The Naval Flight Demonstration Squadron’s C-130J Super Hercules, called Fat Albert, parks on the flight line at NAS Patuxent River after delivering Blue Angels pilots to the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division’s manned flight simulator Nov. 9 for a day of annual training ahead of the 2022 air show season. (U.S. Navy photo)

NAVAL AIR STATION PATUXENT RIVER, Md. – The Blue Angels, naval aviation’s flight demonstration squadron, touched down for a visit to the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) for training at the command’s headquarters in Patuxent River, Maryland, Nov. 9.

The Blues arrived from Pensacola, Florida, aboard Fat Albert, the team’s C-130J Super Hercules, before heading to NAWCAD’s manned flight simulator for a day of annual training before next year’s air show season. The visit focused on Naval Air Training and Operating Procedures Standardization (NATOPS) checks, which are an annual requirement for all naval aviators. Simulators are ideally suited for emergency procedure training because they are less risky and less costly to operate than aircraft, factors that are driving much of naval training and test in that direction.

“NAWCAD is uniquely qualified to train the Blues for unconventional and complex flight maneuvers because the simulator was built to support flight test,” said modeling and simulation tech lead, Steve Naylor. “Fleet trainers are designed to train on the fleet’s mission, but the Blue Angels’ mission is different — much of what flight test needs from the simulator can be applied to the Blue Angels’ mission.”

Engineers from NAWCAD’s Flight Vehicle Modeling and Simulation branch modified the command’s simulator with unique environmental characteristics the Blues cannot find in fleet trainers — all the way down to the Blue Angels’ distinct paint scheme. From individual air show sites to specific flight formations, with or without their piloted peers, NAWCAD’s simulator provides an almost life-like representation of air show scenarios accounting for nearly all environmental factors.

The Blue Angels demonstrate daringly tight formations and dynamic solo flight maneuvers, often close to show crowds. “Because maneuvers are close to the ground or other wingmen, some malfunctions or emergencies take on an increased risk,” said Naylor. “It is important the simulation be as accurate as possible in modeling that environment so that the emergency is dealt with correctly and in a timely manner.”

While the Blues’ pilots practiced flight maneuvers in the simulator, aircrew and safety observers rehearsed grading flight exercises and other emergency protocols from the adjoining lab.

“This was training for the ground observers too,” said Naylor. “Part of their job is to assist aircrew in the event of an emergency, so training in the simulator is invaluable.”

NAWCAD assists the Blues on more than just NATOPS training. The demonstration team also leveraged NAWCAD’s simulation facilities to prepare for differences in flight characteristics ahead of its recent transition from legacy F/A-18 Hornets to Super Hornets, something NAWCAD was well ahead of testing and training with tactical pilots from the command’s Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23.

Online, on the ground, and in the air, the warfare center pushes the envelope for the safety and advancement of all fleet aviators — Blue Angels included.