Some seasoned Blue Angels fans may have spotted an unusual sight in the past few weeks: The team's six-jet delta formation is missing a piece.
The Navy's elite demonstration team is flying a reworked routine with only five F/A-18 Hornets since returning to their air show season on July 2 following the death of their No. 6 pilot, and has asked a Blues veteran to return to the team.
The investigation into the June 3 crash that killed the opposing solo pilot, Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss, 32, is still ongoing, but a Blue Angels spokesman confirmed that the team will be flying with five pilots for time being.
"In planning for flying with five jets, the team methodically reintroduced each maneuver during airborne training sessions utilizing a rigorous and detailed training plan approved by the Chief of Naval Air Training," Lt. Joe Hontz told Navy Times.
In the mean time, the squadron has announced next year's newly chosen members and asked a former opposing solo pilot, Cmdr. Frank Weisser, to fill in for the rest of 2016 and stay on as lead solo pilot and operations officer next year, Hontz said.
Weisser previously flew as the No. 6 pilot from 2008 to 2010.
"A timetable for Cmdr. Weisser’s air show debut is dependent on his training with the team," Hontz said. "The Blue Angels will not perform with Cmdr. Weisser until the appropriate training objectives have been met so that he can integrate safely back into the demonstration."
The Blues veteran will join a team still reeling from losing Kuss during air show practice in Smyrna, Tennessee, early in the summer.
They resumed flying on July 2 at the Traverse City Air Show in Michigan after a three-week break.
"The team is proud to resume the Blue Angels mission, representing the pride and professionalism of the Navy and Marine Corps, and inspiring a culture of excellence," said boss Cmdr. Ryan Bernacchi in a June 25 statement. "Our fans and the entire air show industry have been extremely patient as we have navigated through this very difficult loss of our teammate, and for that, we will always be grateful."
Six new officers survived Blue Angels selection this month, earning a spot when the Navy's elite flight demonstration team regroups this fall after the summer show season.
Three new F/A-18 pilots, a C-130 Fat Albert pilot, an events coordinator, flight surgeon, supply officer and administrative officer were announced Saturday in a Navy release, joining the squadron's 17-officer contingent. They'll also be joined by a new executive officer.
“We were extremely fortunate to have so many qualified and motivated applicants apply for the team,” said Lt. Matt Suyderhoud, Right Wing pilot and applications officer for the 2017 team selection. “I am excited to see what next year’s team will be able to accomplish.”
The new additions:
- Navy Lt. Brandon Hempler, 32, an F/A-18E/F Super Hornet pilot from Training Squadron 22 at Naval Air Station Kingsville, Texas. The Wamego, Kansas, native graduated from Kansas State University in 2007.
- Navy Lt. Damon Kroes, 34, is an F/A-18 Hornet pilot currently instructing with Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 101 at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California. The Fremont, California, native graduated from San Diego State University in 2006.
- Navy Lt. Nate Scott, 31, is an F/A-18 Hornet pilot currently instructing with Strike Fighter Squadron 106 at Naval Air Station Oceana, Virginia. The Danville, California, native graduated from the University of Southern California in 2007.
- Marine Corps Capt. Kyle Maschner, 33, is a KC-130 Hercules pilot from 1st Marine Aircraft Wing in Okinawa, Japan. The Scottsdale, Arizona, native graduated from Northern Arizona University in 2006.
- Navy Lt. Dave Steppe, 31, will serve as events coordinator. He's an E/A-18G Growler flight officer from Electronic Attack Squadron 129 at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington. The Birgmingham, Alabama, native graduated from Auburn University in 2008.
- Navy Lt. Juan Guerra, 31, is a flight surgeon from Strike Fighter Squadron 106. He is from Ocala, Florida and graduated in 2011 from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences School of Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland.
- Navy Lt. Bryan Pace, 32, is a supply officer from Strike Fighter Squadron 101 at NAS Oceana. The Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire, native graduated from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 2010.
- Navy Lt. j.g. Timothy Hawkins is an administrative officer from Strike Fighter Squadron 143 at NAS Oceana. The Scranton, Pennsylvania, native earned his commission as a limited duty officer in 2013.
- Cmdr. Matt Kaslik, 43, an EA-6B Prowler flight officer and Woodlands, Texas, native. The 1995 Naval Academy graduate will serve as the squadron's executive officer, a non-flying post.
Unlike any other Navy squadron, Blue Angels hopefuls have to apply to join and are selected by current members following a seven-month "rush" period that culminates in a week-long visit to Pensacola for finalists.
Squadron members make their recommendations to the Chief of Naval Air Training, who sends nominations to the head of Naval Air Forces for approval.