in #4 though they fly only with one person for the displays.

    The shot above is taken from the position that you’d expect #4 to be in: the back of a four plane diamond.

  • ninpou_kobanashi

    They’re welcome over San Francisco as well. Last year, they had their budget cut, so I am glad to see them back in the air!

  • OtterMatt

    Oooooooh, I think I got a hernia just thinking about doing that without a G-suit. Hardcore doesn’t even start to cover it.

  • 1000nunsandorphans

    It seems like you would grasp at any straw just to ignore the fact that they are taking even one risk when they don’t have to. I can elaborate but then you will probably bring up even more unrelated, nonsensical elements. They can travel over the city separately, not 10 inches away from each other (derp). The exhibition can then be performed in a safe unpopulated area. Then cash strapped Chicago won’t go belly up as you predict (smh). Of course there are other dangers. Cars are extremely dangerous, but that doesn’t mean you should ride your unicycle on the roof of a five story house in the rain. THINK!

  • Mark Wheadon

    Now that’s Macho :D

  • Nick V

    I was thinking the same exact thing about the city below. But these guys are amazing, and I have less fear of these guys coming down than a helicopter or a passenger plane

  • e_stone

    No that’s pretty far from what I’m doing.

    You want to look at this and say “OMG there is a risk! Better kill it!” But decisions like this aren’t made off knee jerk reactions like that. By your logic, lets never attend a hockey game (people have been hit by the puck in the crowd!) ride a bike (or anything that moves) drink beer, walk down a sidewalk near a road with cars, or really go outside at all.

    Instead, you look at the legitimacy of the risk, then both compare it to the risk associated with similar activities as well as weigh that risk against the benefits of the entire situation. THIS is what I did, not just randomly grasp at unrelated events like you seem to think.

    And as far as your claim that “They can travel over the city separately, not 10 inches away from each other (derp).”… I don’t think you understand why so many people come to Chicago to see these guys every summer. If we wanted to see a single plane calmly flying around our city we would just go hang out at O’hare airport.

    Critical thinking is hard, but give it a try you might like it.

  • 1000nunsandorphans

    You did exactly what I said you would do, you grabbed at any straw you could and deflected attention away from the subject (hockey? bicycles?). And you claimed that wasn’t what you were doing. Maybe you should read your own posts? Critical thinking indeed….

    “I don’t think you understand why so many people come to Chicago to see these guys every summer. If we wanted to see a single plane calmly flying around our city we would just go hang out at O’hare airport.”

    So now you are intentionally pretending to not be able to read or understand a simple comment written in English. Here, let me quote what I actually said and you can get someone more qualified to read it to you: “They can travel over the city separately, not 10 inches away from each
    other (derp). The exhibition can then be performed in a safe unpopulated area.”

    No amount of twisted logic can remove the fact that the planes have no need or business performing high risk stunts, like the photo above, over populated areas. They can wait until the day of the show and perform them in safer areas. Period. Just because there are other risks in this world (what are you going to point out next,….cribbage?), does not mean that this needless (I repeat, needless) risk need to be undertaken. Get it through your very thick head. If the planes in the image touched each other a split second after the image was taken, there is no way they would have made it to the lake in the background. These kinds of planes do not glide, they drop. And look where they would land. Open. Your. Eyes. And stop making the lame argument that practicing safer flying protocol would mean that the show couldn’t go on, because that is just stupid.

  • e_stone


    You seem to be lost, connecting statements that are completely unrelated.

    Ok. Let me help you here. The examples like hockey and stuff were not to be compared to the activity at hand. They where examples of how your logic that anything with a “needless” risk attached to it should be killed off doesn’t work when applied to most other activities that we all accept as ok. At no point did I or would I claim that hockey and planes are related, I was simple laying out the flaw in the logic that anything with a “needless risk” shouldn’t exist. (Come on, you’re someone who visits a photography blog and yet your telling me an extremely small amount of risk isn’t worth the experience of something beautiful? Are you one of those “photographers” who views the world from the safety of your 500px feed?)

    HOWEVER the examples I previously laid out such as chopper tours and crop dusters pulling “direct TV” banners over cubs games were in fact the examples of similar activities that we can use to scale just how much risk we accept in situations that are similar to the one at hand (aka critical thinking). Read it again. Slowly. Pay attention to the reference points this time and you might be able to connect the dots. Maybe.

    I’m not really interested in participating in a debate with someone who can’t read a statement and understand what it is in reference to… so I’m out. But I’ll leave you with two thoughts.

    1.) There is a book called The Giver, read it. It’s covered in most 8th grade classes, so it might be a little challenging for you but I think you can handle it. It is about a world where they killed off anything that had any form of “needless” risk attached it. Give it a go and see if that’s the type of word you want to live in (hell maybe you do and that’s fine, but most of us don’t).

    2.) You are truly under estimating these planes. They trade paint (touch each other) all the time and are fine. They are designed to withstand direct gun fire and still make a safe landing, so rubbing up against the tip of another plane for 2 seconds has zero effect on their flightpath. There is no real worry of “If the planes in the image touched each other a split second after the image was taken, there is no way they would have made it to the lake in the background.” because they DO touch it’s other. It’s cool, they were designed for that. They wouldn’t fly so close if they didn’t expect to trade paint every now and then. The photo above isn’t high risk, it’s a standard formation that they use all the time. (also IDK if you know your way around Chicago, but no matter where you are in the city you are near the lake.)

    “Those who accept risks live shorter lives, but those who run from risk never truly live at all.” If you don’t want to accept small risks in the name of a great experience, don’t visit Chicago. We’ll be too busy truly living to notice you’re not here.

    Good day sir (or miss)

  • e_stone

    I’d give my left nut to be in that back seat.

  • e_stone

    I’ve always wondered the same thing, thanks for sharing!

  • 1000nunsandorphans

    The reason why your hockey (and other) comparisons are flawed is: you choose to go to a hockey game knowing the risks. The people going about their daily lives in the city are not expecting five supersonic jets to be performing stunts over their head. Now those that DO attend the show, also accept the risks. Is it really that hard for you to connect these dots? You keep alluding to some lie that I think the exhibitions should not happen and I want to deprive the city of such shows, when I have repeatedly said that the shows should happen in safe areas, but risky formations should not happen over the heads of the unsuspecting public. What is happening here is, you see the sense I am making but clumsily try to deflect what I am saying with nonsense, hoping no one will notice your cockamamie “thinking”.

    “You are truly under estimating these planes.”. Then explain the regularity of crashes at air shows. Please explain that without make crap up which has been your technique thus far. If they are so bulletproof, why are they regularly crashing? Why?

    I do not have A 500PX account so that swipe just missed. If you knew what I did in the world of photography you would call it anything BUT safe. You are just furthering your image of an uniformed and not very bright person.

    “Those who accept risks live shorter lives, but those who run from risk never truly live at all.”. And where this line of thinking is flawed is that in your quote it can be attributed to the pilot, while the wrongdoing in flying over the populated city, risk is applied to the unknowing public without their consent. You argue with emotion, when logic would be a better tool. Try it some day.

  • e_stone

    No one is forced to live here. Anyone who moves to Chicago accepts millions of risks way more real then your fear that fighter jets flying in a basic formation (they do this everywhere, ever gone to a football game?) will suddenly drop out of the sky. They stay here knowing full well that the risks of living in this city such as gang violence or corrupt police (for real, this crazy notion that these planes will kill us isn’t even a blimp on our radar compared to what we face every day) are well worth the excitement and lifestyle that the city offers such as, oh idk, looking out your office window and seeing these amazing planes pass in front of some of the most beautiful buildings in the world. This is a long running favorite part of the Chicago summer and stuff just like this is why we pay crazy rent and deal with so much danger to live here. Walk up to any Chicagoan during these flybys and ask them if they wish the fighter jets make them wish they weren’t above their house right now. They will look at you like you’re crazy and tell you that stuff like that isn’t a reason to leave, it’s the reason they stay here in the first place.

    Planes crash during shows because they do risky moves such as a “Sneak Pass” that involves flying only 50 feet over the ground. Again, they don’t do this over the city. It baffles me that you can’t tell the difference. They are just flying around in formation, the same formation they use to get from the airport in Indiana to Chicago. The same formation they use when they pass over football games with tens of thousands of people below them. It looks cool and scary to us, but it’s nothing close to the say stuff they do during the shows where they may crash. If they were doing sneak passes and such over the city I would agree with you, but they simple don’t.

    Demanding that this long loved and accident free practice of flying over the city in formation ends based on the knee jerk reaction of “oh that looks risky!” instead of analyzing the legitimacy of the risk and then comparing said risk to similar needless aviation activities that we consider ok is actually an EXACT example of arguing with emotion instead of logic. The irony in your last statement reaches higher then the planes you’re so afraid of.

  • 1000nunsandorphans

    I thought you were done?

    Holy lord, “no one is forced to live here”. Now you are really reaching. You are now saying that no civilian should expect any safety in any city in America……So, using your thinking, all Americans should just get up and leave where they live right now because no safety can be expected. Where will they gfo? Another city? Can you even see the lengths you will go to try to prove a flawed point? There is a big difference between daily risk (commercial planes flying overhead with every safety precaution as a first priority, gang warfare [stay out of bad neighborhoods], and getting a cribbage piece stuck in your eye [don’t be a spaz]) and an unannounced stunt with five supersonic jets laden with jet fuel performing acrobatics above the city center. And FYI, I grew up on Air Force bases around the world and always enjoy an airshow, I have seen several in many different countries. I don’t miss one when they are in town. That doesn’t negate the fact that risky maneuvers are unneeded, un called for, unnecessary and irresponsible over the unsuspecting public. Now please keep your promise and leave your full-of-holes opinion floundering on the wayside. You are wrong.

  • e_stone

    For the millionth time, THEY. WERE. NOT. DOING. RISKY. STUNTS. OVER. THE. CITY. I have no clue why you keep saying that over and over again, do you just forget things that are said to you after 10 seconds? And it’s a long running and highly promoted tradition, so I’m not sure were the
    “unannounced” and “unsuspecting public” part came from. We all don’t only know it’s coming, we look forward to it. If they were doing sneak passes or dog fighting and showed up out of the blue I’d be the first person to stand up with you and tell them to move it away from over my home and/or photo studio, but all they do is cruise around in a standard formation, make their way to over the lake to do a few simple loops every now and then, and repeat. But sure, keep ignoring that and every other thing I’ve said that makes your fear seem silly. It seams to be working for you in your own little world.

    Yes. I agree. We should be able to live here without giving up the feeling of day to day safety. (we can’t in reality, but I agree we SHOULD be able to. And FYI, there is no neighborhood here without gangs. I live in one of the best neighborhoods in the city and just last week there was a gang on gang shooting down the street. big city = lots of risk no matter how nice of a neighborhood you can afford). However the notion that one of these jets is going to suddenly drop out of the sky while flying in a basic formation simply doesn’t count as a valid fear for your day to day safety.

    You are paranoid, prone to ignoring any fact or logic that makes your fears unjust, and as you so elegantly put it… “wrong”.

    Yes, I was done, but then I got stuck on the el while heading home and your telling me to argue with logic over emotion while completely ignoring every logical statement I make that makes your fear (an emotion) based stance seem silly really amused me and I figured why not, let’s dive down the rabbit hole and see if this guy can keep me amused for my whole ride.

    Don’t worry though. I’m almost home.

    As long as one of these damn jets don’t get me first…

  • 1000nunsandorphans

    You are trying to convince people that it is necessary for the Blue Angels to perform stunts over populated areas of the city. The possibility of an accident is there because so many airshows have had accidents occur. If this isn’t true, then you admit that it is not necessary for these jets to perform stunts over populated areas of the city. If a threat of grievous damage is there in the slightest, then common sense would dictate that you remove the threat.

    Here is a scenario partly scripted by me and partly scripted by you: Blue Angels decide to practice part of their routine over inner city Chicago (as in the photo above). An engine part fails, a miscalculation happens, a bird strike disables one of the planes….whatever, and several tons of steel and volatile jet fuel plummet toward the business district. 87 people are killed. They never saw it coming.

    Fast forward to the trial: A businessman is on the stand as a witness for the defendant [Blue Angels]: ” but it was really important to our way of life to see the Blue Angels fly past our office window because we couldn’t wait for, or pay for, the ACTUAL exhibition that was being held safely over Lake Michigan….I think it was worth a measly 87 lives, moms, kids and other unsuspecting innocent citizens”

    This is you. This is what you sound like. Time to give it up pal. You are clearly wrong. Now please keep your promise and leave. Otherwise I will be compelled to keep making you look as stupid as you must be to the entire internet.

  • e_stone

    Wow… still sticking with the “Stunts” thing huh? Once again. If it was happening I’d be pissed with you. but it’s not. keep ignoring that though. It seams to be working for you.

    You scenario is very sad indeed. I agree. But that has nothing to do with the blue angels specifically, that’s a standard aviation risk that you are choosing to only care about one day a year with only one very small group of jets, even though it is a much bigger risk with all the other not “necessary” flights. Once again, the likely hood of a bird or engine issue taking a 20 million dollar blue angle designed to survive gun fire that is flown by the best pilot in the world after passing hours of inspections instead of farmer bob’s 30 year old crop duster that circles Chicago with a direct tv banner every weekend (or any of the tens of thousands of cheep private planes that fly over our heads every day with little to no problems) is so small that it doesn’t even register as a valid threat in the mind of any clear thinking person. Once again, we covered this. This logical point that makes your stance seem silly, and you’ve ignored it many times. Keep ignoring it that’s fine.

    As far as “If a threat of grievous damage is there in the slightest, then common sense would dictate that you remove the threat.” Once again, covered this already. A few times. Decisions in the real world aren’t made by saying “That looks like a threat, kill it!!!” Decisions involving risk are made by using the critical analysis thought prepossess that I keep laying out that you are either unwilling or unable (I’m guess both). But sure. Ignore that too for the millionth time.

    As far as you claiming they only fly over the city so people don’t have to pay for the real show… that’s not how this show works. There is no price, it’s free. There is no grandstand to find, you just head to one of the many beaches here. The whole city is the stage, and lake is just for the risky stuff. People don’t watch from the city because it’s cheap and easy, people watch from the city because it is the most beautiful environment to see them fly. But I’ll credit you for at least coming up with a new point that I haven’t already addressed at least twice. Congrats.

    As far as your claims of “this is what you sound like” “you are clearly
    wrong” and “I will be compelled to keep making you look as stupid as you
    must be to the entire internet.” (that one was my fave.) Let’s take a (logical) look at that
    one. Don’t worry, it might suck at first but I’m sure you’ll find a way to ignore this too and keep being “right”.

    Scroll through the comments will you? I have the #1 and #2 most up voted comments in this thread (actually in this whole comment section). The number #3 spot goes to a guy who’s comment agrees with mine. Then it’s a few more of my comments mixed with a few random off topic convos. then waaaay down at the bottom there is your most voted comment in this convo, with a solid 2 votes. Congrats. Doesn’t really seem like the general public sees you embarrassing me the same way you do. in fact it’s the exact opposite, both here and in the real world. The one year the blue angels couldn’t come to Chicago due to budget (not safety) issues, the general public here railed together to get them back. (OH NO! more logic that completely disproves your entirely personal and emotionally based statements. I sure hope you have that Ignore button handy!)

    CONGRATS! If you ignore all logic, facts, and popular opinion, you’ve won! You should celebrate by meeting up with President Romney to go see all of Leonardo Dicaprio’s Oscar trophies.