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Local News

Blue Angels Ready For Pensacola Beach Performance

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Sandra Averhart
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The Blue Angels are presenting their annual air show over Pensacola Beach this weekend, part of Red, White and Blues Week.  The team is ready to go and looking forward to performing their first home town show since tragedy struck last month.

The Pensacola Beach Air Show marks the halfway point of the Blue Angels’ 2016 season. Navy Lt. Ryan Chamberlain is Lead Solo. The native of Bloomington, Illinois joined the elite flight demonstration squadron in 2012. At Sherman Field before their practice session on Thursday, Chamberlain acknowledged that this 70th anniversary year has been bittersweet.

“You know since 1946 we’ve been thrilling fans all around the world,” said Chamberlain. “There’s been some tough years and some great years, and certainly this has been a tough year for us as well, given the recent events.

Lt. Chamberlain is referring to the death of Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss, whose #6 jet crashed June 2 during practice for an air show in Smyrna, Tennessee. Returning home in the aftermath of that tragedy, he realized for the first time just how much the Blue Angels are treasured by the Pensacola community.

“The signs on restaurants and businesses downtown, the graffiti bridge, I mean all the things that took place by people that have no idea and no affiliation with the team other than they’re just citizens of Pensacola,” Chamberlain said.  “To have that outpouring of support and love is something I think every team member felt and was completely humbled by.”

The Blue Angels were grounded for a month after the crash and are performing just their third air show since – returning for the first time July 2-4 in Traverse City, Michigan and last weekend in Gary, Indiana.  Chamberlain says it’s their duty to carry on.  

“I knew Jeff obviously very well and the fact that he was my wingman, and he was one of those people who would want us to just sit down and not continue our mission,” said Chamberlain.  “So, our mission is so important, but more important than just one individual. So, while it’s an extremely tragic loss, we owe it to him to continue our mission and to continue inspiring young kids and adults, everywhere.”

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Credit U.S. Navy Blue Angels
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Navy Captain Jeff Kuss, who died in a crash June 2, meets with Blue Angels fans.

Chamberlain says there will be no specific tribute to Capt. Kuss during the air show, but they will fly in their “Big V” formation, where it will be clear to spectators that the #6 jet is missing.

As Solo, Chamberlain will get to show off during the performance, including what he considers his personal highlight.

“For me, it’s the sneak pass,” he says. “So, when #6 isn’t around I get to actually do two sneak passes. I won’t tell you when they’re gonna be because that’s part of the show, but those are by far the absolute most fun I get to have throughout the performance. We’re down at 50 feet doing about 715 miles per hour and when I come from behind the crowd and scare everybody, I’m at 500 feet.”

Lt. Chamberlain will continue to fly solo for a while longer, despite the announcement earlier this week that Navy Commander Frank Weisser has been selected to rejoin the team for the remainder of 2016 and the 2017 season.

He was actually one of the integral members that helped me when I tried to apply for the team. I was fortunate to serve with him back in Carrier Air Wing 9 back in 2011 and ’12 and he gave me a lot of good advice for my interview. It’s obviously very bittersweet to have him back, but we do have a history,” Chamberlain said.

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Credit Sandra Averhart
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Blue Angels pilots Navy Lt. Andrew Talbott, Lt. Ryan Chamberlain, and Marine Capt. Katie Higgins, who pilots the C-130 known as "Fat Albert."

Weisser is in town for the Pensacola Beach Air Show and will begin his training to get back up to speed in the FA/18 Hornet. He’ll train with the team beginning in August.

In addition to getting reacquainted with Weisser, the Blue Angels are also meeting with and interviewing applicants for 2017. 

This is Chamberlain’s last season with the team and will be his last performance over the waters of Pensacola Beach, which he says is one of his favorite shows of the year.