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The Blue Angels acrobatics are back (pictures)

The F/A-18 Hornets of the famed US Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron return to the skies this weekend to begin the Blue Angels' 68th season of precision flying.

James Martin
James Martin is the Managing Editor of Photography at CNET. His photos capture technology's impact on society - from the widening wealth gap in San Francisco, to the European refugee crisis and Rwanda's efforts to improve health care. From the technology pioneers of Google and Facebook, photographing Apple's Steve Jobs and Tim Cook, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Google's Sundar Pichai, to the most groundbreaking launches at Apple and NASA, his is a dream job for any documentary photography and journalist with a love for technology. Exhibited widely, syndicated and reprinted thousands of times over the years, James follows the people and places behind the technology changing our world, bringing their stories and ideas to life.
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1 of 16 Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Blue Angels in formation

Zoom! The Blue Angels fly in formation -- high, tight, and precise. The 2014 season kicks off Saturday, March 15, at Naval Air Facility El Centro, in Southern California, which the daredevil flyers call home during the winter. It'll be a welcome return to form for the team more formally known as the US Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, whose performances were grounded in 2013 because of budget cuts.

This coming season marks the Blue Angels' 68th year of flight acrobatics, and the Navy expects the squadron to perform for nearly 15 million spectators this year.

The Blue Angels have been flying the Boeing F/A-18 Hornet since the mid-1980s. During their performances, the aircraft can reach speeds of up to 700 mph -- just under Mach 1.
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2 of 16 US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Terrence Siren/Released

Delta formation over New York

Following World War II, Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, the US chief of naval operations, came up with the idea for the Blue Angels when he ordered the formation of a flight demonstration team, aiming to keep the public interested in naval aviation.

The Blue Angels performed their first flight demo in June 1946 at their home base, Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla., flying Grumman F6F Hellcats led by Lt. Cmdr. Roy "Butch" Voris. Later that same year, the squad transitioned to the Grumman F8F Bearcat and introduced their famous diamond-shaped Delta formation.

The name "Blue Angels" originated in New York in 1946 when one of the crew stumbled upon the Blue Angel nightclub in the New Yorker Magazine.

Here, the Blue Angels fly in the iconic Delta formation past the New York skyline on December 13, 2013.
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3 of 16 US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kathryn E. Macdonald/Released

Fat Albert

Eli Lang, Blue Angels crew chief aviation ordnanceman, signals to Fat Albert, a C-130 Hercules, as it arrives at NAF El Centro in preparation for the 2014 show season. The propeller-driven aircraft is assigned to the Blue Angels for logistical support, including carrying spare parts, equipment, and support personnel between shows.
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4 of 16 US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jen Blake/Released

Blue Angels pilots

Blue Angels pilots line up for the start of the demonstration at the Naval Air Station Lemoore Central Valley Air Show in 2011 as part of the Centennial of Naval Aviation celebration.
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5 of 16 Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Naval Academy graduation ceremonies

The Blue Angels fly over the US Naval Academy graduation ceremonies on May 26, 2006 in Annapolis, Md., where then-Vice President Dick Cheney spoke at the commencement.
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6 of 16 Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

San Francisco Fleet Week

As part of San Francisco Fleet Week in 2007, the Blue Angels pass in front of the Golden Gate Bridge during a practice run. This year, the Blue Angels are scheduled to return to San Francisco on October 11-12.
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7 of 16 US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Andrew Johnson/Released

Double farvel maneuver

A Blue Angels' F/A-18 Hornet flies inverted over Pensacola Beach while performing the double farvel maneuver during a practice flight demonstration before the 2011 Pensacola Beach Air Show.
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8 of 16 Screenshot/U.S. Navy

View from the cockpit

A view from the cockpit looking back toward the pilot as he flies over San Francisco during Fleet Week.
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9 of 16 Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

San Francisco skyline

An F/A-18 Hornet piloted by US Marine Corps Major Nathan Miller flies high above the San Francisco skyline leading up to the annual Fleet Week celebration in 2007.
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10 of 16 U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Todd Frantom/Released

Careful choreography

Carefully choreographed flights often put Blue Angels aircraft in a strange juxtaposition.
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11 of 16 US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Rachel McMarr/Released

Inverted over El Centro

Cmdr. Tom Frosch, from Clinton Township, Mich., commanding officer and flight leader of the US Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels, goes inverted during a winter training flight above Naval Air Facility El Centro in 2013. The photographer is inverted too.
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12 of 16 US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Andrew Johnson/Released

Aerial fueling support

The right wingman refuels an F/A-18 Hornet from a KC-135 Stratotanker.
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13 of 16 US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Andrew Johnson/Released

Fat Albert

The C-130 they call Fat Albert flies over San Francisco.
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14 of 16 U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Michael Lindsey

Altimeter in the C-130

Here's a look inside Fat Albert, as the aircraft's navigator -- a US Marine Corps staff sergeant -- sets the altimeter during routine practice approaches on a May 2013 flight.
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15 of 16 U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Marcus L. Stanley

Aviation machinery

The pilots get all the glory, but it's the mechanics who help ensure the aircraft are in top-top condition. Here a pair of aviation machinist's mates at Naval Station Mayport, Florida, perform routine maintenance on one of the squadron's F/A-18 Hornets.
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16 of 16 Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Flying in formation

In a different kind of fly-by, a pelican appears to be flying in formation with the Blue Angels' F/A-18 Hornets in this 2009 photo taken while flying above San Francisco.

The 2014 season, which begins this weekend, will conclude on November 8 at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Fla. The Blue Angels are scheduled to perform 65 shows (PDF) at 34 locations in the United States in 2014 with an expected audience of more than 15 million spectators.

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