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Nearly A Month After Crash, Blue Angels Are Back

U.S. Navy

  Almost a month after the fatal crash of their number-6 jet, the Blue Angels are gearing up to restart their 2016 performance schedule.

Practice resumed this week in the skies above NAS Pensacola in preparation for the National Cherry Festival Air Show this weekend in Traverse City, Michigan. Lt. Ryan Chamberlain, who files the Number-5 jet, calls it “rebuilding the demo.”

“We started doing our very basic maneuvers and worked up until we got up into the high show, our most dynamic show,” said Chamberlain. “We completed all the maneuvers, and now we’re just maintaining currency,”

The team was grounded and its 70th anniversary year marred when Marine Corps Capt. Jeff Kuss was killed June 2, when his F/A-18 Hornet crashed just after takeoff near Nashville, Tennessee. The team left Wednesday for Traverse City, with practice and other prep set for Thursday.

“We’re going to go up, get ourselves settled in, and start with what we call our ‘Circle on Arrival’ flight,” Chamberlain said. “Which is when get all of our local checkpoints in the local area, and they we do a practice [then] hit the ground running for the weekend.”

After Traverse City, the Blues fly in Gary, Indiana the following weekend, and then over Pensacola Beach July 16. Paolo Ghio is Executive Director of the Santa Rosa Island Authority.

“We always just had Plan-A, and Plan-A was the air show,” said Paolo Ghio, the Executive Director of the Santa Rosa Island Authority. “If they had told us the Thursday prior to the dress rehearsal show that they weren’t going to do it, we would have shut it down.”

Ghio says look for a “spectacular show” from the Blue Angels and a host of other civilian pilots in vintage aircraft. Among those breathing a huge sigh of relief are the Pensacola-area business which benefit from the annual event.

The Blue Angels’ Number-6 Hornet has not been replaced at this point. The team will fly with five aircraft in the formation for the time being. Lt. Ryan Chamberlain says two obstacles in getting the 6th Blue Angel into the air involves the logistics and time frame involved with bringing in a former Blue Angel and getting them back up to speed.

“It’s going to take about 2-3 weeks to get the person here, and probably another 2-3 [weeks], maybe even a month, to get the person up to speed where they can safely fly in the demonstration.”

The Blue Angel who pilots the Number-7 jet – who serves his first season as the program narrator – appears to be the most logical choice. But Chamberlain says there’s another, larger time frame involved there.

“While he flies next to us, he doesn’t fly in the demonstration,” said Chamberlain. “So, when he gets trained up in winter training, it takes a minimum of 120 flights for him to be ready to go in the demonstration. One hundred-20 flights is probably a three-month time frame that right now we just don’t have.”

The investigation into the crash continues by the Navy and a number of civilian agencies, including the Federal Aviation Administration. Given the history of investigations into aviation accidents, the final report likely will not be out until sometime in 2017.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.