Blue Angels to be grounded amid federal spending cuts

(CBS News) It's been nearly a month since mandatory federal spending cuts began, and they're about to claim another victim. The Navy's legendary Blue Angels are being grounded.

And now, some fans are feeling pretty blue themselves.

On Thursday, 9,200 spectators -- about twice as many as usual -- gawked at the sky above Pensacola's Naval Air Station. They were worried the day's appearance could be the year's final practice of the famed Blue Angels, naval aviators maneuvering a half-dozen F-18s in a diamond formation at top speeds of 700 miles per hour.

Special Section: The Sequester
Sequester cuts grounding Navy's Blue Angels

They're daredevils. But no one has found a way to loop around sequestration, the mandatory federal budget cuts that will ground the squadron beginning next Monday.

Navy veteran John Hunt said of the planes' grounding, "Major loss, major loss. Especially to this area, and especially to the Navy. This is a recruiting tool."

Since 1946, the Blue Angels and their acrobatic, high-speed stunts have wowed crowds and helped the Navy with its recruiting. But it's expensive public relations, and the Navy must slash $4 billion, its share of the mandatory budget cuts. Part of that is cancelling the Blue Angels' regular season, an estimated savings of $20 million.

Lt. Katie Kelly, the Blue Angels' public affairs officer, said, "Right now we are just waiting further guidance to find out what will happen for the Blue Angels practices as we go into April and May."

But the Navy's not alone. The Air Force puts on a similar air show with the Thunderbirds, elite pilots demonstrating in F-16s. The same budget cuts have forced the Air Force to cancel the remaining 20 shows in this year's Thunderbirds season.

The Blue Angels typically perform in 70 shows a year. The Navy has already canceled all four shows scheduled for April.

Troy Corter, a Blue Angels volunteer, said, "If they don't fly, if they don't do air shows, they're still going to have to practice. They've got to be ready. They've got to be ready all the time."

There's a growing chorus of complaints from fans. The Blue Angels hope to practice again next week, but, for now in air shows, budget cuts have silenced the familiar roar of aviation's best-known daredevils.

For Mark Strassmann's full "CBS This Morning" report, watch the video in the player above.

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