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U.S. Navy Blue Angels flying high again after 2013 grounding

(Reuters) - The U.S. Navy's Blue Angels elite aviation team famed for its crowd-pleasing daredevil stunts at public air shows, returns to the skies on Saturday after being grounded by budget cuts for much of 2013, Navy officials said.

The squadron's distinctive blue-and-gold fighter jets will perform precision aerobatics, rolling and diving through the air at the Naval Air Facility in El Centro, California, their contrails painting the skies red, white and blue.

Between 30,000 and 50,000 people are expected to attend, said Amber Lynn Daniel, a Blue Angels spokeswoman.

"What it shows is that our leadership has sent a loud and clear message that the Blue Angels are both a valuable asset for recruiting and we're also valuable in showcasing the pride and professionalism of American sailors and Marines," she said.

The Navy canceled the remaining Blue Angel performances for 2013 last April, citing "budget realities" brought about by broader federal government cutbacks.

The program costs about $40 million annually, Navy officials said last year. During the downtime, the Blue Angels continued to train at their base in Pensacola, Florida.

The Navy confirmed last fall that the Blue Angels would return to public performances this spring.

The squadron was established in 1946 with the mission of driving recruitment as the skills of Navy and Marine Corps jet pilots were put on display for the public.

The 130-person team includes members who have served in high-level tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Blue Angels are scheduled to appear at more than 30 air shows and other events around the United States for the remainder of 2014.

(Reporting By Jonathan Allen; Editing by Chris Francescani and Gunna Dickson)

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