The Joint Strike Fighter may be the future of Navy and Marine Corps aviation, but Navy officials have yet to determine when a team of its most elite pilots might swap their F-18 Hornets for the next-generation fighter jet.
For about 25 years, the blue and gold F-18s of the Blue Angels have been a fixture at air shows and other events nationwide, and a spokesman for the team said it is unclear when that might change.
"That's something that is really up to the three- and four-star generals to decide," said Lt. David Tickle, a Blue Angels pilot and the team's narrator, during this past weekend's 2011 Beaufort Air Show at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.
The Navy is expected to buy about 680 JSFs to replace its and the Corps' aging fleets of F-18s, according to the Pentagon.
The Blue Angels started flying the F-18s -- each worth about $21 million -- in November 1986, when the jet replaced the A4-F Skyhawk.
The 10 F-18s flown by the Blue Angels are among the oldest in the Navy's fleet but capable of returning to combat duty aboard an aircraft carrier within 72 hours, Tickle said.
If the Blue Angels do not fly the JSF, the squadron could use the F-18 E/F Super Hornet, which the Navy deployed in 2001, according to the Blue Angels' website.
The Super Hornet is larger, can fly farther and carry more weapons than its predecessor but is less maneuverable, according to the website.
Tickle said the team feels confident flying the F-18 until a change is made.
"There is absolutely nothing wrong with the jets we're flying now," Tickle said. "They're just as capable as any of the F-18s currently being flown by Naval aviators in combat."