After Crash, Blue Angels Focus on Safety for Five-Jet Formation

The Blue Angels, the Navy's flight demonstration squadron, soar in the five-plan configuration at the Pensacola Beach Air Show in Pensacola, Fla., July 14, 2016. (Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Ian Cotter)
The Blue Angels, the Navy's flight demonstration squadron, soar in the five-plan configuration at the Pensacola Beach Air Show in Pensacola, Fla., July 14, 2016. (Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Ian Cotter)

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- The Navy's Blue Angels this weekend will perform their only non-continental U.S. appearance of the year and fourth show since an accident killed one of their pilots and grounded the group.

Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss was killed June 3 when his F/A-18 Hornet crashed near Nashville, Tennessee, during a dress rehearsal performance for a Blue Angels show there. Three shows were canceled following the crash. Performances resumed in early July.

An investigation is ongoing.

Since then, the team has been performing with a five-jet formation instead of its normal six-jet configuration, said Navy Cmdr. Ryan Bernacchi, the group's flight leader.

"We changed just a few small things in terms of who flies in what position to balance out the formation," he said. "It's something we always practice because, in any given show, we could have a plane have a mechanical issue and not launch, so we just shift into our five-plane mode. It's something we always have in our game plan."

To prepare for the multiple show use of the five-jet formation, Bernacchi said they spent time making sure it appeared visually correct while also being safe.

"We took a very diligent, step-by-step approach to this five-plane stretch of shows to really analyze how we can maximize our entire maneuver package, not just for safety, but also so that it looks right," he said.

Navy Cmdr. Frank Weisser is scheduled to join the group as a sixth pilot for future shows this season, although no start date has been released.

The Blue Angels perform at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson about once every four years, base officials said. The two-day airshow is open to the public and is held in the summer every other year.

About 100,000 people are expected to attend the show over the weekend, base officials said.

-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at amy.bushatz@military.com.

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